The Basics of Street Photography

By Bonusprint on 13 January 2022

Whether at home or abroad, it’s always fun to photograph the dance of daily life in the street! In fact there’s no better way to capture and celebrate those magical micro moments that make city life so exciting. With advice on everything from creating more interesting compositions to choosing the best camera gear and settings for the job, these easy street photography tips will help you see the world around you in an exciting and creative new way.

1. Use a Smaller Camera (or Your Phone!)

The beauty of street photography is that it’s less about the gear and more about how you look at the world around you. Your goal is to blend in as much as possible, which is difficult to do with a big professional quality DSLR or mirrorless camera swinging around your neck. This is why so many pro street photographers use small point-and-shoot compact cameras. In fact, your phone is the perfect camera for street photography as it’s so unobtrusive.

2. Set it and Forget it

Street photography is all about looking for those serendipitous moments and being ready to photograph them whenever they arise. For this reason, it’s important that your camera or phone is ready to snap away at the drop of the hat. Make the most of fully-automatic modes, such as “Auto” and “Program”, or consider using semi-automatic modes like aperture priority (where your camera allows you to choose an aperture but automatically controls the shutter speed and ISO), or shutter speed priority (where your camera lets you choose a shutter speed but controls everything else). This will let you spend more time searching for those magic little moments and less time fiddling with your camera settings.

3. Always Keep Your Camera Handy

There’s nothing worse than stumbling upon an amazing scene – perhaps a helicopter flying under the bridge you’re walking over or a seagull swooping down and stealing your partner’s lunch! – and not being ready to photograph it. Make sure you’re ready to shoot at all times by keeping your camera lens cap off and out of its bag. Either wear it around your neck or shoulder or keep it in a pocket that you can get to quickly and easily when you spot something. If you’re shooting with your smartphone, keep your photography app open and make sure you can grab it in one swift movement.

4. Shoot Urban Portraits of Friends and Family

City streets are fantastic places for shooting stylish urban portraits. Whether you’re exploring a new city with your partner, family or friends, be sure to keep an eye out for interesting locations and backdrops. It could be an iconic landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Brooklyn Bridge, or it could be something altogether more “normal” like a park or cool cafe in your hometown. Look for flattering light, tell your subject where you’d like them to stand and start snapping away. You’ll be amazed by how fun and dynamic street portraits can be!

5. Slow Down to Shoot More

Street photography is sort of like meditation. The more you slow down and tune into the rhythm of the city, the more you’ll notice and photograph! Walk slowly and try to absorb everything that’s happening around you. Look behind you as well as ahead, observe what’s happening either side of you and don’t forget to look up and down too. Finding it difficult to slow down? Try sitting on a bench and watching the world passing you by, but keep your camera ready to go if and when you see something or someone that intrigues you.

6. Notice the Little Things

Whether you’re in your own city or a brand new foreign destination, try to observe your environment as if you were seeing and experiencing it for the first time. What stands out to you? Any subject matter can make a brilliant street photo – it doesn’t have to be beautiful in the traditional sense. Found a strange plant growing in the middle of a busy urban space? Spotted a busker dressed in an outrageous costume? Take a quick snap! Maybe you like the texture or colour of an unusual building, or a cool shop front or cinema poster. If it catches your attention, don’t hesitate, just shoot it! Not every photo has to be a masterpiece. It’s more about observing the world as it is and celebrating it with your camera.

7. Check Your Body Language

It’s normal to feel self-conscious while you’re out taking photographs on the street, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Taking photos is a hobby shared by millions around the world. So instead of trying to hide your camera or quickly snap “secret” photos without anyone noticing, try to relax and be more open. Smile and enjoy yourself and you will look far less suspicious than someone who looks like they’re being sneaky.

8. Use a Little Humour

Street photography is the perfect medium for conveying visual humour. Whether you’ve spotted a funny street sign or some ironic graffiti, a keenly-observed photo is all it takes to give your viewers something to smile about. And remember, not everyone needs to “get it”. Perhaps some photos will be particularly funny to you and your partner, while others may relate to an inside joke you have with your friendship group. Even if it’s something only you find funny, it’s still worth snapping a quick photo to look back on with a grin in years to come!

9. Respect People’s Space and Time

There’s nothing better than heading out into a new city with your camera with nothing to do but take photos, but always remember that most people you encounter will be working and have places to be. Always try to take your photos quickly without getting in people’s way. And if you do start talking to someone while taking their portrait, try not to keep them waiting for too long. Always ask people politely if you can take their photo, rather than trying to sneak a cheeky “secret” portrait. If they do pose for a shot, don’t forget to say thank you. You might even gain a new instagram follower in the process!

10. Follow the Action

There are almost unlimited options when it comes to being creative with your camera in the street. You could easily spend a whole day in one specific neighborhood (or even on the same street), but sometimes it pays to explore different areas. Keep an eye out for groups of people heading in the same direction. Maybe there’s a cultural event going on that you don’t know about or a party about to start. Follow the action and, hopefully, you’ll find something extra special to photograph!

11. Use the “Fishing” Technique

Don’t have the time or energy to explore an entire city? No problem! The “fishing” technique is a classic street photography tactic that you can practice anywhere. Simply find a spot that you like – maybe because the light is great or there’s lots of colourful graffiti on the walls – raise your camera and wait for some interesting subjects to walk into your frame. Do this for long enough and can be sure to “catch” something special exciting with your camera!

12. Shoot Urban Self-Portraits

It’s normal that we tend to shoot other people when we’re the ones behind the camera (or with our smartphones). However, city streets are also perfect for creating cool self-portraits. Look for modern buildings with reflective surfaces, such as glass or polished metal, or seek out windows where you can see yourself as well as the interior. Photograph your reflection in mirrors, puddles, ponds and lakes, or grab your friends and family members for a quirky reflective group shot.

13. Always Wear Comfy Shoes

Sometimes street photography is a numbers game: the more time you spend exploring the streets with your camera, the more photos you’ll be able to take. The secret to this is making sure you’re wearing comfortable trainers so that you can comfortably stay on your feet all day (and even into the night if you still have energy!). Forget style and think of comfort instead – your camera roll will thank you for it!

14. Have Fun with Your Street Photography!

Street photography is supposed to be fun! Don’t worry if you don’t manage to capture any award-winning photos. As long as you are having fun and exercising your creative eye, you’re doing it right! Oh, and don’t just photograph those cool cafes and yummy market food stalls – also be sure to step inside for plenty of tasty treats along the way too!

Discover more advice and tips to inspire your photography on the bonusprint blog.