5 Essential Considerations for Sharpening Your Street Photography

Street photography tells a story in ways that other types of photography can't. They are spontaneous, interesting, and perfect mementos of a moment in time. As a street photographer, you are capturing life as it happens which may not be as easy as it seems. Moments can happen in a flash and you have to be ready roll when you see something that strikes you as photo-worthy. There's no time to fiddle with lighting, tweek your camera settings, or set up a tripod. Next time you find yourself roaming the streets, camera in-tow, try using some of these tips and see if you can take your street photography to the next level.

  • Equipment One of the joys of street photography is liberating yourself from all the little tools we tend to carry around to make us better photographers. You can leave your tripod and flash at home, serious street photographers can get the job done using a small camera and nothing more. Think Leica M or a Panasonic Lumix G-series. Small, compact, and inconspicuous. Leave the long lenses at home, too. A 50mm f2 will allow you to get right up to the action. Successful street photography has a lot to do with one's ability to remain unseen. Some of the large modern DSLR's will draw unwanted attention to you.
  • Camera Settings First of all, go ahead and turn off any sounds or beeps that you may have your camera set to make. Remember, stealth is key! Because moments happen in a flash, shooting on aperture priority mode and center focus will help you get the shot off quicker and still give you some manual features. It's easy to miss a shot because you were too busy adjusting the settings on your camera.
  • Location! Location! Location! A couple of important items in regards to location. First, be aware of local culture and laws. In some places it is not acceptable to wander the streets photographing strangers, but in other places it's a common occurrence. Getting caught photographing in regions where it is not socially acceptable to do so can lead to serious altercations. Be aware and be respectful. Once you have the local rules sorted out, choose a location where there are interesting activities going on or where you know you will run into others. Popular locations include outdoor markets and busy downtown districts, but don't be afraid to get creative with location scouting. Interesting things happen in all sorts of places.
  • Stealth Judging by how many times it's come up already, I'm sure you're starting to understand that it can be important to go unnoticed. When people know they are being photographed, they tend to behave differently, ruining your opportunity for a candid shot. Other than using an unassuming camera, you should also monitor your own movement. Don't shove your camera in someone's face or chase them down the sidewalk. Use common courtesy and respect other's space. Try to appear as though you are a random pedestrian taking an occasional snapshot.
  • Color or Black & White If your camera allows it shoot in RAW. This will grant you the ability to choose between black and white or color which can be a priceless option to have. Traditionally, street photography is dominated by black and white photography because it leaves no distractions for the viewer and tends to leave a more lasting impression in many cases. That being said, there is some amazing color street photography being made as well. Shooting in RAW will let you work with both mediums and do a side-by-side comparison.

These pointers should give you a good start on your street photography. When you're out there remember to take your time and really take in your surroundings. Pay attention to details, look for interesting patterns or textures. As always, look closely at what the lighting is doing and how you can use it to your advantage.

Tiffany Mueller is a professional music and fine art photographer. Published in various publications including magazines, art journals, as well as books, Tiffany has been fortunate enough to have been in a perpetual state of travel since her youth and is currently working on a 50-states project. You can also keep up with Tiffany via Twitter or on her personal blog.


About the author

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is an adventurer and photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you can find her writing articles and running the official blog at PhotoBlog.

  • I would add 1 little point to this.
    LIVE. Mix yourself with the activities going on in the spot you choose. Be a part of the life around here. Like you had always been living here. Don’t be this “annoying tourist who is sitting here and taking pictures of strange things”.
    It’s part of the stealth strategy but it’s when you are a part of the event that great things (and great pics) happen in front of you!

  • Bill Lewis says:

    As an ocasional traveler I have found one way to “Blend in” is to visit local thrift or charity shops and find some clothing that does not look new or like expensive travel wear. This also helps with the travel light attitude especially when you are traveling for many weeks or a few months. I have also used the time delay and the camera pointed from the waist as a method to not draw attention. We use local bus services a lot when traveling and the waiting lines for these provide a microcosm of the area but raising a camera and people turn or pose so the timer has provided a useful way to get candids.

  • Bogdan says:

    *Disclaimer: I’m not a street photographer*
    This “stealth” thing is a bit too extreme. Blending in and being discreet is more appropriate. Common sense also. Sometimes, to get the best images it’s better to be part of the action, other times you’d be better off to stand aside. Common sense and a street feel are more important than the size of the equipment you’re carying. Or stealth.

    Being stealthy implies staying well hidden, people will therefore assume hidden intent and question your motives. That changes of course if you’re in a bad neighborhood or a war zone.

    • Well done Tiffany. I’ve been shooting street work for 20+ years, and would like to have read this when I first started. As it happens, I learned the hard way, which is okay too.

      As to Bogdan’s comment about “being part of the action,” yes, I sometimes like the confrontational approach, but I would not advise fledgling shooters to try this, at least not until they get comfortable with the equipment, and learn how to navigate, and assess, a crowd. Most of the time, I try and remain invisible, although, when viewing prints, I often notice someone in the background, who is observing with great curiosity…

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