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Street Photography Techniques for Great Candid Photos

Updated on November 13, 2017

Street Photography

Street photography is incredibly accessible to anyone that enjoys taking photos. It is not like you need any kind of fancy camera, lighting or props to get great shots. And for many people, logistics is the least of their worries as they can pretty much walk out of their apartment and start photographing their surroundings.

So what is street photography? It is a type of candid photography that one can achieve in unexpected moments in public spaces.

A typical street photographer will find a public location in a city or town and take photos of people going about their day. I would argue that street photography does not necessarily have to be people as objects can be visually appealing for photography.

Snapping an artistic photo of a random coffee cup left steaming on a hazard sign might be pretty cool street photography. However, taking photos of, say, bridges and office buildings is crossing over into architecture photography.

Tips for Great Street Photography

Basically, street photography is as simple as walking down the street and snapping candid photos of people. However there are techniques and tips that can make street photography more pleasant, comfortable and enjoyable.

Patience and Location

My personal style of street photography is not to go to some random street corner and start spraying the crowd with photos. This is certainly a valid way of doing it but I find it creates way more work and far fewer interesting photos.

My technique is to scout around and find an interesting location to shoot from.

I'm looking at the background. Sometimes I appreciate the clutter. Other times I might want a solid brick wall to frame my subjects.

I'm thinking about who I want to photograph. Early morning subway exits and end of day subway entrances are always fascinating for taking photos of people.

Everybody has a spot that interests them the most. What I would suggest is that you take some time and locate an interesting place you want to take photos.

And wait.

I realize that people have no patience but I have found my best photos were not necessarily taken by chance but by waiting until a moment happened.

I could certainly dart around the town looking for someone riding a bike but why not wait at that location you know is a place where cyclists are likely going to cross?

Maybe I want to take a photo of a grumpy businessman framed against a gritty brick wall. I'll stake a spot at my location and wait through rush hour to get the shot I'm looking for instead of randomly walking around.

Look, there is nothing wrong with random street photography walks but I find setting my shot being a better option.

Remember, everybody is photographer. A random shot of a random person on the street is certainly photography and may be perfectly great. But if you want something really amazing a great location and waiting for a really good moment will make a good photo better.

Camera Gear and Lenses

I use a Panasonic micro 4./3 camera with either a 12-35mm or 35-100mm 2.8 lens 99% of the time when shooting street photography.

In fact, I use the 35-100mm 80% of the time between the two.

I typically go for shallow depth of field and using the 35-100mm allows me to reach out a fair distance and get a pleasing shot that will allow for a a decent amount of background blur.

There are times when I prefer a wider angle shot. Maybe I want balancing elements at both edges of the photo. At those times I will be happy shooting with the 12-35mm.

Why do I prefer a micro 4/3 to say, a DSLR like a Sony, Canon or Nikon? Form factor.

The micro 4/3 body is small. The lenses are small. The typical Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens is about the same size as the 35-100mm attached to my G7. The reach is virtually the same as is the quality.

The nice thing about my camera is that it has a flip screen.

So imagine standing at the corner and taking photos except my camera is waist level with the screen flipped up instead of having to bring the camera up to my eye.

This is great if you want to be a less conspicuous in your street photography.

The micro 4/3 is certainly my preference but I've seen plenty of huge Nikon bodies and lenses working their art with no problem.

Now, nothing says you need expensive cameras or lenses for street photography. Your cell phone camera is likely going to be just fine. I just prefer the reach and capability of a digital camera.

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Curb Your Fears

In the U.S. people in public spaces have no expectation of privacy. Period. Full Stop. If you live in other countries you will have to check your rules and regulations.

What that means is that you can pretty much take any photo of anybody you want as long as they are traveling across a public space.

The question though is should you?

If I am sitting at my spot taking photos and someone notices me taking photos and I get a look of "don't do it", then I will not snap the photo.

If someone specifically comes up and asks me not to take the photo or even delete it, then I will comply.

There are tons of other opportunities to take another shot. Besides, I am not getting paid to take these photos. It is just a hobby and to practice my craft.

You really just have to out yourself out there and be comfortable taking the photos. Most people honestly don't care. And there are techniques that you can do that will minimize the people observing you work.

  1. I typically use a long lens and capture photos at distance.
  2. If I am close to the subject I take the photo and let the subject walk through the screen. I hesitate for a second or more after they pass as they might think I was taking a photo of something else.
  3. I shoot from the hip with a flip screen. People don't pay attention really unless the camera is up at your face and they can tell what you are pointing at.
  4. Silent shutter is awesome.

Get Close

My street photography is about people, at least for me. I thoroughly enjoy expressions. Candid photography is that wonderful split second of a moment in that person's life that was captured.

I typically try to frame a person as close as technically possible. The closer the subject the more unnerving it can be. Again, it can be tough to put yourself out there and get a candid shot of someone that is a stranger to you. But that is the essence of street photography.

Sometimes I will have the courage to simply walk up to someone and ask if I can take their photo. Maybe they have a cool hat and great lip stick on. Maybe they have a fabulous smile. There are a thousand reasons why you want that candid shot but if you don't ask or are too afraid to snap the shot that moment will be gone.

There are times when I'll take a photo and the person will notice I took it and sort of give me a questioning look. I'll smile and maybe go over and show them what I saw through the lens.

Closeup candid photos are my favorite regardless of the challenge in taking them.

Camera Settings

My camera settings are fairly simple. I always shoot in aperture mode. I always shoot in RAW.

If it is at night I shoot wide open at 2.8. If I am looking to blur the background I will shoot at 2.8. If I am trying to capture wider angles I will close the aperture down a bit to 5.6 or 8 or even 11.

Shooting wide open can be a challenge as you risk a bad focus on your subject. Plus you might blur out the "story" of the surroundings.

I still like trying to nail the 2.8 focus unless, again, I am trying for a wider angle to capture leading lines or balanced elements, etc.

Tips for Street Photography

Conclusion

Street photography can be one of the most enjoyable ways to capture photos. It is certainly one of my favorites as I always enjoy the candid moments of time in public spaces. Hopefully these tips and techniques will help particularly those beginners who are looking to give street photography a try.

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