Street photography is a category of photography that is dear to my heart. It’s the first category of photography that I tried to learn and master and over the many years, I’ve learned many skills and techniques.
I’ve talked to many pros about understanding the craft of street photography and I wanted to share these learnings with you in the form of five tips and techniques I feel that all pro street photographers use.
Master Your Settings
Starting with the basics, street photography can require mastery over your settings from both a technical standpoint and a physical execution one.
As a general recommendation, a few things you want to look out for are:
Ensure you use an Autofocus Continuous mode on your camera so that you can track your subjects correctly when they move closer and further away from you.
Use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze or blur the action. For freezing, starting from a shutter speed of 1/400 second and above is a great place to start. To achieve blurring, a shutter speed of 1/15 second and below is a solid target. Of course, these speeds are dependent on how fast your subjects are moving through your frame or how large the subjects are in your composition, but these numbers are a good baseline.
Use an aperture that allows for a depth of field you can manage. Larger apertures such as f/5.6 or f/8 will allow for a larger depth of field and a potentially easier time for you to be able to focus correctly on your subjects. Using a shallow depth of field with an aperture such as f/1.4 may or may not be difficult to focus correctly, so that might be a consideration.
Use any ISO that allows for the aforementioned settings, as ISO should always be set last in your exposure triangle.
If you’d like a breakdown on how to get sharp shots every time, with any camera I covered that in a previous video.
In street photography, we take many many images, and due to the high number of them we take — combined with the erratic nature of the category — we’re bound to take a few images that might be too blurry, have missed focus, have unbalanced horizons, et cetera.
A lot of my favorite images are technically imperfect, but so long as an image has a story to tell and the settings are sufficient enough to tell that story, that’s the most important thing.
Realize that street photography is about documenting the human condition and there’s a charm in including your imperfections in your work; it is in itself a reflection of the human condition, so as long as your image has a story to tell, embrace your flaws.
Shoot for Scene
Sometimes in street photography, you’ll shoot for different themes. You might be shooting for moments; a child and their parent crossing a street; a person reading a book; someone giving a wave. You might be shooting for patterns, frames, lines, contrast, or color.
But sometimes, you’ll be shooting for scene.
Sometimes you might find yourself in a scene or a visual situation that you find appealing or engrossing, but you might also want to add a human element to it by including someone in your frame to make it more relatable or visually interesting.
Street photography is great because, again, it’s all about documenting the human condition and that means people, but also the places and spaces they occupy and the environments that they’re in as well.
When you’re shooting for scene, work it. Stay for a little while, five to 30 minutes maybe, and understand how the light is working, how the flow of people are walking through it, the timings of things happening around the scene, all so that you can understand the scene well and predict what might happen within it.
Then, set up your shot and be patient. Wait for exactly the right moment, the right person, the right outfit, the right vehicle, whatever it may be, to come through your scene to help you tell your story.
Sometimes, you may have to wait for a long time, and that’s okay, so long as you have the vision of what you want to occur in your mind’s eye, you can make sure that in reality, you’re ready to spot it when it does eventually happen.
For more depth on those answers and to hear the remaining two tips, make sure to watch the video above!
About the author: Pat Kay is an award-winning travel photographer and multi-disciplinary content creator based in Sydney, Australia. With a passion for travel and adventure, Kay specializes in exploring the contrast between nature and urban, through landscape, cityscape, aerial, lifestyle, and street photography. He has worked with many of the world’s top brands such as Sony, Adobe, Microsoft, Samsung, Nike, Adidas, Ford, Toyota, Lexus, DJI, Razer, Instagram, and more. For more from Kay, follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his YouTube Channel.