Great street photography tips for newbies.

Practical street photography tips for “newbies”

I was in London last week, having won a four day trip! We had an amazing time sightseeing, eating, drinking and of course, photographing. I decided to try my hand at street photography, well aware that it was out of my comfort zone. I learned a lot and thought you might find my street photography tips useful.

Street photography tips when photographing strangers

This Japanese lady was amazing. Totally confident and happy in her very striking outfit. I love the fact that all the relatively plainly dressed people around her didn’t stare at her or give her any extra attention.

Street Photography Tips – Practical Stuff

OK, firstly lets tackle the issue of guts or bravery required for street photography. Here’s what I learned:

  • Just do it! The more shots you take the easier it gets.
  • Don’t be OBVIOUS and be quick. Keep your camera ready on a strap around your neck and with the optimum settings already sorted. Keep your elbows tucked in so that you don’t stand out as a photographer.
  • The sneakier you feel the sneakier you will look! Shoot with confidence and try not to make people feel uncomfortable. If you are spotted and challenged, SMILE, show them the picture and explain what you are doing. If they object you could delete the photo although you are under no legal obligation to do so.
  • I used a few “sneaky” methods, more so as to not make people feel uncomfortable:
    • I used the tilt screen on the back of my camera so that I could shoot from waist height.
    • I pretended to show my husband a shot on the back of my camera, as I photographed someone.
    • You could also pretend to be taking a selfie with your smartphone.
    • I switched off the focusing “beep”. I can’t make my shutter sound silent but on some cameras you can so that you are in total “stealth mode!”

I was actually at my most comfortable and confident when not employing any sneaky techniques. In a busy street people are less likely to take any notice of you. Find a good spot where there’s a lot going on and indulge in some people watching. I’ve seen some great street photography where the photographer has picked the location / background first and then waited for the right person to come along.

Street photography tips London

This was a very easy shot to take as it didn’t take much “guts” and it tells a nice story and is interesting because of the costume. It’s very “of its time” with the selfie stick and it makes you smile but it isn’t particularly powerful.

Street Photography Tips – Technical stuff

You might think that the best lens for street photography would be a long zoom. However, this can make you stand out more and make people feel more uncomfortable. Long focal lengths also have the effect of making you seem very remote and removed from the subject and the scene – merely an observer. Shorter focal lengths, wider angles are more intimate and put you in the middle of the action. The kit lens that comes with many DSLRs is perfect with its 18-55mm range. I was shooting with the Sony FE 28-70mm lens on my Sony A7ii.

Street photography tips spontaneity

I love this shot! Lovely newly married couple in the midst of a busy street scene with people rushing by oblivious. The closeness of the shot puts me right there – in fact we congratulated them as they strode by.

Unless you are purposely trying to capture motion blur then you need to use a fast shutter speed – I went for 1/250. As I was shooting in Manual I could set the Aperture too and I went for fairly wide open at f/4.5 to give me maximum light. As I wanted to be always ready whatever the light conditions were like, I used AUTO ISO. This then ensures the exposure will be right and I was happy to accept a bit of graininess in low light, as long as I got the shot. You could also use burst or continuous shooting mode and select the best picture. I opted not to as I’m a bit tired of having lots of images to look through.

I love my nifty fifty (actually it’s 55mm for the Sony A7) with its max aperture of f/1.8 for photographing at markets and capturing portraits with great bokeh. However, 50mm is quite a narrow field of view (even more so on a cropped sensor camera – around 80mm) for street photography and it can be quite restrictive if you are in the middle of the action. A short zoom gives you more flexibility to quickly get a wider shot. Street photography tends to lend itself to more detailed shots of the environment, so shallow depth of field isn’t so important.

Street photography tips motion blur

Train stations, the underground etc where people from all walks of life gather, are great playgrounds for the street photographer. In this shot i set a slow shutter speed – 1/30 – to capture the movement of the train. Luckily my subject was still.

Having the camera settings sorted means that you can be more prepared as speed is of the essence. I did still miss two shots that I knew would have been amazing if I’d been fast enough. Both were of people coming quickly towards me, a tricky situation, as, firstly, they are definitely going to see me and secondly I would have needed to use AF-C – where the auto focus tracks movement. I just wasn’t ready.

Street Photography Tips – Creative Stuff

It can be hard to have composition at the forefront of your mind when shooting quickly at a fleeting moment and doing it unobtrusively. As I got more comfortable photographing strangers I found I thought about composition instinctively. So when you first start out, just shoot a lot to build confidence and when that comes, start to think about different angles, subject placement, what’s in the background. As I said earlier you can pick a great background and then wait nearby for the right shot to happen.

Consider shooting in dramatic weather – rain showers, fog, golden light, back lit. This will elevate a snap shot into a great shot. Night time can also be a good time, using the ambient light, a high ISO and of course, no flash! If the scene is a little busy try converting the shot to black & white to give it greater impact.

street photography at night

This is Natasha Barnes, the understudy star of Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre. It captures her personality in that role and I love the fact that I got the minder and the Stage Door sign in the background to give context and tell a story.

A couple of final points:

Be aware of your legal rights: In short, you can photograph people in public places (this can be a bit of a minefield as places like shopping centres, parks, museums, some landmarks etc are not public places). Here’s a quick guide to UK law. At the time of posting of course.

Be safe: Always put your safety first and consider if the people you are photographing could turn on you or if the location is unsafe for you, with expensive camera equipment.

street photography safety

This group of men at Charing Cross tube station (a very scary place at any time of day!) was a great photographic subject but I wouldn’t have wanted them to see me taking their picture, as alcohol and possibly drugs were being used. This kind of shot feels quite exploitative to me, although that can then lead to the more powerful and emotive images.

I run courses and offer one to one tuition to beginners and improvers, so if you’d like help photographing your product then click on the links and take a look.

Why not join the Love Your Lens Facebook group and get free tips, ideas and feedback in this friendly and informative group. There’s a weekly photography challenge and this week’s is STREET LIFE so you could put these street photography tips to use straight away! Click here to join.

Did you like this blog post or find it useful? If so, please leave a comment, sign up for email reminders at the top of the page or share it with your friends (or even better, all three!!). Thank you – Jane :-)







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