21 Bold Street Photos That Capture The Urban Spirit


For reasons we can't explain, street imagery has been linked with urban lifestyle since the historical birth of this genre in 1838. And even though we agree on the fact that one can do street photography in the countryside, there's just something alluring about the busy nature of streets embedded in the hearts of so many cities across the world. Today we bring you a short street photography manifesto we've come up with so we always have a good time while wandering the streets.

Embrace Chaos

Expecting tranquillity on the streets could end up with a rather bitter experience due to having so high hopes… So, instead of wishing for a Utopian happening, you should strategically approach urban life rhythm.

First, you can always plan and arrive at your desired-to-photograph place before it gets too crowded. This will also allow you to work with a highly praised kind of light available during early morning time. This is, the shift in hue occurring as the blue hour turns into the golden hour. Let me explain, the blue hour is this time of the day in which night is ending. Light here is cool, indirect and deep; filled with saturated hues of blue. As this moment ends, the golden hour starts to peak through, and the well-known warm tones slowly appear.

great composition street photography
Photo by Dan Asaki

Another strategy for dealing with chaos and crowded places is using an ND filter and playing around with exposure. Did you know you can erase people in front of your camera thanks to the wonders of long exposure in photography? This can be achieved slightly, for an eerie effect, or in ways so severe people will vanish from the scene leaving just the architecture or other surroundings intact.

My favourite approach is photographing chaos in its purest form instead of avoiding it. Walk during busy hours, commute by foot or train with your camera in hand, and dive into markets and food stands. Of course, the challenge here is to isolate subjects so your images won't appear to be just random snapshots made by Google Maps.

Observe People

By that, we mean don't start shooting right away; especially if you aren't from around. Taking some time to examine people will allow you to get an insightful overview of the social dynamics happening next to you, and will also get you blended in. Have you ever wished for an invisibility cloak for maximum candid frames? Well, becoming one with our surroundings is the only real way in which we can get unseen and ultimately capture close and natural scenes with our cameras.

Pro Tip: Having an inconspicuous camera or even your phone will help you in unimaginable ways.

Focus in Architecture

Not everything has to be about people, it can also be about human intervention in our planet. In other words, don't take architecture for granted and use it as part of your urban exploration when walking down the streets. And back to using long-exposure, this is one of my favourite things to do when I spot a gorgeous facade on a church or even an old house. By doing so, I easily achieve vanished-looking human figures walking in front of crisp and clear venues.

Use Available Lighting

Or practical lighting, as Kubrick connoisseurs could argue.

Back when I started learning photography in 2009, I had a very narrow vision of artificial light. And I have to be honest, I suck at using flashlights, it's just too hard for me to imagine or anticipate how the beams will fall on someone's skin. But later on, thanks to a colleague from Costa Rica who introduced documentary work to me, I started considering using other kinds of artificial light sources.

More specifically, she opened my eyes to the visual flexibility video light can deliver. Since then, I have combined portable light sources with available light, especially when walking streets at night. So try using anything around you to produce light and play with it. Use camera motion in your favour, shoot with slow shutter speeds and never forget about that practical lighting idea mentioned above.

Use Shadows and Silhouettes

symmetry street
Photo by Sam Barber

One of the main differences across cities from the world is how light behaves during early or late hours of sunlight. Cities with taller buildings tend to produce stronger and longer shadows which are perfect for achieving images like the ones made by Saul Leiter with his trusty camera. So try hunting for particular shadows and wait for the perfect moment to press your shutter release. Also, working with silhouettes is possible when doing street photography; every street with a bright background offers countless opportunities for you to photograph this highly desired phenomenon.

Experiment with Different Techniques

As you've already guessed by now, street photography is all about juggling with things we can't control and photographic techniques. Therefore, you'll be almost obliged to deal with different things.

Get Inspired

As I always say to my students, if you consume high-quality images, you'll more likely produce the photographs you crave the most. Here, we've prepared a short list of images for your inspiration, but please, don't stick to just a few 21, go out there and see more, go out there and photograph everything!

street shot candid
Photo by Junho
red and black street
Photo by Rene Bohmer
running in the streets minimal shot
Photo by Ryoji Iwata
black and white street shot
Photo by CJ Dayrit
bicycle shot shadows
Photo by Kin Li

Pro Tip: Having a tripod isn't always a must for street photography, and in those years I've learned to use window frames, car trunks and bumpers, and even my right knee while crouching as a fixed point for my camera to stand still. About the shutter-speed, I recommend anything between 1/2 to 1/16 seconds.

motion street photography
Photo by Boris Stefanik
street photography mirror
Photo by Oliver Cole
dark street photography minimal
Photo by Brandon Wong
black and white people street
Photo by Craig Ren

Advanced Composition will ensure you create shots that pop. You'll get more out of your photography and start taking images that will truly capture your creative vision. If you’d like to improve your composition skills and learn concepts that go beyond the rule of thirds, do take a look at Kent DuFault’s guide.

blue car and wall
Photo by Cullen Jones
yellow wall with shadow
Photo by Oliver Cole
rain and reflections street
Photo by Caspar Rae
industrial street photo
Photo by Ant Rozetsky
pale tones street photography no people
Photo by Ismail Merad
candid street portrait neons
Photo by Charlie Gallant
autumn leaves street
Photo by Masahiro Miyagi
bicyclist blue skies reflection
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo
bird's perspective minimal composition
Photo by Ryoji Iwata
woman standing on the street
Photo by Khachik Simonian

We hope you've enjoyed these inspiring street shots, and if getting better at photography composition and learning beyond-the-basics concepts resonates with you, then take a look at Kent DuFault’s guide to advanced composition!

Further Reading:

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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