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How to Take Street Photography

Updated on September 11, 2019
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L. Cargill, Medical Laboratory Scientist, ASCP. Retired blood banker and laboratorian. Loves to write about a wide range of subjects. Enjoy!

Interesting photos are everywhere...

Street Feet!
Street Feet! | Source

Street Photography is a way to capture a story or theme on film.

To take to the streets and pursue a unifying theme is the goal of taking everyday unexpected photographs. The photographer is attempting to tell a story or illustrate a particular theme.

Street photographs in black and white are dramatic and bold. Color photographs add freshness and an upbeat feel. Digital photography gives you the choice of either in the same camera.

Really hard edge street life may demand black and white film, but color photos can be instantly turned into black and white with the click of a button in photo editing software. It is no longer necessary to use bulky, expensive cameras to take street photography.

Where to go to take Street Photography

  1. Streets and street performers - Some people make their living on the streets. You may want to offer them a small fee to take their photos and get a signed model release. If you want to take their photos candidly, do so from a distance.
  2. Fairs are great places to take photos - It's a whirlwind of exitement.
  3. Carnivals have so many interesting subjects that startling and incredible photos can be found here.
  4. Sporting events or neighborhood team sports provide good photos that may even be sold to proud parents.
  5. Parades are perfect!
  6. Concerts often provide dramatic moments and lots of emotion.
  7. Parks and Zoos - lots of shots available
  8. Ceremonies, even funerals are good subjects for street photos
  9. Behind the scenes - befriend an employee and ask them what is going on backstage or ask to shoot the crowd from backstage.
  10. Planes, Trains, Buses - Tons of emotions and action are available at any terminal.

Interesting Photos

Armadillo Display
Armadillo Display | Source

How to take great street photos

  • Use a small unobtrusive camera with a wide angle lens. (Don't use the zoom unless it's absolutely necessary) Simple digital cameras work fine and you can take hundreds of photos in a single day.
  • Shoot in color and convert to black and white if the photo needs it. You can always save a photo in both formats.
  • Find your focus. If you shoot a crowd scene and only one person is really captivating, then crop the photo around that person. Sometimes the background of a photo really stands out. Sometimes the crowd is the focus.
  • Shoot at fast shutter speeds to freeze motion. Capture a dog catching a frisbee, a person about to fall or a couple about to embrace.
  • Pay attention to the backgrounds. They can make or break a photo.
  • Shoot upwards by laying down on the sidewalk (seriously - don't shoot up ladies skirts!). Just shoot from a dogs point of view or someone littering
  • Shoot downwards from a balcony or high point like a roof.
  • Shoot from as many angles as possible. If you find an interesting subject, Try doing a 360 by walking completely around the subject shooting photos as you go.
  • Look for incongruity, irony and contrasts. Tall people next to short people, a man biting a dog, shadows and light.
  • Get as close as you can to your subjects, but don't be THAT annoying photographer! Practice sitting in one place and using the zoom lens. It may distort things a bit, but that might be part of the photo.
  • Break the rules! Do something totally spontaneous. Climb a tree, take photos of people from behind, go where no one has dared to go.
  • Be ready for unexpected events! You might even get a newsworthy photo of an accident or crime. Who knows what will pop up?
  • Shoot the same scene at different times of the day. Sunrise, high noon and sunset make the photo feel different. Study the differences and you will learn what makes a photo "real".
  • Less is More. Sometimes the smallest thing or expression will reward you with a terrific photo.

Photos of Architecture


Top 10 Street Photography Tips and Techniques:

  1. Be Observant - Always be on the lookout for an interesting photograph. Street photos are "moments in time". They happen unexpectedly and fast. A good street photographer is always on his or her toes. If you are going for action photography, then go where the action is. If you want a deserted street, you are going to have to observe the time of day when the street is empty. If photography teaches you nothing else, it should teach you to be observant.
  2. Think BIG and think small - Most observant street photographers can see things that others miss, but it's amazing that they also miss a lot of big things. If you are looking for small things all the time (details), you might miss a huge truck about to squash a small bug. You have got to look for both big and small things.
  3. Look up, look down, look all around - Photographs don't just happen right in front of you. The best photographs are of things that people do not normally see because they only look straight ahead. Also look at other people's points of view. Perhaps there is a huge crowd that is staring at something straight ahead except for one interesting individual that is staring up at the sky. Of maybe you can lay down on the street and have a bunch of people looking down at you.
  4. Be quick - Sometimes you will see something that happens really fast. You need to have your camera in your hand and your finger on the button. You may not even have time to raise the camera up until you can see through the view finder. Just shoot it! Some photographers walk around with their cameras held chest high with their fingers ready.
  5. Be ready and patient - Sometimes a street photographer has to be patient too. In the swan boat photo, I had to wait until another boat passed out of the picture. Many times there will be opportunities to take a shot, but something is in the way. Find a way to change your line of sight or wait for the line of sight to be clear before snapping away.
  6. Be auto focused - Digital photography has advanced to the point where a really good auto focus digital camera is worth the extra money. Our eyes are never as sharp as a camera lens can be. Look for fast auto focus speeds and use them.
  7. Take LOTS of photos - Never take one shot of anything. Digital photos are easily deleted. Take 100 shots and delete 99 of them if you have to. That perfect shot is probably never going to be the first and only shot you take.
  8. Be aware of the light - Photographers learn to look at lighting and shadows on a conscious level. Most people just file shading away somewhere in the back of the brain. Artists are trained to look at shadows and can draw whole pictures just by sketching the shadows. Photographers can compose photos using light and shadows too.
  9. Get close and then get closer - The most common error that amateur photographers make is to take photos when they are too far away from their subject. Learn to be myopic (short-sighted). Get up close and personal whenever you can. One of my teachers said, "Walk right up to your subject and then take two more steps closer!"
  10. Be aware of backgrounds - Photo backgrounds can make or break your photographs. This is why professional photographers use artificial backgrounds in portrait photography. Who wants a photo of your friends with a telephone pole sticking out of the top of their head? Just step closer and to the side and make sure the background is clear.

Austin, Texas!

Austin, Tx:
Austin, TX, USA

get directions

Great place to live and take photos!

Try a street photography challenge

Assign yourself a project:

  1. Shoot men in suits for a day
  2. Do a series of photos of people speaking on telephones on the street and in their cars.
  3. Try shooting people and pets at the parks.
  4. Find an unusual place that attracts tourists and shoot the people wandering around
  5. Do a day of shooting reflections in windows.
  6. Do a day of shooting weird street signs.
  7. How about a trip to a yacht harbor?
  8. Perhaps the local government offices or court houses could provide some interesting shots.
  9. Austin is full of food trucks. You might find a local outdoor eating establishment there, eat lunch, and shoot some discreet photos of people eating.
  10. Is there a park where college kids or retired people play chess? Try to capture the feeling of winning and losing.
  11. Stay up late one night and visit deserted streets. Look for dark and dreary, maybe a misty rain or snowfall. You might want to use black and white film just for fun. 3-4 am is when most streets are deserted.
  12. Look for people working on buildings or streets. The challenge might be "Men at Work" or "Women at Work".

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Lela


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