Here are 14 Street Photography secrets that get you started.

1 | Start local

You would be surprised how many street photographers go far away and never photograph around their neighbourhoods. Walk the streets, and you’d be amazed at how many usable images you make. You know where to go and what to shoot. You see the scenes every day. So keep it local, And keep it fun.

2 | Don’t ask for permission before you shoot

Daily Observations Urban Photo Race 2017 Amsterdam 10 Hours, 6 Themes 4 locations, Per theme 3 pictures.
Daily Observations Urban Photo Race 2017 Amsterdam 6 Themes 4 locations, Per theme 3 pictures.

The best shots are the candid shots. If you see a street scene develop, photograph it. It is over before you know it. When you ask permission first, the moment is gone. Your only option then is to make a street portrait.

Which can be beautiful and very valuable because of the connection you make with the person you are photographing but the candid moment is gone.

If someone approaches you and asks what you are doing smile, and talk with the person, be sincere, and if they want to see the image you just made. Don’t be afraid. See it as an opportunity to make a street portrait. The connection is already there. If you are scared, read my post about conquering your fear in Street Photography.

3 | Don’t worry about gear

Shooting on the streets does not require a particular camera. I’ve shot images with Canon DSLRs and iPhones. It is the photographer that chooses the composition and sees the picture. Big DSLRs are conspicuous and bulky. They show that you are a professional photographer and do not allow you to blend in.

I use a Fujifilm X-Pro 2 with a 27mm pancake lens. A light setup that enables me to walk with my camera in my hand and shoot for a day.

4 | Get your settings sorted before you go out

In my professional photography, I use a DSLR in full manual mode. Working on the street requires me to be quick and thoughtless. I use the Av priority mode in f8.0 or f5.6 with an ISO setting of 1600. Often I use the -1 exposure compensation to enable a quicker shutter speed. When it is bright, I lower my ISO Setting to ISO 800 or ISO 400. I allow my black and white images to have the grain and noise that suits my specific style.

5 | Use one camera one lens

Use just one camera and a prime lens; this limits you to shoot with only the street in mind. No distractions on what lens to use. Or when to switch. Having multiple lenses distracts you from seeing the scenes and missing the shots.

I use a 27mm pancake which is a 40mm equivalent on a full-frame camera. It allows me to get close and involved in the scene but not be obtrusive.

When your image is not good enough, You are not close enough.

This famous quote from Robert Capa still applies. When using a long lens, you lack the connection with the scene. You should engage with your surroundings and blend in. When you can do that, you are conveying the stories of the streets.

6 | Do not touch the zoom

Zoom lenses allow you to choose different focal lengths. But it distracts you from the most important in street photography. Which is engaging with your surroundings, and the people on the street.

You have a zoom at your disposal. Which is your body, you can step closer and crouch to get a better angle and a better shot.

Resting on a bench along the canals of Amsterdam. Enjoying the heat disconnected from her surroundings. Daily Observations, 10-6-2017, Amsterdam, The Netherlands,
Resting on a bench along the canals of Amsterdam. Enjoying the heat disconnected from her surroundings. Daily Observations, 10-6-2017, Amsterdam, The Netherlands,

7 | Get your focus right

The majority of the cameras has fast autofocus. Or a manual focus which has a short reach like the Leica lenses. These lenses enable you to have a quick focus lock.

I use the focus lock button, which enables me to pre-focus with my thumb and reframe the shot. You can also zone focus by pre-focussing on a set distance and set your lens on manual focus. How zone focusing works, I will explain in a later article.

8 | Shoot in RAW

In your post-process, you can give your images your specific style and feel.

One of the secrets is to shoot primarily in black and white. And as I explain below, I never chimp, but I have set my previews in black and white. If you are photographing in black and white, set your previews in black and white. They show you how the camera captured the scene and gave you an idea of how the image would look. If you are photographing in colour, set your previews also in colour to see how they would look.

9 | Never chimp

As I explained earlier in this post, never chimp. Chimping distracts you of what is essential, the street scenes around you. When you chimp, you are focussed on your camera and not what is developing in front of you.

10 | Chase light

Look for light and shadow. When the light is flat, and the sky is cloudy shoot the streets and shoot portraits, But when the sun shines look for the shadows because when there is a shadow, there is the sun. Try to avoid the hard sunshine of midday. And focus on the mornings and afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. You get those hard shadows that you can use creatively. In the end, you can make beautiful images in any light circumstances.

11 | Think in layers

When walking around, looking for exciting foregrounds and backgrounds. Be aware of the foreground of the photos and the background, Make sure the back and foreground do not get in the way of each other, Make sure they are ‘clean’ enough to stand out the story you want to tell. Avoid friction and awkward overlaps between the different elements. Look for the light and shadow and create the ideal mix.

Finding the right combination is not easy, but when it works, you have a great image.

Table Dancing... A mother and her daughter dancing on a table at home.
A mother and her daughter dancing on a table at home, Hoorn, The Netherlands

12 | Stake out a scene

Search for a corner or a street. And wait until the things around you unfold. Robert Gilden shot the majority of images in one street in New York. He walked the same streets for years and came back with a unique body of work.

You can do that too. Look for a specific place and come back to that area often. Photograph the scenes that happen in front of you and don’t be afraid if you are there long enough people get accustomed to you and you will able to get closer and shoot the scenes that you envision.

13 | Shoot a lot

One of the secrets is applying the 10,000-hour rule to Street Photography. When you shoot a lot, every street session you learn something new, You will breach another boundary and gain more experience. So you become more streetwise.

Photographing a lot allows you to make mistakes and the only way you will learn is to make mistakes and learn from them.

14 | Edit well

When I went on a street session at the end of the day, I import my images to make room for new ones. But I look at them quickly, maybe make a quick edit and let them ‘soak’ for a while. It could be for some weeks or months. It enables me to detach from my images and look at them with fresh eyes. And ask the following questions.

  1. Is it an excellent image?
  2. Is it pleasing to look at the picture?
  3. Do they convey a great story?
  4. would I hang them on the wall?

When these are true, I post-process them in Lightroom with the standard presets and touch up the image a little bit and publish them on Daily Observations.

The 14 street photography secrets

Each of these 14 Street Photography secrets should help you improve your street photography. It is all trial and error and gaining confidence. Every one of the secrets and every step is an improvement and remember; there is no right or wrong; there are only your process and your ever-expanding vision.

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