Deal 6: 365 days of training from the world’s best photographers
Many photographers are timid about “shooting strangers” on the street which keeps them from even trying. Street photography is all about telling a story in a single frame and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s normal to be reluctant or shy, but these 12 steps will gently ease you into the wonderful world of street photography that exists in your hometown or anywhere else your travels take you. There are lots of stories out there waiting to be told. Get your camera and let’s go!
In most countries, as long as you are in a public place, it is perfectly legal to photograph people for either editorial or fine art purposes. However, if you intend to use any of those images for stock photography, meaning using that photograph in advertising, then you need the proper model release form signed. Each country has its own laws and regulations about this, so please do your research before you photograph strangers in the streets.
It’s generally better to shoot street photography on your own. Why? You are more invisible that way. But if going on your own is a bit intimidating at first, take a friend along. It will help emboldened you, but also surprise you at how differently two people see the world.
In my workshops I encourage new street photographers to start with a busy public place such as a street market or an outdoor event as a comfortable start. You are more invisible in a crowd and can more easily overcome your fear of photographing strangers. Street performers are excellent street photography subjects to start shooting. After all, they are there to be seen and are used to being photographed plus they are part of the culture of the place you are visiting. Buskers perform to make a few bucks, so shoot away, and be generous with what you toss in their hat!
As much as I enjoy walking for hours searching for that special moment, I often do a lot of standing and waiting if I find a really compelling background to use as a stage. Once you find your stage, be patient and eventually the right people will walk through your frame. When I am traveling I like to add a sense of place by carefully selecting the architecture in the background or finding signage in the local language.
Silhouettes are interesting subjects only if they are easily recognized. There should be no doubt as to what the image is. People with umbrellas, bicyclists or lovers holding hands are terrific silhouette images.
I love the thrill of engaging a subject in a conversation! For some of you this may be more intimidating than shooting candidly. For others, you can get over the apprehension by asking permission to make a portrait, so they are more at ease with the process. If you ask permission and it is granted, take your time. Then show them the picture on the back of your camera. Tell them why they caught your attention. Everyone enjoys a compliment!
Basically, if they are in a public place, you have just as much right to photograph children as anybody else. Even so, it’s a good idea to get the okay from a parent first. My way is to simply nod towards them, show my camera and wait for their nod back. For the times when no one is around to give you the okay, use your best judgement.
When I do candid shots, I occasionally interact with my subject after I make the photograph. But mostly I’m invisible and they never know I took a picture. When I make a street portrait I engage them in a conversation and show them the picture on the back of the camera. If they ask for a copy I give them my card so they can email me for a digital file of their portrait. That’s the least you can do to thank them for their time.
You are not doing anything wrong, but if someone objects to having their picture taken, don’t shoot! It’s not worth an argument. You may be well within your legal rights, but the most important thing is to be respectful of others. I would also urge you to avoid photographing people in vulnerable or embarrassing situations. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you feel comfortable being photographed that way? If the answer is no, then use your common sense and move on.
That’s an important step towards making street photography an enjoyable experience and one I always teach my students right away. If the situation feels wrong or dangerous, then it probably is. Trust your gut.
This is totally a personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer. I prefer to process my images in black and white for its timeless quality, but some images are better in color and sometimes the subject is color. Let your artistic eye guide this decision. But I will say that another advantage of monochrome is its ability to remove any distracting colorful elements from the frame, allowing the viewer to the be more drawn to the subject.
Don’t let anyone tell you what does or doesn’t qualify as street photography, or what camera you should use. There are no official rules here. Street photography is all about telling a story, communicating an emotion. Your camera is an extension of your own artistic vision. Be patient. Trust your gut. Go out there and have fun!
Are you currently a street photographer or aspire to become one? Please share your experience with the dPS readers.
May 19, 2013 11:04 am
I have yet to try much street photography. I have done event photography though. Mainly including 'hallway' photography of cosplayers at those events. Under those circumstances there are people who will get candids, My best photo ever was candid zoomed shot during a break in between activities. And I have seen the worst, people taking (blury?) cell phone shots of cosplayers in the crowd who have already walked past them, when the cosplayer would have stopped and posed for them. But I conform to the accepted 'con' etiquette of asking for photos. Now cosplayers expect that and pose a hundred times a day, so I get few rejections. But the important thing is not to feel rejected if they say no, but to smile and thank them anyway. Once you get over that, and the loss of a photograph, it's much easier to keep asking.
April 24, 2013 02:08 pm
Thank you for such a great simple tips about street photography. I have been doing street photography for less than a year. And I think the way you take your shot is depending on where you are? Many times I take the shot from the hip to avoid grabbing attention of the subject. I find it a great way especially in tight places like in public transportation or at stores.
April 22, 2013 04:47 am
I think for taking street photograph u don't get much more time or situation to take the cover shot. It's always not happening but sometime u can the chance to get it. For that we should maintain the rules of using camera & lenses. Also need patience, conscious of targeting of goal & waiting for the right shots. Just one click & u get it,
April 8, 2013 03:33 pm
went to Africa, took a portable printer. Printed people copies of their portraits on the run.
The looks on their faces was well worth a few bucks of printer film.
January 26, 2013 05:22 pm
Be quick and light on your feet, dress normally so you don't stand out, don't be sneaky, don't try to be an invisible ninja-this is what attracts attention. Have your camera set up and know it well, you don't want to waste time and miss shots. If you can have it set up so there is min shutter speed (1/500 in my case) and small aperture (Bruce Gilden uses f16, I usually f8) - freeze motion and large sharpness zone, wear comfortable shoes and a small camera bag. Pretend you are shooting something else, if you are "caught" just smile, nod and walk away. Ask for portrait shot if you see someone looking really awesome. Be honest, polite but firm if need be. Have fun - street is the stage in the biggest theater in the world - be patient -amazing stuff happens there. My street portfolio http://www.piotrekziolkowski.com/street
January 26, 2013 04:50 pm
Thank you. This is the best information that I have seen on Street Photography. I live in New York City and plan to visit our numerous ethnic neighborhoods in the near future. I should get some interesting images in Harlem, China Town, El Barrio, Times Square, etc. In my opinion NY is the capital of the world.
January 22, 2013 08:04 pm
Thank you all for your comments! @Ferrell, you may be right although it is my experience that people who feel uncomfortable having their children photographed in public will object to both male and female photographers. It's the camera and the invasion of privacy that bother them. As a parent, I totally understand other parents objecting to having strangers photograph their children and I respect that. A smile goes a long way though and it's important not to be pushy. The experience has to be positive for everyone.
January 22, 2013 02:34 pm
This is a good article, now I got an idea how to do street photography. Thanks for sharing this.
January 21, 2013 08:09 am
Ferrell got there before me; the male / female thing. Certainly where kids are concerned.
Women aren't threatening and probably receive fewer negative reactions because of it.
The opposite point is that remote or night photography can be uncomfortable for a woman alone. I wander onto abandoned building sites and the like without a second thought. I'm not sure I'd advise my daughter to do the same...
January 20, 2013 02:45 am
Good article Valerie, Any thoughts on male vs. female street photographers? It would seem like the females would be less threatening especially when photographing children. Males have to overcome the "pervert" stereotype and subjects may see them as having ulterior motives. It would be an interesting study to send male and female photographers into the streets and see which gender gets the most "no's" under the same shooting distance. Your thoughts?
January 18, 2013 11:33 pm
Very helpful advice for a newbie to street photography.
Will definitely start wioth some street performers.
January 18, 2013 02:58 pm
Thank you this was great. I'm as new as it gets to the world of photography. While walking on the beach in Monterey CA I saw the cutest thing, a father tech his very young son how to boogie board. I could not help myself and took a photo. The rest of the family (wife and grandparents) were sitting on the beach watching. I walked up and introduced myself to the mother/wife and told her I had just taken a photo of her "boys" I showed her the photo and asked if she would like a copy. I offered my email address. She sent me an email right then and there from her phone. Her mother or mother in-law ask if she could see the photo. She was very happy for the photos as she was trying to take the same photo with her cell phone. I sent them the photo as soon as I got home. It made me feel good to know just maybe the photo will be a great memory for the family. If you would like to see the photo i have included a link.
January 18, 2013 10:20 am
These are wonderful shots, and your advice just might get me to actually try this in my city. I seem to be able to do this in foreign places but not at home. I've been inspired.
January 18, 2013 08:27 am
I really appreciate this advice. The fear of annoying someone, or placing them in a vulnerable position is always in the back of my mind when I'm on the street. Some great tips for generating a different level of confidence. Thanks.
January 18, 2013 08:13 am
Gotta strongly disagree with the comment stating you should not photograph street performers as they know they are being photographed and are okay with it. So what if they are okay with it. Photography is not about how brave you can be in photographing complete strangers without their permission. Photography is about capturing a moment, be it a candid one or not. Photograph what makes you smile. Photograph what makes you sad. Photograph what makes you laugh or think. The only rules you need to worry about are the ones that may get you a spell at Her Majesty's pleasure.
January 18, 2013 07:42 am
Thank you so much for this great article! I was always apprehensive about photographing people in public - especially if they notice me - but after reading this, I look forward to getting out into the streets of Philadelphia and shooting!
January 18, 2013 07:38 am
Just one point to add, but a very important one. Be mindful of thieves! Just read of an English tourist shot dead for his camera whilst he was taking photographs in Honduras. An expensive looking camera is gold to some people, and the temptation is too much. Maybe he tried to fend them off..your camera is not worth dying for. Hand it over, no questions. Live another day. Buy another camera.
Good article as usual Valerie.
January 18, 2013 05:25 am
Interesting article but nowdays there are so many restrictions on photography children that I would be very nervous about risking a photo (waing for the heavy hand on my shoulderand 'what do you think you are doing') Photos of children are banned at school concerts, swimming pools and playgrounds even if your own child is there. In many countries people will object to having photo taken or ask for money (sometimes qute a bit if it is a cruise ship destination). Much easier in the west where people are so 'busy' they tend not to notice you and are also less curious
January 18, 2013 04:10 am
Street photography is something I've wanted to do for a while now, but have been too nervous (and at my age too!). I've taken the occasional shot of people in the street, but never actively done "street photography" (if that makes sense?). But, your article has inspired me to get out there and try it. Thank you :)
January 18, 2013 03:22 am
Thanks for the tips! I think I need to add courage to the list of tips because these days I feel it is more of an uncomfortable feeling to randomly photograph people in public. Maybe in Times Square in NYC, but for places where there normally aren't hoards of people, I feel you will be easily spotted and approached as a street photographer.
January 17, 2013 11:35 pm
if i have found a stage with a great background,i`ll spend some time there,moving around in a curious
way looking all around.when i see a shot coming up i try to meet the person at the great spot and catch a peak moment.also,i`ll act like i`m shooting something 90 degrees away from what i want and turn and shoot than move quick as if i`m shooting another spot, people most times don`t know you`ve just got them.
i`ve been doing this off and on since 1970...
January 15, 2013 07:23 pm
Great article as usual Valerie. Have been doing Street Photography for about a year an half and I can confidently say that this genre IS one of the most difficult one.
Having said this, Street Photography helps one to look at things in a different light, which otherwise were just ignored in our day to day life.
Hopefully, I can attend one of your workshops in some part of the world.
January 15, 2013 12:00 pm
great article. Love the pix with the great dane (is that the breed?) in the middle.
January 15, 2013 11:35 am
I shoot for a living, so 'street' photography is a treat when I am able to do it. Fortunately I live in a city and can interact with crowds. My only approach around town is to strictly avoid common places where I see a ton of photographers. We have (Denver) an annual stock show and the opening is when they drive a herd of long horn cattle up 17th street where I happen to live. There are at least a hundred photographers within six blocks shooting it. I have never gone out to shoot it before, so this year I went out with one lens and one self-imposed rule: Absolutely no shots of the parade. Only of the people watching it. Silly, I know, but placing myself into a limitation helps me grow. I got some great shots!
January 15, 2013 10:55 am
Great Article! The hardest part for me to overcome when it comes to street photographer was the fear of someone getting mad at me for taking their photos. I've learned that most people, especially street performers, are usually OK with getting their picture taken.
January 12, 2013 02:36 pm
Nice article and useful tips.
January 12, 2013 01:04 am
I am one of those guys who feels a bit shy clicking stranger's pictures, especially when they start looking at your camera before or after taking the picture.
Starting with a Crowd with a friend along and also setting a stage for one-self are great tips, which I'll follow!! Thank you.
Following is one of my picture in a crowded place in Toulouse. Do you leave your comments whether you like it or not.
January 10, 2013 05:59 am
When I was in Peru (two weeks ago) I did some street photograhpy Our guide told us that the locals (in traditional dress) expected to be paid (one Sole) per picture/photographer. This seemed like a very fair deal : I got their picture and they were paid to "model").
January 9, 2013 11:27 pm
Thanks everyone. Glad the article inspired some to give street photography a try!
@Paul. Thanks! I think everyone has to start with the basics and those simple tips may lead to a life long passion.
@Adam You comment made me smile. I should have thought of it but I don’t normally have to worry about that too much. It should be added to the list as ‘dress code for street photographers’ ;)
@Myles This article is aimed at photographers who have never pointed their camera to a stranger in the streets. Even for some, photographing a street performer is challenging at first and a good place to start to ‘break the ice’. It doesn’t matter whether the street performer expects to be photographed or not, the important is for the photographer to build the courage to start somewhere.
I don’t think anyone can claim to be the authority in street photography. I doubt anyone one has ever claimed that role. I don’t particularly like partial coloring either but who said that was cheating? And why? Every photographer can set their own rules for themselves. Ultimately as a street photographer you shoot for yourself, not for approval or praises.
I do think street photography has to be enjoyable. If it’s a dreaded chore, then why shoot macro instead! There is difference between enjoyable and easy. I find it addicting because it’s always a challenge and it is a constant push out of one’s comfort zone.
@Mei Teng If there is no sign that says ‘No Tripod’ then I wait for someone to tell me I have to put it away and I comply. I rarely shoot with a tripod for personal projects. I use a Gorilla pod for photo walks when necessary or I just set the camera on a stable surface.
@hamid I think your question relates to a different article.
@riley It is important to look comfortable and confident. If you look nervous you’ll look suspicious. Relax and smile, remember that you are not doing anything wrong by photographing people in a public place (in most countries, check your local laws).
January 9, 2013 01:01 pm
It's actually surprising how receptive people can be when getting model releases.
January 9, 2013 11:08 am
I used to do street photography but haven't for a very long time. I really enjoyed your article and you have inspired me to give it another shot (sorry for the pun!).
January 9, 2013 10:00 am
Thank you for the tips! I would love to try this but I am still a bit worried about people being uncomfortable. I'm going to take my camera next time we go out!
January 9, 2013 04:17 am
Great Tips! I haven't tried street photography yet and I will follow your tips and begin my street photography soon. :)
January 9, 2013 03:02 am
One pointer someone gave me before was that when processing a street photograph, colour is best used only if it is an important dimension (such as the umbrella in your examples). Otherwise, stick with monochrome for, as you call it, a timeless feel. Great article - thank you.
January 9, 2013 02:33 am
Great tips, Valerie. Reference points 6 and 8, I find it easy to carry a battery-powered tiny Canon printer in a backpack and can give the subject a 4X6 print on the spot Love the mutt in the doorway shot.
January 9, 2013 01:50 am
I started doing street photography a few years ago. Then I became more interested in in people I was seeing so I began to interview them. I usually give them $5.00 Dunkin Donuts cards.
January 9, 2013 12:22 am
Great Tips Valerie. And I can see the importance of B&W when I see your work. I think I can say for sure what lens you have used for these photographs, since I have been following your work for quite sometime now. Thanks for a great article once again. :)
January 8, 2013 11:41 pm
Street Photography is something I really enjoy and am drawn to but it's very different from other areas of photography. You can feel very self conscious out on the street with a camera and pointing it at strangers or engaging with them takes a certain type of character.
I prefer not to be notices and to get candid shots where the people in the shot do not feel that they are the subject. My approach is to act like a tourist taking pictures of the city or to shoot from the hip. Theres no rights or wrongs but push yourself to get out and take pictures.
My street photography is here http://stuartchard.wordpress.com/
My other stuff is here http://www.stuartchardimages.com/blog
January 8, 2013 02:11 pm
This might be helpful for solo travelers and backpackers! Strangers, locals, and other interesting people or events happening are some of the best thing to capture, but when it comes to getting some photos or these people, there are also limitations and consideration to take.
January 8, 2013 01:14 pm
oops. Just saw that the article mentions getting out with a friend. Somehow missed that on first read.
Great article, nothing to add.
January 8, 2013 01:02 pm
Excellent article, very useful tips.
I have two different approaches, both of which you have mentioned. Most of the time I work solo, but I also have two great friends who also love street photography and so we sometimes spend an early morning strolling the streets and alleyways together. The advantage of the latter is that we have become known to the locals which allows us a more intimate relationship with some of them thus opening up opportunities that would otherwise possibly be missed.
January 8, 2013 12:02 pm
Great article! The only thing I might add is to bring a friend. Having someone else with you will often give you the courage to try new things as well as offer another perspective as you are shooting.
I've been trying to do more street photography lately, with some work showing on my blog. http://jmphotographyonline.ca/jay-mcintyre-photography-blog-1/ Feedback is welcome.
January 8, 2013 11:56 am
Thanks this is helpful! Always wanted to do this but I lived in a small town my whole life. The busiest street in town has a maximum of 5 people on it at once typically. I just moved to a city a month ago so I'd love to give this a shot!
January 8, 2013 11:10 am
Excellent article and great tips. Did you get permission to shoot with a tripod for the motion blur pic? Most places disallow the use of tripod.
January 8, 2013 10:47 am
Not for me, but a great approach and the photos are excellent.
January 8, 2013 06:50 am
Hello.How do you white balance your camera in the studio & landescap.the best with whaite gray card. tempecher kelvin Or Exporo Disck balance camera canon 5D mark ii ?
January 8, 2013 06:42 am
I'm a street photographer, never had any bother. My tips - dress for the weather, and don't wear clothes that make you look like a thug - dont wear the hoodie and track suit bottoms -> Jeans and a polo shirt or a sort of smart jumper is best.
If wearing a coat, undo the zip, sometimes it's best to be a little cold than look like a pervert or a right dodgy character.
January 8, 2013 05:21 am
I've been a street photographer for almost a year now. While there are some reasonable pointers here, it ultimately doesn't make a person a "street photographer" if all these points are held onto or be used as a baseline.
In response to the points:
2. While it is a good idea to have a friend, mostly as a back up, having a friend ends up becoming a distraction. It doesn't develop any "courage" whatsoever because you know you have someone to back you up. What I usually advise people interested in street photography is start off with a longer focal length, e.g. 75mm~100mm and then shorten their focal length gradually. Go alone. But keep your distance. When you get more confident, shorten your focal length.
3. Start in a crowd, definitely. But avoid shooting street performers of any sort. Not because them being subjects are "frowned upon" by the more serious street photographers. But because they know that they'll be photographed and you know it'll be fine for you to photograph them. Again, this is in regards to building up one's courage and confidence. Crowd: Yes. Street performers: No.
4. Setting a stage is fine. The late Henri Cartier-Bresson was well-known for having "stages" for the "actors/actresses" to appear in. But never forget that while at that stage, walk around a bit there. Like how a painter finds the right angle to paint with their brush, you shouldn't just stand still and wait, even at the "stage" that is being set up.
5. Ditto. They're lovely to do. But one must have a strong sense of the figure-to-ground relationship before venturing into this.
6. Interaction should be avoided if possible. Street photography, in its purest form is candid. If there is interaction, then it isn't "street". If one wishes to do street portraiture, shoot first, interact after (if necessary). All this does is dilute the idea that "street portraiture" is just taking a portrait on the street. But there has to be the candid element.
7.Ditto. Children are a very sensitive matter to photograph. I personally tend to avoid photographing children because of this.
8. If there is interaction, then why not.
9. If a person notices me and tells me "no", then I would stop. In regards to avoid shooting "vulnerable or embarrassing" moments. This should not be something worth considering. It is not that one does not disrespect the individual. But if you wish to do street photography while "respecting" people in that sense, then street photography is not something for you. Street photography has always been about photographing the moment happening, regardless of whether it's vulnerable or embarrassing or any of that nonsense. Some of the "best" street photographs have involved nudity or even things that would be considered "vulnerable" in this modern age. There is no need to put yourself in someone else shoes but rather question, what is more important to you? Street photography and photographing the moments truthfully? Or filtering out the reality and only showing the "good side" of it. A street photographer, IMO, should never say "I shouldn't photograph this because it's inappropriate". Photograph anything and everything, providing that you know you can remain safe and it is within the laws of your country.
10. Staying safe is a priority. But street photography being "enjoyable" is never a requirement. If it needs to be enjoyable, then you won't be able to capture much. Pushing outside one's comfort zone will surprise you.
11. Mere preference. B&W is usually the norm with street photography. But if someone wishes to do street photography with colour, I always tell them to look at Alex Webb's work. And no HDR or selective colouring of course. HDR for me, makes the viewer concentrate on the colours rather than the content and context of the photo. While selective colouring is "cheating" in a way.
12. Don't fool yourself by believing that there aren't any "rules" out there for street photography. Like every other genre, street photography has its restrictions. Otherwise it's just flaneur photography. Street photography is also not always about telling a story or communicating an emotion, Henri Cartier-Bresson's work would tell you otherwise. Especially his more surrealistic work. If you have the time, have a look at Adam Marelli's blog. He has posted in-depth observations of Bresson's work, even the surrealistic ones.
January 8, 2013 04:09 am
At last some advice about street photography that is about more than the "hunt" the "taking" and all the other rubbish so many go on about. Respect for subject is key in my opinion and this comes across very strongly here..thank you and well done
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook
Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE
GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed