“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
If you browse any online photography forum or photographic community, there is always someone talking about street photography. It seems to be a pretty popular topic, despite many people not having a solid grasp as to what it really entails.
In simple terms, street photography is photography aimed at capturing everyday life. It often involves the photographer walking around in a city or a public place, and snapping pictures of normal everyday people doing normal everyday things. What makes street photography so compelling, however, is capturing these everyday activities in a beautiful way. Doing so gives street photography the power to tell a story, or provides a glimpse into the lives of those that inhabit this world. It takes us to a realm of realism, and allows us to understand cultures that are different than our own. This makes street photography such a crucial aspect to not only the photographic community, but society at large.
Of course, taking better street photos is subjective. Some prefer more stylistic aspects to their street photos, while others aim to capture realism in its most prominent light. If you haven’t learned your style yet, try both. Here are a few tips you can follow to make your street photos stand out.
Get Close to your Subjects
There’s a reason why Robert Capa (an influential street photographer) said the quote you saw at the top of this page. You won’t capture deep and moody shots if you can’t be comfortable getting up close and personal with your subjects. Sure, a telephoto lens (85mm+) allows you to get shots from far away, but using a telephoto for street photography prevents you from capturing the setting. Some of the best street photographers of all time shot at 35mm, a fairly wide angle. Check out this photo I took in a small village in rural Vietnam. I was pretty close when I took this shot, and I wasn’t shy getting up close.
Shot at 50mm.
In this case, I didn’t ask for permission. Rather, I just gave him a big smile and head nod that indicated my respect. He was more than happy to be photographed, and this allowed me to get close to him. I got lucky and he struck an excellent pose! But, sometimes getting your subject to pose presents a better shot. The street photographer is always thinking about whether to ask for permission, or capture the shot candid. Each technique provides different results, but both are interesting.
Pro Tip: If you don’t speak the language of your subject, often pointing to your camera and flashing a big smile and slightly bowing your head in respect is enough to get their permission. You can then help them pose using body language.
Don’t Overthink Your Gear
While a faster focusing camera might make it easier to snap those candid shots on the fly, your gear ultimately doesn’t matter. Some of the best street photographers of all time shot with old film cameras that we would consider ancient in today’s digital age. Many street photographers nowadays don’t shoot with the latest gear, as they find it distracts from the main outcome of street photography: capturing the lives of those around us. Even the iPhone can take fantastic street photos. Check out this one I shot I took in Japan a few years ago. Taken with nothing but an old iPhone 5. Sure, there are lots of things I would change about this photo today (especially the edit, I took this awhile ago!), but it’s still not a bad photo. Just goes to show what you can do with an ancient iPhone.
Don’t Leave Your Camera Behind
Street photography is spontaneous and it’s not going to wait for you. Often, you’ll get your best street photos when you least expect it. Take this one, for example. I wasn’t planning on shooting much this day, but when I met this woman I knew I needed to take her portrait. She agreed I could take her photo if I bought some of her pineapple. So I whipped out my camera and captured this. Bottom line, always keep your camera by your side, and always keep an eye out for interesting shots. You never know when the opportunity might present itself!
You can see how I captured this shot in my Travel Street Photography course.
Don’t hesitate to break any photographic rules when you see fit. Move around and shoot from different angles, try new things. Shoot things you don’t usually shoot, move close then back up and keep shooting. Take a walk down an alley that looks boring, maybe something down there will catch your eye. Shoot at night, in the snow, in the rain, in the hot sun. You are going to get bad shots when you engage in street photography, especially when you try new things. But if you don’t try new things, you might miss the best shot of your life. This shot is a wonderful example of something you could get by branching out. Most photographers would call it quit if it started raining this hard, but this one stuck it out and captured an incredible photo.
An amazing shot of a monk in Bangkok, Thailand by Daniel Durazo This image perfectly illustrates how breaking a “photography rule” can lead to a very powerful image. In this case, Daniel chose to cut off the eyes of the monk and rather focus his composition on the monks basket and clothing, resulting in a unique and beautiful shot. See more of this series on Daniels website.
Don’t Take it Too Seriously
What makes street photography so great is the actual act of it. Taking a walk in a city is fun, and even more so when your camera is present. When you’re out shooting, you often notice things you might not notice when you don’t have your camera. But, it’s important to not stress about getting the “perfect shot”. Many photographers get caught up when they go out to shoot, constantly stressing about capturing the perfect photo. Relax, and just go for a walk. Snap photos when you see fit, but don’t actively hunt for amazing pictures. The opportunity will present itself at one point of another, only then do you seize it.
Snapped this during one of my morning temple walks in Kobe, Japan. If you want this vintage film look, check out my Wanderlust Travel Preset Pack which contains 25 presents I designed specifically for street and travel photography. This photo was edited with the “Kobe” preset.
Street photography is a powerful form of art, and mastering it isn’t as hard as you think. Of course, there are other tips you could follow to improve your street photography skills, but nothing will make you better then getting out there and actually shooting. If you want to get better, grab your camera and hit the street. Overthinking street photography makes the process complicated when it shouldn’t be. These simple and relatively broad tips are all you need to master street photography, it just takes a bit of time and effort.