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5 Tips for Successful Street Photography

The essence of street photography is about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. You can find opportunities to practice street photography everywhere and you don’t necessarily need to travel to capture great shots.

It’s a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject’s knowledge. However, street photography doesn’t rule out staged pictures. You may spot an interesting character that catches your vision; you can wander up to strangers and ask for permission to take their picture. This is a great way to get a more intimate portrait of someone in his or her environment.

The most important thing with street photography is to have fun and enjoy getting out with your camera. Remember, your goal is to capture emotion, humanity, and depict a person’s character. It takes time to get your shot, but with some practice and patience it is rewarding.

#1: Choosing the best lens

Deciding which lens to use is one of the most important factors for street photography. You may be tempted to use a telephoto lens, but that’s more than likely to result in more harm than good. You don’t want to be that creepy person standing across the road aiming a giant lens at strangers. If you want to look inconspicuous you’re going to need to get up close and among the action. Use a wide-angle lens and get lost in a busy crowd. Many street photographers choose a compact camera that’s less confronting than a large DSLR, the advantages being smaller, lightweight, and discreet.

#2: Camera settings

The quickest and easiest way to set up your camera for street photography is by switching the camera to AV (aperture-priority mode) and selecting your f-stop (aperture) and ISO manually. The camera will then decide the shutter speed (exposure). On a bright sunny day a good place to start is around f/16 with an ISO between 200-400. If your camera displays a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are ready to roll.

Take note of the shutter speed your camera is reading and make adjustments to aperture and ISO accordingly. If your camera is giving you a shutter speed that is below 1/80th you run the risk of a blurred shot, but that could be used for good effect too. To overcome blur simply increase your ISO and/or choose a wider aperture. If you’re new to photography you can always set camera to P mode (program or auto) and let the camera select the correct settings. You can still adjust the EV if you want to over or under expose the shot to your liking.

This is useful if you are shooting run and gun (in a hurry with no time to think), but you have little control over what the camera is doing, so this isn’t always the best option. Program mode does a pretty decent job, but I wouldn’t rely on it in low light where there’s a high possibility your shutter speed will be too slow to freeze the action.

#3: Get close to your subjects

Using a wide-angle lens enables you to get nice and close to your subjects. The advantage of the wide angle gives the viewer a sense of being there in the moment. You’ll also blend in with the crowd as part of the environment, rather than standing out across the street with a long lens.

Many successful street photos were taken only few meters from the action and sometimes only centimeters away. Walking through a busy street, market or park can result in some rewarding pictures if you are observant and keep your eyes open for interesting subjects. If your images aren’t how you visualized them, then you may need to get closer, so use your feet as your zoom to be sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

#4: Take your camera everywhere

Street photography is spontaneous and waits for no one. It’s a discipline you must practice to make perfect. Your camera is an extension of yourself — it’s your gateway to sharing your vision with the world and you don’t want to miss an amazing photo opportunity by not having your camera on you. If you’re serious about street photography, you will have your camera within reach at all times.

This is known as the ‘decisive moment,’ where you have only a split second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever. You rarely get a second chance, so be prepared.

#5: Ignore the voice in your mind

Some people struggle with the idea of street photography. Some concerns may be the fear about your subjects getting angry because you took their picture, threaten you with physical violence, or even worse, call the police. Fear is simply false evidence appearing real. These are all common fears, but it’s possible to overcome by practicing and getting out more with your camera. Here are some suggestions to overcome your concerns.

Find an interesting spot to sit with your camera. I spend a lot of time at cafes and restaurants when I travel, my camera ready for any opportunities. Observing from a comfortable setting you’ll feel at ease and can wait for pictures to come to you. You are less likely to be noticed sitting outside a café with your camera than standing in the middle of the street.

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