ACC Tips on Street Photography

Here's some tips for street photography, where you may well want to surreptitiously take photos of other people in their natural environment, acting naturally. They are arranged in no particular order. If you've got more we can add, please contact the webmaster

Street photography

  • Wear muted, boring, slightly shabby clothes so people won't notice you.
  • Keep still so people don't notice your motion.
  • Keep your elbows in.
  • Use a small camera, such as a compact, so you are less likely to be noticed.
  • On a small camera, f8 is more like f22 on an SLR.
  • For prime lenses, 28mm or 50mm are good. 90mm too.
  • Use an SLR with a long lens when your subjects are far away.
  • Turn off all beeps. Set camera to silent mode if possible.
  • Use speed priority, 1/250 second or so to get sharp pictures.
  • Use aperture priority, under f11, to defocus background.
  • Use program mode if you're not sure.
  • Expose for the highlights. Don't worry about blacks (they give
  • Know your depth of field. Calibrate beforehand. Zoom in to see this.
  • Don't worry about high ISO when grot is good.
  • Street photography usually means taking pictures of people without their knowledge.
  • Always take a camera, wherever you go. Ensure you can get it out quickly and surreptitiously.
  • Learn to 'smell the streets', being streetsmart and aware.
  • Be aware of risks. Avoid really dodgy areas. As appropriate, know your escape route.
  • One approach is to take photos from car while someone else drives.
  • Always be ready to grab a quick shot. Impact can be more important than quality.
  • Act casual. Avoid nervousness.
  • Do some grab shots and some more thoughtful composed.
  • You can lose a photo if you fiddle with the camera. This also gets you noticed. Set, forget and snap.
  • Take lots of photos.
  • Be aware of the background as well as the foreground.
  • Look for a good background, set up and wait for passers-by.
  • Good backgrounds: 'borrowed art' of graffiti, mannequins, grot, hoardings.
  • Dark edge in background can hold things in, like a tree or dark cloud in landscape.
  • Look beyond the subject, as if you are photographing something behind them.
  • Frame wide and focus, bring camera off eye but hold in same direction. Press shutter while not lookng at subject.
  • Look for text that can be a subtle comment on people and things. Cropped, part-words too.
  • Look for incongruity, humour.
  • Watch the lights and shadows. Use them to create mood and impact. Get to a place where light helps you.
  • Try diagonal and odd angle shots.
  • Get as close as you can to your subjects. It can be less obvious than when you are standing back.
  • Close and wide aperture softens the background nicely.
  • Take photos from waist-level if this works (tilt live-view screen upwards), but sometimes eye level (or ground or high) is better.
  • Some people take only in monochrome for the atmosphere, but it's not essential.
  • Some like to use a 16:9 aspect ratio, to give a cinematic feel.
  • Turn camera sideways to capture people without facing them.
  • When you are to the side or behind people, they won't see you. When in front, they may.
  • People chatting, on phone, dozing or otherwise distracted are less likely to notice you.
  • Capture interesting body language, people doing things.
  • Watch for how and where people are looking. Toward one another, away, same direction, at something.
  • Take people with bright clothes against muted backgrounds and vice versa.
  • Don't be afraid of cutting of heads, limbs and torso. Heads especially attract attention.
  • Sit at a cafe table with camera on table, and casually take pictures.
  • Find the stage. Wait for the actors. See the story.
  • Shots through windows can be good. In to out and out to in. eg. people drinking coffee.
  • Fish where the fish are. Go to stations, events, markets. Join weird groups on Facebook and get invited to events.
  • Find places that give good opportunities and keep going back.
  • Night-time is a great time to photograph on the streets. Turn the ISO up for this.
  • Be creative. Be open to unusual shots and situations. Look for the story (or even make it).
  • Don't give the photo viewer all the story. Sustain tension.
  • Eye contact can make a great photograph. It also means you've been noticed.
  • When people notice you, engage with them. Chat and ask if you can photograph them.
  • Avoid photographing people who seem angry. Adrenaline can make them aggressive with you.
  • If people see you photographing them, smile! Show you're not a threat.
  • When you smile at people, they often smile back. Which can make a good photo.
  • Don't let worry hold you back. Be brave (but not foolhardy).
  • Don't delete willy nilly. Come back time and again to photos. Let them sink in.
  • In editing, use it or lose it. If it's not a useful part of the image, crop it.
  • Going monochrome, ensure full tonal range. Do this in editing if needed.
  • Use lots of darks and shadows for moodiness.
  • Watch for directional lighting, especially for monochrome.
  • Get motion using flash, second curtain sync, low power (like 1/16), low ISO (to force speed down) and even ND filter for the same.

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