Every type of photography has its challenges, but none are more unpredictable than street photography. Still, it can be a great way to get an unforgettable photo. And did you know that there are no federal laws strictly prohibiting this type of photography in the United States?
We’re going to outline the best tips and tricks in the industry to help you get your perfect shot, every time.
#1 Capturing Your First Shot
If you’re new to this genre of photography, it can seem very daunting. There’s so much to consider- how to line up your shot on a busy thoroughfare (instead of on a perfectly designed studio set), how to adjust for changing weather and lighting conditions, and how to pick your location. And even more frightening, your subjects are passing strangers!
Don’t worry, though. Professionals in the field have had plenty of time to find workarounds. If you’re afraid of getting caught by strangers, you could take your shot from far away or from behind glass. Take pictures of animals or objects. If you can’t decide where to set up your gear, you could choose a location near where you live, or even in your own neighborhood.
It’s all about finding what works for you, whether you’re a trained professional or a beginner. There are so many Instagram accounts out there dedicated to street photography, so if you need inspiration for your first shots, look to the pros.
#2 Find the Light
Because you have to rely on weather patterns, you don’t have the option in street photography to choose your lighting. Instead, you have to adapt to what you’re given. You can use the contrast in naturally occurring shadows, such as from tall buildings or passing double-decker buses, to create the dark and light in your photos.
No spotlight is more flattering and candid than natural sunlight, and you may find that if you choose the right camera settings, the results you achieve are better than what you could get from any top-of-the-line studio floodlight.
#3 Find Your Backdrop
Even though it’s called street photography, this genre is much wider than that. Suburban or even rural settings can be prime shooting locations. You may not have much control over your background, but the upside is, you have unlimited choices! Wander around for a little while and find a place that has potential.
Maybe this means someplace famous and easily recognizable, like the Eiffel tower with the Seine below. But not all of us have access to such rarified locations, and besides, the essence of street photography is capturing everyday, candid life at its most precious, but also at its most mundane. With the right eye, any environment can be a fruitful location.
You could choose someplace anyone could recognize from their own surroundings, like a store window or the fire escapes of an apartment building. Streets, parks, and public transportation are all classic choices with tons of potential.
The most important thing is that it’s someplace that inspires you. Take your time, figure out what makes a good location for your photography style, and don’t be afraid to try new locations.
#4 Pick a Focal Point
Street photography is often intentionally chaotic. It’s part of this style’s charm, and it’s also often unavoidable because of how busy urban areas are. Without something for the eye to focus on, the photo’s composition can become too murky. A focal point is a perfect catalyst to help you create better photos.
It’s important to pick a subject for the photo. It could be a person, but it could just as easily be an object or part of the background. Use this to draw the eye to one particular spot so that your photo can truly become a modern work of art. By doing this, you can make sure that your images look professional and intentional.
#5 Find the Perfect Subjects
So what makes a good subject? They need to be interesting to shoot, they need to be ethically chosen, and for legal reasons, they need to be out on the public property.
Depending on your preferences, you might choose certain subjects over others. Maybe you noticed that they’re wearing something that complements their surroundings, or you like their facial expression or features. It’s all about what you want your photos to be.
Many photographers of this genre choose it for its spontaneity and its truthful expression of life in progress. Because the people in their photos are not models posing for a shot, their poses are natural and candid. You might choose them for no more reason except that you witnessed a moment worth capturing.
#6 Who Not to Shoot
That being said, there are some exceptions to the idea that anyone in a public space is a potential subject. For example, some people will object to you photographing their children. Additionally, there are conflicting schools of thought on whether the less fortunate, such as homeless people, should be photographed.
Many of the early predecessors of modern street photography, such as Dorothea Lange and Diane Arbus, focused exclusively on photographing those who lived on the fringes of society, such as the poor. Their work is a groundbreaking, intimate view of often-overlooked persons. And if you’re looking to capture the full truth about your surroundings, these same people will be included in your shots.
While it is certainly not out of the question to photograph children, the homeless, or people in compromising situations, remember to be respectful and tactful as you take your photos. Don’t force them to be on camera, and understand that they may ask you to move along.
#7 Be Respectful
Most of the time, being respectful to the subjects of your photographs means being unintrusive. No one likes a camera pointed right in their face, and anyway, you won’t get a candid photo that way.
So what do you do if someone catches you? Just smile, be calm and friendly, and tell them that you were taking their photo, but it’s for a candid photography project. Most people will be understanding, or even pleased at the image you captured.
Just remember to make the experience pleasant for the people around you. Don’t set up your camera equipment in the way of pedestrians, tip the buskers you’re photographing, and be courteous. Street photography has become such a staple of modern photography that most people will understand your intentions right away.
#8 Know Your Rights
That being said, it’s unlikely that you’ll face any legal ramifications for your street photography. Model releases for candid photography are not required under United States law. This means that while the perfect shot isn’t worth getting into an altercation with an unwilling participant, they aren’t going to be able to use the law against you. They can’t make you delete your photos or relinquish your equipment.
Of course, this only extends to public places, so obviously, you can’t legally take pictures of unwilling people through the windows of their homes or on their front lawns. But some places that seem public actually aren’t; shopping malls, or shopping centers in general, government buildings, and art galleries are all places where you’ll have to abide by other people’s rules.
Concerned onlookers may approach you if they see you taking photos. They have every right to do so, but as long as you remain friendly and tell them what you’re doing and why it’s unlikely that they will try to stop you from getting your shots.
#9 The Best Photos are Candid
The goal of street photography is to capture the expression of an unstaged moment. By blending in as tourists or passersby, street photographers avoid the notice of their subjects and thereby capture them as they are when they are unaware of their picture being taken.
There are a few tricks to this. First, you should wear clothing that doesn’t stand out. This will help you stay under the radar. Some street photographers even take it a step further by “acting” out the part of a confused tourist or an amateur photographer just learning how to use their equipment.
If you don’t know how to do this, you can still take your pictures from behind your subject or from farther away. You could pretend to be photographing the building behind them or the sunset on the horizon.
This isn’t so much intended to hide the fact that you’re taking pictures of people. It’s to prevent people from posing when they see you. You want them to continue being themselves because otherwise, you might as well be taking shots of a model on a studio backdrop. You want the reality of your shot to be the first thing someone notices when they look at the finished product.
#10 ..Or Are They?
Of course, sometimes, the subject being aware of the photo can actually lend to its authenticity instead of taking away from it. If you snap a picture and realize the subject was actually aware of your presence, it doesn’t mean that image is unusable.
Instead of being an almost voyeuristic shot of an unwitting model, a photo with eye contact can be more expressive and unique. It is still an image of a person being themselves, and now the cameraman, and consequently, the viewer, is a character in their world. This way, the viewer feels like they are a part of the scene instead of a mere onlooker.
The point of street photography is to capture a moment, and if that moment is the one where a person realized they were being watched, it can lend humor and intimacy to the finished photo. Just don’t forget to smile afterward and fill them in on the gag!
#11 Be Spontaneous
Remember that you have an entire city and beyond to find an ideal place to shoot when you’re creating street photography. Every alley or parking lot could be full of potential. It’s all about being open to the possibilities and taking them when you see them.
Don’t bury your face in your camera. Look around, and keep your eyes open for the sights and moments worth capturing. Wait for a person with a unique outfit or for a ray of sun that acts as a perfect spotlight. Don’t be afraid to wait in one place for a while to see if conditions change or to abandon a location that initially looked amazing because it’s not paying off.
#12 Publishing Your Photographs
Not only is it legal to photograph strangers in public, but it is also legal to distribute and even sell the resulting images. These photos can be used in art installations, news articles, or in your private portfolio. You can put them up on public online profiles, such as those on Instagram or Twitter.
The main sticking point, legally, is whether these images can be used in advertisements. Generally speaking, the answer is no. The laws surrounding unwitting use in advertising material are much stricter than the ones that govern artistic expression.
This does mean that if your work is classified as an art installation, you may sell your work to galleries or news sites without worrying about any legal ramifications.
Street photography is not only a wholly unique style of photography, but it’s one of the most difficult. It requires patience, spontaneity, and creativity at all times from those who pursue it. But if you have the right pair of comfortable shoes and an eye for the perfect shot, it can also be one of the most rewarding styles out there.
With these tips, you’ll be able to snap the candid, non-performative shots you’re looking for in no time. If you liked this article, don’t forget to share it and let us know what you think in the comments below.