Street photography may seem easy on the surface, but it can be incredibly difficult, particularly if you are just starting out or are nervous to photograph people that you have never met before. There is a lot of quickness and spontaneity needed to be able to do it well, and that can take the time to develop, but the first step is to get yourself comfortable out there and to learn a couple of tricks to make everything as easy as possible.
The goal of these tips is to get you over the initial hump. The first hump is the most difficult mentally, but once you get through it, you’ll find that street photography is a very enjoyable and almost addicting form of photography.
Before we get to the tips, I also just want to say this. While candid photographs are at the heart of street photography, there will be times when you will be uncomfortable. People might stop and ask if you just took their photo. And of course, it’s generally best to avoid take photos of people who look like they are especially angry or have some problems.
If someone ever stops you and asks if you took their photo, just smile and tell them that you did and that you’re doing a project on the people and culture of the area, and that you thought that they looked fabulous. Offer to send them the photo. Flattery can get you a long way. Then, if they seem uncomfortable, just offer to delete the photograph. When you handle yourself like this in these situations, you will keep yourself out of trouble. And after all, we’re doing this because we enjoy people and find them interesting.
So here are the three tips!
Raise your ISO – Camera Settings
You may have read in many places that it is always best to keep your ISO as low as possible. In the old days of digital photography, that was true because most cameras were terrible above ISO 400. These days that is so far from the case. Newer cameras can shoot with incredible quality at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. My general rule is ISO 400 for sunlight, 800-1600 for light to dark shade, and 3200-6400 for dusk and night.,
By using a high ISO, this will allow you to choose both a fast shutter speed and a small aperture to make your photographs as sharp as possible. Yes, I know sharpness is a bourgeois concept, but it’s important to have the ability to make sharp photographs. I use a base of 1/250th of a second for my shutter speed to make sure there is no motion blur in people. Then depending on the light, I will try to use as small an aperture as possible, so there is a lot of depth of field, although that is not always possible. Of course, you might want to try shots with a very shallow depth of field, and in that case, you can lower your ISO, but moments in street photography appear and disappear so fast, and you want to be able to capture them in focus. Setting up your camera like this can help to minimize your focusing mistakes.
Pick a busy spot and look like a tourist
Go somewhere where a lot is happening. The more that is happening, the more interesting moments you will come across. Within these areas, pick a location and hang out there. Linger and wait for things to happen. By doing this, you will be more focused on watching people and taking pictures than walking around, so you will be a lot quicker with your camera. Also, people will be entering your personal space instead of you entering their space, so they will notice you less and you will look less out of place.
It can help to take the previous point further and to just act like a tourist who is hanging out, enjoying the scenery, and photographing the area. One big key to getting noticed taking someone’s photographs is with the camera snap. The camera snap is when you take a photo and then briefly take the camera away from your eye. It’s instinctual, and it’s very subtle, but this is how people know that you have taken their photo. Instead, keep the camera at your eye after you take a photo and let the person walk through the frame. This way they will just think they got in your way. On the flip side, you can also do the opposite. Aim up at a building above or a scene to the side of a person, and then at the last second point the camera at them, take the photo and move on. Both of these strategies will help you to capture natural moments.
Now go out there, overcome your fears, and come back with some unique photographs!
James Maher is a professional street and portrait photographer based in New York City. He is also a licensed tour and history guide and gives New York Street Photography Tours around the city. He is offering his New York Photographer’s Travel Guide for free to anyone who is planning a photography trip to New York.