7 Street Portrait Photography Tips


Street portrait photography is a captivating genre that allows you to capture the essence of people in their natural environment. Certain tips and techniques can help you create compelling street portraits, and in this comprehensive guide, we'll explore seven detailed tips for street portrait photography, providing valuable insights to improve your skills and enhance your creative process.

Choose The Right Location

Selecting the right location is crucial for street portrait photography. The backdrop and environment can greatly impact the mood and story of your portraits. Consider the following factors when choosing a location:

  • Lighting: Look for places with good natural light. Diffused or soft light is often preferable, as it minimizes harsh shadows and provides a flattering glow on your subject's face. Overcast days can be ideal, as the clouds are a natural diffuser.
  • Background: Pay attention to the background elements. Avoid cluttered or distracting backgrounds that can divert attention from your subject. Look for clean, unobtrusive backdrops or walls with interesting textures or colors that complement your subject.
  • Context: Think about the context of your location. Does it tell a story or provide insight into your subject's life or personality? Urban environments, parks, markets, and alleys all offer unique backdrops and atmospheres.
street photography market
Photo by Sumeet Ahire

Build Confidence And Interact

Approaching strangers for street portraits can be intimidating, but building confidence and establishing a rapport with your subjects is essential for creating compelling portraits. Here are some tips for interacting with strangers:

  • Smile and Be Polite: Approach potential subjects with a friendly and genuine smile. A warm and approachable attitude can put people at ease.
  • Explain Your Intentions: Be honest about your intentions as a photographer. Let your subjects know that you're interested in capturing their unique character and story.
  • Ask for Permission: Always ask for permission before taking someone's portrait. Respect their privacy and boundaries. If they decline, thank them and move on.
  • Engage in Conversation: Take the time to get to know your subjects. Engage in conversation, ask about their day, and show genuine interest in their lives. This can result in more relaxed and authentic portraits.

Pro Tip: Whether they agree to the photo or not, always thank your potential subjects for their time and consideration. It leaves a positive impression and reflects well on the photography community.

girl in the city street portrait
Photo by Spencer Backman

Use The Right Equipment

While street portrait photography can be done with various types of cameras, having the right equipment can make a significant difference. Consider the following:

  • Camera: You can use a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or even a high-quality smartphone. What's important is that you're comfortable using your camera and can quickly adjust settings.
  • Lenses: A prime lens with a wide aperture (e.g., 50mm f/1.8) is excellent for street portraits. It allows you to create a pleasing background blur (bokeh) while keeping your subject sharp.
  • Tripod: While not necessary for every situation, a tripod can help stabilize your camera in low-light conditions or when using slower shutter speeds.
  • External Flash: An external flash can be useful for adding fill light and reducing harsh shadows on sunny days. It can also help you create more dynamic portraits at night.
old man sitting on a bench
Photo by Brad Starkey

Master Composition Techniques

Composition plays a crucial role in street portrait photography. It determines how your viewer perceives and interprets your images. Here are some composition techniques to consider:

  • Rule of Thirds: Divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically, creating a grid. Place your subject or key elements along these lines or at their intersections to create balance and interest.
  • Leading Lines: Look for natural lines in the environment, such as roads, paths, or architectural features, that lead the viewer's eye toward your subject.
  • Frame Within a Frame: Use elements in the environment, like doorways, windows, or foliage, to frame your subject, adding depth and context to the image.
  • Use of Depth: Incorporate elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background to create a sense of depth and dimension in your portraits.
  • Negative Space: Experiment with negative space to draw attention to your subject. Leaving empty areas in your composition can emphasize your subject's presence.

Pro Tip: Ensure that your subject is in sharp focus, and experiment with different angles and perspectives to find the most compelling composition. Sometimes, shooting from a slightly lower or higher angle can make a significant difference.

guy sitting in an industrial part of the city
Photo by Timi David

Pay Attention To Light And Shadows

Understanding and manipulating light is crucial for creating stunning street portraits. Here are some considerations:

  • Golden Hour: Shoot during the golden hour, the period shortly after sunrise and before sunset, when the light is soft, warm, and directional. It adds a flattering glow to your subjects and creates long shadows.
  • Shadows: Embrace shadows creatively. Use them to add depth and drama to your portraits. Experiment with silhouettes and backlighting for artistic effects.
  • Reflectors: Carry a portable reflector or use natural reflectors like white walls or surfaces to bounce light onto your subject's face, reducing harsh shadows and creating even lighting.
  • Flash Techniques: If using a flash, practice techniques such as off-camera flash or bounce flash to control and shape the light more effectively.
shadows street portrait photography
Photo by JD Mason

Capture Genuine Emotions And Moments

Street portrait photography thrives on capturing authentic moments and emotions. To do this effectively:

  • Be Patient: Wait for the right moment. Don't rush your shots. Sometimes, the most powerful portraits emerge when your subject is lost in thought or experiencing a genuine emotion.
  • Candid Shots: Encourage your subjects to be themselves. Candid, unposed moments often reveal more about a person's character than forced poses.
  • Expressions: Focus on your subject's facial expressions and body language. Try to capture various emotions, from joy and laughter to contemplation and intensity.
  • Tell a Story: Aim to capture images that tell a story or evoke emotions. Consider the narrative behind the portrait and convey it through composition, lighting, and expressions.

Pro Tip: Capture the transitions! Emotions are not static; they evolve and change. Be ready to capture the transitional moments when your subject's emotions shift from laughter to contemplation or sadness to joy. These moments can be incredibly powerful.

man in a red truck
Photo by Frederik Trovatten


The final step in creating compelling street portraits is post-processing. Here's how to enhance your images:

  • RAW Format: Shoot in RAW if possible, as it provides greater flexibility in post-processing.
  • Consistency: Develop a consistent editing style that complements your vision and the mood of your portraits. This can help create a cohesive portfolio.
  • Retouching: Use retouching techniques sparingly to enhance your subject's appearance without making them look artificial. Remove distractions or blemishes as needed.
  • Preserve Authenticity: While editing is important, be mindful not to over-process your images to the point where they lose their natural look and feel.
smiling girl christmas street photography
Photo by Ivan Akimenko

By following these seven tips, you can improve your skills, build confidence, and create compelling street portraits that resonate with viewers and convey the essence of your subjects. Remember that practice, patience, and empathy are key to mastering this art form, so don't be discouraged by initial challenges.

Further Reading:

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

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