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Beginner's Guides for Street Photography

Street photography is considered to be one of the most difficult and challenging genres of photography. A great street photo not only requires technical skills and hard work but also some bravery and luck to shoot strangers on the bustling street. As all things on the street are ever-changing and uncontrollable, you may also need some patience and persistence to get the photo you want.

What does street photography refer to? Is there a specific definition? What makes a good street photograph? What are recommended equipment and camera settings? Are there simple and practical tips for beginners? This article will show you.

What is street photography?

Street photography, on Wikipedia, refers to “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents”. According to the definition, street photography is not confined to take place on the street. It can be all the public areas. Therefore, street photography means the candid photograph of life in public areas.

What makes a good street photograph?

Firstly, a good street photo should tell something. There should be some ideas or emotions in the photos, not just copying the street scene.

Secondly, give priority to the light. When taking photos outside, especially on the street, the lights you can rely on are only the natural light and the already existed artificial light. Therefore, keep light at the top of your mind and figure out how they may hit the subject and be presented in your photo.

Thirdly, tell your story through the composition. The rule of third, the use of negative space, the leading lines still matter in street photography. However, the composition of street photos is more spontaneous as the street is changing all the time. Thus, it is reasonable to have some strange compositions in your photos, which express a much more real feeling.

Equipment and camera settings

  • Small camera & prime lens

To make street photography more smooth and invisible, a small camera is better than a big one. Small cameras are much handier to carry around. They can also ease the psychological resistance of the passers-by on the street. It would be great if your camera has a silent shutter mode. Without hearing the shutter firing, the photo would be more candid with no interruption to the subject’s facial expression and emotions.

As for lenses, prime lenses are smaller than zooms. Same as the small cameras, they are much less noticeable on street. The recommended focal lengths are 35mm and 50mm. The prime lens seems to be less flexible in photography. But it would give you more advantages in street photography. By consistently using the same focal length, the camera settings and photo frame would be much more straightforward, which would be quite easier to capture spontaneous photos on the street. Sometimes, you would know what your frame would be like when standing on the street without even raising the camera.  

  • Camera settings

Camera settings count for much in street photography. The fleeting moments on the street will not wait for your adjustments. Aperture priority and shutter priority are highly recommended in street photography.

When using aperture priority mode, you should choose an AUTO ISO to get a fast shutter speed. Thus, if there is any sudden expression or movement, your camera can perfectly capture the frozen motion. As for shutter priority, you may need to give more consideration to the ISO. Since a small aperture is required to have a sharp background, you may need to shoot with a higher ISO to get more light. The recommended ISO is 400-600 in the daytime and 3200-6400 at night.

Simple but practical tips and ideas

  • How to overcome the fear of shooting on the street

The fear of being caught may be the toughest part of street photography. The most useful way is to pretend that you are a tourist who is just shooting some cultural or artistic pictures for fun. Then, you can choose some busy places, such as an event, a fair or a busy corner. The hustle and bustle corner is the least-noticeable place to feel at ease and comfortable to practice your shooting. Lastly, you should know how to do if get caught. Trust me, a smile works wonders. Give a sweet and sincere smile first and explain what you are doing. At this moment, flattery is the key. Say that the photo is fabulous and you love the emotion, gesture, or feeling and can not help to have a shoot. You can leave your business card and offer free photos. Most people are willing to have a great photo.

  • Try some special angels

It is always challenging to shoot face to face. Then, you can choose to shoot across the street. Try to find some interesting elements in the environment and wait for the right subject to walk into the scene. Shoot from a distance would largely ease your nerve and help you to make a great photo with a good composition. You can also shoot the building through the window. Similarly, the window would also provide psychological protection. If there are some subjects wearing interesting clothes and hats, shooting from the back would turn out to be a sort of unexpected gain.

  • Play with light to get artistic photos

Street photography is not always daytime creation. It is a good time to play with light and shadow. Keep an eye on the places where there are pockets of light. Obverse how the light hitting the subjects walking by and wait for some pops of color to highlight the photo. Remember to use exposure compensation to make sure your subject is properly exposed in the photo. Another way to play with light on the street is to capture silhouettes. Shooting where there is strong backlighting and wait for the right subject to walk into it. The point is that do not overlap your subject with the elements in the background so that you can get a clear silhouette.

  • Be patient to the decisive moment

A great street photo should tell something. Being a creative photographer, you should know when to click the camera to capture the composition, expression, or motions. And the decisive moment is the moment to create a great photo. To capture the fleeting and decisive moment, you may need a bit of luck, have a better understanding of your camera, and quickly react when it comes.

Street photography is a challenging but rewarding genre of photography. It makes the ordinary everyday into extraordinary and is really worth a try. Hope you have fun with street photography!

 

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