Street Photography Tips and Recommended Settings

The photograph street is one of those photographic modalities that I want to practice according to the season of the year. Taking a look at my photos I realized that possibly 95% of the street photographs were taken in autumn and especially in winter, as soon as the good weather begins, the camera is stored in the backpack, keeping inspiration company.

Maybe I’m some kind of emo (cliché mode: on) addicted to shady places, gray clothes and rainy days? Well yes, now that the good weather is beginning I can say that I already miss the clouds and puddles where the reflections give free rein to creativity , doesn’t the same thing happen to you?

As a result of this quick self-analysis it occurred to me to collect some techniques that work well when I go out to take street photographs.

If you can think of any more you can write it in the comments, I would love to learn more tricks.

Street photography without being a ninja

Going unnoticed is important when taking photos of people, it is usually recommended in the vast majority of articles on ” street photography “.

We have a kind of alarm that goes off as soon as we think someone may be taking photos of us and we stop acting naturally to:

  • Get mad at the photographer
  • Feeling self-conscious and freezing
  • Posing “naturally”
  • Stick out your tongue, raise your hands and start making strange sounds while we wait for the photo to be taken.

Our job as photographers will be to ensure that all of the above does not happen so as not to alter the natural order and that people behave as they are in order to capture “real” situations.

If you plan to take this type of photos a lot, I recommend you take a look at a compact camera or EVIL cameras , since their size is very small and they do not have that “professional” aspect of SLRs , so you will easily go unnoticed without be a ninja.

Automatic modes on the street

In street photography I like to use some automatic mode (Hey Javi, didn’t you say you didn’t use automatisms?) As a priority to aperture or speed depending on the lighting of the moment.

If it is a sunny day and I am not going to move around places with sudden light changes, I set the aperture priority mode on the camera , ensuring aperture and depth of field. The camera will modify the shutter speed to obtain a “correct” exposure without changing the aperture, which is what interests me the most. A medium aperture of f / 8 to f / 11 will ensure a sufficient depth of field , although as you know, other factors such as the distance to the subject or chosen focal length influence.

If instead I am going to photograph on streets with very different lighting, I will choose the automatic speed priority mode . With this mode I can set a shutter speed that ensures that everything will be frozen and there will be no shake. The camera will vary the diaphragm aperture to let more or less light through, without modifying the shutter speed.

Hang the camera around your neck and use a shutter

This method is perfect, even more so if you combine it with a reflex camera with a folding screen .

With the camera hanging from my neck, I hold it with my left hand at belly level, while with the other I hold such a remote shutter:

The key is to learn to frame without looking through the viewfinder, this way people will not focus on the camera as it will appear that you are only holding it when you are actually shooting with the other hand.

If your camera has a flip-up screen you can stand in a strategic place looking at the LCD screen with Live View mode activated and shoot when you want using the shutter button.

Framing the scene in advance

It consists of making the protagonist of the photo also in the background. To do this, look for an interesting background and wait for someone to pass to complete the scene.

Some situations or elements that work very well and you can search:

  • Complete the composition with people
  • Use a curious shade of street furniture, lines and lights to guide the gaze
  • Play with the contrasts of lights.
  • Capture still items and shaky people using a slow shutter speed and a tripod.
  • Look for backlights and wait for someone to pass by to photograph your silhouette.
  • Glances of complicity.
  • Repeating patterns.

As you can see there are many possibilities and each city is a new world to take interesting and different street photographs.

Frame your photographs

Look for frames around the city to include them in the frame and make it much more striking.

You can use arches, doors, tunnels, plants or any other element that frames the scene naturally.

Street photos with telephoto lens

Although at first you may think that telephoto lenses in street photography are reserved for the paparazzi, they can really offer an interesting point of view with which to capture gestures or details that with a wide angle would go unnoticed.

Take the test, if you don’t have a telephoto lens, you can use the zoom of your lens. Adjust the zoom to the maximum and try to photograph the life of the city, notice how after a while using the maximum zoom or a telephoto lens, your brain will do a kind of mental zoom and you will begin to see everything around you as a 100 o a 200mm.

With this method you have to be especially careful, I am not saying that you use a 600mm as if you were on safari, a discreet 100mm is enough.

If you attract a lot of attention people will start to look at you, some may even photograph you, let’s call him ” the hunted hunter . 

Black and white in street photography

On the internet you can see how the vast majority of street photographs are developed in black and white. Although many, as we saw in the article, professional photographer vs. amateur photographer  have been converted to black and white in order to “hide” a photograph without content, the truth is that black and white suits this type of photos very well, since By losing the color information, it does not distract us from the expressions of the people, composition, gestures or situations that we have photographed.

We must always value and try to imagine the finished photograph in our head, there will be many times that it will be essential to preserve the color, since it can be the main protagonist of the photo, it may be necessary to complete the composition or the message.

You can take a look at the article with black and white photography tips .

Pay attention to the shadows in the streets

Shadows are an excellent resource in street photography, pay attention to how they are projected by the elements of the city and how they change with the passing of the hours and the situation of the sun.

Use applications like  Sun Surveyor  to plan the position of the sun and be prepared when the shadows are in the position you want.

You will find this application for both iPhone and Android .

Use the mobile as the screen of the reflex camera

If your camera has Wi-Fi connectivity , you can synchronize it with your mobile to use it as a remote LCD screen and shutter , in this way you will see the scene on your phone or tablet going completely unnoticed.

Use apps like EOS Remote ( Canon ), DSLR Remote  ( multi-brand compatible ), or Wireless Mobile Utility for Nikon .

Where is the limit of photos on the street?

Keep in mind that street photography is not about taking photos “treacherously” , or at least it shouldn’t be.

But think that if you wait for someone to pass in front of the camera to complete a frame while you look through the viewfinder, the most likely thing is that the person will go around so as not to disturb while you take the photo, maybe they will look at the camera or stand still waiting for you to take the picture.

It is the reason why methods of this type are used, in any case everyone should know where the limit is and what things we should not photograph.

Bring the camera pre-focused

Leaving the house with the camera in focus will allow you to forget about focus, since if we use techniques such as shooting with the camera around the neck  or without looking through the viewfinder, focusing well is a complicated task.

For this you will have to calculate the hyperfocal distance  and lock the focus for the time that interests you. You can help yourself with applications like DOF Calculator for Android or Digital DOF for iPhone.

Set Auto ISO

If your SLR camera supports high ISOs well or you do not mind having some noise in the photos, you can configure the automatic ISO and the other settings in manual mode so that the camera modifies the sensitivity according to the need of each scene.

In this way you can select the shutter speed and aperture you need, only the ISO sensitivity will be modified according to the light in each situation.

Personally I would use the automatic ISO on sunny days, not too dark streets and always shooting in RAW obviously, to recover as much information as possible in light and shadow.

Backpack or photo bag

The way you carry the camera is important, as photo backpacks attract a lot of attention. A discreet photographic bag or a small trekking backpack will make you look like another tourist photographing monuments, in addition, depending on the place it will be much safer to carry a discreet backpack than one that screams: I have   expensive photographic material inside !!

Anticipate action

Being an observer is the quality that will help you the most in this type of photography. As we saw in the article on anticipating the photographic moment , learning to “read” what is about to happen is essential.

Take a look at this photograph, in it I waited for a girl who was skating there to pass right through the light area, so I got a much more interesting photo.

Some examples of photographic anticipation :

  • Imagine a puddle with a magnificent reflection, if you wait for someone to pass to capture their reflection in the water, you will have anticipated.
  • Imagine some pigeons eating quietly on the floor of an empty square, if you wait for a child to run to scare them away (because it always ends up happening) you will have a much more interesting  photo and you will also have anticipated the action.
  • A group of young people having a drink on a terrace of a bar, it will surely not be long until they all look at their mobile without paying attention to each other.

The interesting situations are there and they are the ones that make the difference between some street photos and others.

Business cards in your pocket

Many people will like to see the result of the photos you have taken, especially in the case of portraits. It is a good idea to always carry cards with your information  so that they can contact you or see your published works, you never know when they may be needed.

Look at these cards that I made a long time ago, they are small and different from what people are used to seeing.

In addition to appearing in your photos, you give them a beautiful memory that they will not easily forget, maybe they will recommend or think of you the next time they need a photographer.

Shoot in burst mode

It doesn’t fail, the burst mode in urban photography is a good ally.

When you photograph moving items, you can’t be sure there isn’t something wrong, like a person with their eyes closed, a distracting gesture, or something that comes between your protagonist and the camera.

There are DSLR cameras that allow you to set a silent mode that reduces the sound of the camera when taking the photo. Look in the manual for this option, as burst mode on some cameras sounds like a machine gun.

In conclusion

Enjoy your camera on the street, forget technicalities and look for photographs with a message , regardless of noise, overexposure or shake.

Life in the city is a fantastic setting to test and practice your ‘photographic eye’. 

You know, try to go unnoticed, always use your smile, that softens the situation 🙂