Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Street photography is becoming one of my favourite photography genres. I love to have my camera at the ready to snap those unexpected moments when I’m out and about with a few moments to spare, when I’m waiting for someone or when I’m just strolling around the streets. Somewhere among all those photos I may find a gem some day!
Photographer Taha Muharuma (with over 33k followers @TahaPhoto) says that street photography is “just capturing candid scenes, wherever that may be”. He believes that in street photography “You’re always looking for one thing that will make a scene unique”. I am still a novice in this genre of photography, but I do approach it with a passion that motivates me to want to succeed. In an earlier post I gave some Dos and Don’ts for getting started in street photography, based on my own learning. Here are a few more of my tips for succeeding at street photography that I hope will be of use to anyone considering this type of photography.
This scene may have no people but it does have the hum of life. We can wonder, who left the bikes? Where are they? Are they together or separate? What are they doing? When will they be back? It is this questioning, this wondering about life which is prompted by an image, that attracts me to street photography
#1 Keep on the lookout for photo opportunities
Wherever people gather there are street photography opportunities. Shopping centres, markets, main streets, side streets, parks, railway stations, festivals all provide us with the potential for finding that unique image. Whatever we are doing – commuting, meeting a friend, shopping, on holidays – we can take the opportunity to look and see if a unique image beckons. And a street photograph doesn’t always have to have people. Objects can tell their story too. There are interesting moments all around us, we just need to be alert to them.
“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.” -Elliott Erwitt
#2 Look for something unique
Taha Muharuma’s observation that in street photography you’re always looking for the one thing that will make a scene unique has to be the number one aim for would-be street photographers. It’s easy to get out into the street with our camera and just snap away but unless we find something unique, something unusual, our photos will be nothing special. And finding that something unique is not as easy as it seems.
#3 Try to blend in
I was initially anxious about doing street photography and I am still reluctant to be too conspicuous while photographing people without their consent. I try to use a small lens on my camera for street photography. That way I can blend in and concentrate on taking photographs without drawing attention to myself. A phone camera works well for street photography as people are used to seeing them on the streets, and using the volume switch on your headphones as a shutter release allows you to take candid photos in an unobtrusive way, as well as having the added advantage of reducing camera shake (often a problem when we need to quickly capture an image) as it eliminates the need to touch the phone.
#4 Take lots of photos
The pioneers in street photography were not as fortunate as we are today in terms of camera memory and ease of shooting multiple images. Henri Cartier-Bresson talked of ‘the decisive moment’ and capturing that decisive moment involved watching and waiting for all the elements to line up before taking the shot. With our large memory cards, burst mode and online storage options, it is easier than ever to take lots of photos so that we can bring home a large batch from which to choose our best shots. Cartier-Bresson’s advice is still relevant, though; there is still a moment when the great image will be revealed. Hopefully, if we take lots of shots as close as possible to that moment when all the elements align, we will find that moment in our collection.
#5 Try to tell a story with your image
Street photography naturally lends itself to storytelling. Catching that decisive moment between people, that dramatic action or emotion, or finding a subject placed in an interesting setting will ignite our imagination and help us imagine the story that is unfolding.
#6 Capture positive moments
I never take pictures of anyone in a compromised position, for example I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a photograph of a homeless person as I am not a documentary photographer, nor would I like to photograph a row between people (I might put myself in danger if nothing else). I think that when we are starting out in this genre it is best to try and ensure that our candid shots are as positive as possible. Unique, yes, but not at any cost!
#7 Learn from your ‘failures’
Evaluating our shots after a photo shoot is a chance to discover what we like or don’t like about a particular capture and gives us a chance to see how we can improve next time we go out. I often discard most of my street photography images as they don’t provide a unique perspective but at least I have learned some valuable lessons for my future outings. Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” I can take heart from this and know that I am learning and improving all the time.
#8 Learn from others
Street photography might seem to be easy, but it is not easy to do well. I have found that looking at the work of well known street photographers, taking a workshop or class, reading advice from experienced street photographers, going out with like-minded learner photographers and comparing shots, all help to give me some skills that encourage me to go out into the streets with increased confidence.
#9 Keep shooting
Practice will bring improvement in this as in any other photography genre. We will improve, not just in the composition of our shots, but also in knowing what to look for and where to find what we are looking for. As mentioned above, learning from others and taking this knowledge out into the streets will help us capture those unique images that make street photography so special.
If you have any other tips for street photographers that you would like to share, please do so in the comments. If you know someone who would find these tips useful, please feel free to share this post.