Street photography is one of the most feared and uncertain types of photography, in which almost nothing is in your control and almost everything is based on luck, persistence and the ability to see and capture the moment. A lot of new photographers who like street photography for its classy/candid look and feel typically get nervous to actually do it, as it demands a lot of time & devotion, ability to interact with strangers and sometimes even ability to handle stress if things go wrong.
Also the success rate of these types of shots is very low, as you get a lot of sub-par shots when you come back home and try to edit them. A lot of factors are there that can go wrong very easily, such as: improper focus, background distractions, photo bombing, etc., not to mention the need to occasionally face people’s anger and their security issues. But guess what? That is the reason that makes street photography so satisfying and fulfilling, because after so much frustration, when you get “the shot”, it is worth all the effort you put into it.
As in any field, if you carefully analyze the problems, you can come up with some solutions that will produce the best results with very low chances of getting things wrong. I am by no means a pro street photographer, but over time, I have come up with a list of techniques that work for me most of the time.
- Look for interesting faces / emotions.
This is by far the easiest step in getting interesting photos. Look for older people or children. Their faces are very expressive. Also, people with unique clothes and emotional state make your photos pop because of their unusual settings.
- Look for related or contrasting backgrounds and foregrounds.
Street photography is all about the complete environment. You should try to guide viewers from the subject to the background. And to do it seamlessly, your background should be related. Highlight your subject, but try to put some meaningful and unobtrusive background as well. Don’t try to completely remove it or use too simple of a background, as it might not complete the story. Sometimes a very contrasting background makes a strong visual statement as well. Play carefully within limits.
- Look for some truly beautiful geometric compositions.
This is where street photography gets visually very interesting. But it is also difficult to master such shots, as you need to be able to see the right angles and learn how to compose images, so that they look appealing and engaging to the viewer. If you learn to nail such opportunities down, you will be coming back with stunning results. Remember, good composition is always the key to a successful image.
- Look for some tried and tested conditions.
Look for nice reflections on glass or stagnant water on streets. Contrasting lighting conditions both during the day and the night are also very dramatic. Symmetry and repetition are also very pleasing to look at.
- Shoot in both color and black and white.
It is very tempting to shoot in black and white for its classic look and its ability to suppress a lot of background distractions. But aside from these reasons, you should try learning other aspects of B&W like shadows, textures and contrast. B&W tends to give a sharper look to images as well. But color has its advantages too. Sometimes a photo with color is more interesting than B&W, because we are used to see the world around us in colors.
- Always wait for the DECISIVE MOMENT.
This is by far the most important point of street photography. Before you release that shutter, just think whether it is the right time to take the shot. What if you wait a bit longer to see if there is a good opportunity for a more interesting subject or more beautiful light? In street photography, timing is everything – that’s what creates the story.
Below are some additional side thoughts that you should keep in mind – they might come handy:
- Be courteous to your subjects at all times. Don’t try to exploit them. If they don’t want to be photographed, leave them alone. You will get a million other opportunities. Be ready to say sorry and smile, and never confront with local people.
- Make yourself familiar with the place. A little planning will never hurt. Try to come to the same place again sometime later. You will be already familiarized with locations and its settings. That will help you to plan your shots in advance.
- Talk to people after you photographed them. Give them your business card. Ask them if they want these photos and send them the photos later as a courtesy. Make them your friends. It will be much more fun and less daunting.
When you go out to do street photography, don’t expect every photo to be a masterpiece. Street photography is very difficult, so be patient and try to enjoy the whole process of getting shots and not just the final results. Try to improvise as you learn. These are just a few pointers that I compiled for myself and they do work for me. Overtime, you will come up with your own bag of tips and tricks, especially once you develop your own vision and style. I work in the Middle East where people are generally quite suspicious of cameras and people trying to photograph them. But if you have a nice, friendly smile on your face and you are not intruding their personal space aggressively, then it becomes an enjoyable process for everyone, potentially yielding very gratifying results.
This guest article has been submitted by Imran Zahid. Imran is originally from Pakistan, but has been working as a software consultant in Oman during the past few years. Photography is his lifetime passion and he really enjoys street photography in particular. If you would like to see more of Imran’s work, you can check out his 500px portfolio, or his Flickr page.
Nice article. sir can you pls ukbestessays.org/best-…g-services more article on different between documentary and street photography for a clear understanding.thank yo
Nice article. sir can you pls write more article on different between documentary and street photography for a clear understanding.thank you
Imran – what camera(s) and lenses do you prefer for street photography?
Let me say in one of Jay Maisel with S. Kelby training videos for kelby training he mentionned that he use only a 28-300 on its FX camera at iso 1600 (subjects in shadow) and that he always brakets normal above and below (3 shots per image) and that he chooses the best of the three.
Another one with Jay was in Paris (France) with S. Kelby
Different pro photographers can use different approach.
Another interesting training was with Zak Arias shooting in New-York
I think you can rent theses videos for a few days at Kelbyone at a cheap price for each without being a register member.
Hope this help
I am using a crop censor camera Canon 600d (because its light weight) , so I am using sigma 17-50mm f2.8. Brilliant lens. I find this focal length range an all rounder. If you have full frame then 24-70mm f2.8 would be equivalent. But my advice , don’t go with cliches . Develop your own style and experience yourself . Every type of lens can be useful :) .
Great lens that I also use all the time on my D7100-D500 cameras.
Very nice to read your article Imran. And your photos are very easy on the eye. Oman looks a bit like lahore and rawalpindi in these pictures.
“Dont confront the locals” is right. I would never want to confront an arab in an arab country.
I was in paris in 2014 and tried to capture some buildings but it was hard. The streets are narrow and the buildings huge on both sides. I was carrying a 35mm dx lens on a d5100.i needed a much wider angle, maybe 18-55mm or even wider. Every street of that city is worth a hundred photos.
Great article. It’s one thing I’d like to master better. I always feel self conscious and awkward taking people in public. I’m an amateur and retired so don’t carry a professional card, I just do it for personal interest. At the same time I think if you’re not doing it professionally i.e. an assignment or being paid, it is an imposition and an invasion of privacy. I’ll always offer to e-mail the shots (which is often what most people want). I don’t do Islamic or third world countries so haven’t experienced the issues there.
I agree it’s hard to shoot people in the street, lots of people Do Not like a camera pointed at them, in USA or foreign countries. I usually will talk to them if possible and offer my card as mentioned in this article. I also carry a pocket full of $Dollars. I gladly give them some money before or after the shot, always relives the tension. Another sneaky way to get a posed shot is to have someone you’re with (wife/friend) Pose by the area you want to shoot and you can crop them out later or focus slightly to the side of them to get the picture of the person of interest. Any time you are shooting a picture of someone you need to treat that person with respect, if they are upset, pay them, give them your card, or Delete the picture in front of them.
Don’t be cheap, On photo tours I will pay some people before I take their picture and get them to pose or act normal. Then the group will see me shooting a pretty good shot and they all run over and start clicking, I am not a big fan of this activity.
In Africa (Tanzania, Kenya) it’s just a known fact that you will pay for people pictures. If they see you snap they will want payment. (Sad but true, Food is a great/accepted payment over there)
People are very interesting, and all act very different on getting their picture taken.
I’ve read somewhere that intentionally paying people to take their photos creates exactly the situation that you complain about regarding Tanzania, Kenya. It’s strange that you lament the fact that people rush over to receive payment yet in the same breath you also indicate how powerfully and persuasively you are willing to show $Dollars around. Is there not perhaps some other means of getting people’s photos other than to use money/food as inducement?
Hi Kevin Thanks for the reply
I was Not complaining about paying people in “Tanzania and Kenya” for pictures. This is just a fact/rules over there, started long, long time before I started going there, and it has been the rule each time I go. I do not go around throwing money in the air. Offering to pay for a picture will definitely defuse a situation if one occurs. I always tip/give money to children in the street if I take their pictures. Have you ever been to a third world country and seen poverty at its lowest level, its sad. A few dollars/food/objects means soo much to these people and I enjoy seeing their smile of appreciation after I give them a gift or money. I have been invited into huts/shacks for drinks, dinner, pet goats, sheep, cows, spent time with herders, been given hand made jewelry, and much more. All because I cared enough to stop talk and give the poor a gift or a few dollars. In Cuba we took lots of bottles of Aspirins and pens and handed them out to friends we made. Giving someone a bottle of Aspirins in Cuba is indescribable, they act like I just gave them a big bar of GOLD , wow what a great feeling. When you travel to a poor country do some research and see what they are lacking/need, and take some. I will continue my ways of travel with a pocket full of $Dollars and stuff the locals are lacking, we have plenty in the USA.
I was complaining about the cheap Americas that are traveling with me that piggyback on my generosity
Enjoy your travels and respect All People Rich or Poor
I’m not a big fun of street photography, but I really like your photos.
Most of the “street photos” I’m seeing these days are just crappy snapshots.
Your photos show that it’s possible to make interesting street photos, but you have to put enormous amounts of work and time to achieve it.
Thank you for sharing your work with us. I will follow you on Flickr.
Capturing the decisive moment is truly difficult (and not just in street photography) and requires both talent – yes, that indefinable something that some have and some don’t, and skill, a mastery of the technical aspects.
Sadly, much street photography that I see amounts to little more than mediocre snaps of nothing in particular.
Beautifully articulated & illustrated :)