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8 Advanced Street Photography Tips to Level Up Your Shots

Are you ready to take your street photography skills to the next level? Once you’ve mastered the basics of capturing candid moments on the streets, it’s important that you don’t plateau. Instead, make sure you kick it up a notch and challenge yourself further. That’s how you’ll go from capturing solid, respectable images to creating the kind of images that’ll impress even the professionals.

Of course, like most things in life, the better you get at street shooting, the more difficult it is to find helpful advice – but in this article, I aim to break that trend. Below, I dive into the realm of advanced street photography and explore a handful of effective approaches that can help intermediate or even expert shooters elevate their game.

So buckle up, grab your camera, and get ready to create some street-photo magic!

Grand Central Woman, NYC

1. Use your eyes instead of the viewfinder

When you’re out capturing the essence of the streets, it’s easy to get lost in the confines of your viewfinder and miss out on the vibrant world around you. But here’s the thing: Relying solely on that small window can hinder your street photography game. Your vision is limited, and that means you might miss those spontaneous moments that make street photography truly special. To truly excel, you need to be fully aware of everything happening around you.

Believe it or not, your eyes are the real MVPs here. By scanning the area and using your natural vision, you can spot subjects both near and far. Look for those interesting scenes and wait for that “Aha!” moment to strike. Only then should you bring the viewfinder to your eye and capture the magic. If you start with your head buried in the viewfinder, you’ll be a split second too late to catch that perfect shot. Let your eyes lead your camera; that way, you’ll be ready to snap each stunning moment as it comes along.

2. Embrace spontaneity

Suits, SoHo, NYC

One of the early tips that propelled Garry Winogrand to become one of the most renowned photographers of all time was simple yet powerful: embrace spontaneity. While it’s important to invest time in thinking about your work and what you enjoy shooting, when you’re out there in the midst of it all, let your instincts take over. Instead of getting caught up in every little detail and worrying about your performance, let loose and have a blast.

Don’t be overly concerned with what others might think. If you sense a potential for a great photograph, go for it, even if it seems a bit peculiar. Don’t let your thoughts talk you out of it. That gut feeling exists for a reason, so harness it to your advantage. When you trust your instincts and shoot with confidence, it will reflect in your photographs. They will feel genuine and true to you. Of course, you might end up with some duds along the way, but the gems you capture will shine even brighter. So, trust your gut—it knows what it’s doing.

But be mindful not to go overboard. You don’t want to use a spray-and-pray approach, firing shots left and right whenever you sense a hint of a good photograph. That’s taking it too far. Instead, switch off your continuous shooting setting and force yourself to recognize and seize the perfect moment with just a shot or two.

3. Think about how your photos are going to age

Cellphone Fashion Shoot, Soho, NYC.

When it comes to your street photography, think beyond the present and consider how your work will age over time. Take a moment to reflect on those iconic photographs that have stood the test of time. Those simple snapshots of window displays and fashion from bygone eras possess an incredible allure, even though they may have seemed mundane back then. Imagine if you could travel back in time to capture moments, what you would find fascinating would likely differ from what most photographers were capturing at that particular time.

Now, ponder upon the future. What aspects of your life and surroundings will become intriguing with the passing years? What transformations lie ahead? Will people still be engrossed in their cell phones, donning oversized headphones, and oblivious to the world around them? Who can say for sure?

Avoid taking anything for granted in your photographic endeavors. If you catch yourself dismissing something as insignificant, pause and reflect on why you feel that way. It is often in these instances of seemingly insignificance that the most extraordinary photographs emerge.

4. Create themes and consistency in your photography

Cellphones, Greene Street, SoHo, New York

As you delve deeper into the world of photography, you’ll start to notice a magnetic pull toward certain types of photographs. Embrace these inclinations when you’re editing your shots. Over time, these ideas can blossom into captivating projects and even awe-inspiring books.

Imagine gathering these images together into collections, each with its own distinct theme. Consider the kinds of photographs you’d love to include in these collections. Then, the next time you stumble upon a moment that fits the bill, you’ll be quick to recognize its potential and seize it. While each photograph is a work of art in itself, a collection of them creates something even greater—an artistic masterpiece. Experiment with the sequence of your photographs, and witness the different meanings that emerge from their various arrangements.

Consistency doesn’t mean restricting yourself to a single type of subject matter or sticking solely to color or black and white photography. You can explore a wide range of subjects and experiment with different styles as you progress. However, by grouping together those consistent elements, you can assemble projects that harmonize seamlessly.

5. Practice constantly

Lower East Side, New York.

The real key to elevating your street photography skills lies in the power of repetition. It’s crucial to practice frequently if you want to keep your eyes sharp and your hand-eye coordination on point. With each click of the shutter, your instincts will sharpen, and your prowess will soar. The more you dedicate yourself to this craft, the greater your abilities will become. Even the most accomplished photographers need to continuously hone their skills through practice.

As you delve deeper into the art of street photography, learn to relish the act itself. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike; instead, find joy in the simple act of stepping out into the world with your camera in hand. Treat it like a commitment, just as you would your gym routine, and stick to a plan. Consistency is key. Over time, it will transform into a delightful routine, and your passion for photography will only grow stronger.

Don’t fret over returning with a portfolio of masterpieces after each session. It’s bound to happen, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t strike gold every time. The magic will come, but it’s important not to let frustration overshadow your artistic process. Simply revel in the experience of immersing yourself in the world, pursuing your love for photography. The more you embrace this mindset, the more remarkable your photographs will become.

6. Photograph where you live

Brooklyn Home, NYC.

Every street photographer has their go-to spots where they feel comfortable capturing amazing shots. However, sticking to the same locations can lead to monotony. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone and discover new and unexpected places that may not seem ideal for street photography at first glance. Challenge yourself to find hidden gems and come away with remarkable images.

Start by exploring your own neighborhood. Often, we overlook the beauty and uniqueness that surrounds us every day. Take a closer look at the streets and scenes within a mile radius of your home or apartment. You’ll be amazed at what you can capture. Even in seemingly mundane surroundings, you can find surprising moments and fascinating subjects. So, don’t underestimate your local area’s potential.

Remember: Never take anything for granted. Every little detail has the potential to become a captivating photograph. All it requires is your unwavering dedication.

7. Seek out emotion and gesture

Jerry Delakas, Astor Place Newsman.

As photographers, our job is to pass on an idea or an emotion to the viewers of our work. How you do that is something for you to figure out. Search for feeling and emotion when you are shooting. Aim to create evocative photographs.

If you are photographing people, it is important to capture them when they are portraying an emotion. This can be shown in a facial expression, what they are doing, or the gesture of their body. Sometimes, you will capture a unique looking person with no emotion or gesture and that will ruin the photograph. Other times, you will capture someone that you did not think would be a good subject, but the emotion shown on their face make the entire photograph. When you photograph people, this emotion is vital to focus on.

8. Zone focusing

Lower East Side, New York City

Zone focusing is the toughest technical skill to learn in street photography, but it is very important to learn. At first, you will screw up a lot of photographs, but over time it becomes a more accurate way of obtaining sharp photographs.

Zone focusing works particularly well in busy areas, but it can be used any time once you get good at it. I tend to zone focus 60% of the time and autofocus the rest. If your subject isn’t moving and you have time to autofocus, it is always good to do that as it will guarantee perfect focus. But the rest of the time zone focusing can be the way to go.

What is zone focusing and how is it done?

This strategy of zone focusing is basically just using manual focus your camera and guessing the distance to subjects. Because of this, you will need a distance meter on either your lens or in your camera. You then want to turn your camera (or lens) to manual focus. Set the focus at a certain distance away from the camera. I prefer 8-10 feet, although I will do a smaller distance if I’m in a really busy area where people are closer together. Next, figure out how far that distance is away from your camera, and now you know that everything at that distance away from you will be sharp.

Zone focusing can be done well at very large apertures, even f/2, but it becomes much more difficult to do well. This focusing strategy works much better with apertures of f/16, f/11, and f/8 and a wide-angle lens such as 35mm. That will ensure there is a large depth of field in your image (make sure to also raise your ISO to achieve this and still keep an adequately fast shutter speed). Thus, there will be a significant area both in front and behind of the spot that you are focused on that will all be in sharp focus. This helps for situations where you miscalculate the distance when the perfect moment happens and it’s not exactly where are focused, and when you have multiple subjects at different distances that you want to be relatively sharp.

This is why it is always good to start off zone focusing in bright sunlight with a wide-angle lens. This will allow you to shoot at f/11 or f/16 so that a lot of your image will be sharp and you will barely have to worry. Set your focus to 8 or 10 feet away and pay attention to your subjects more than your focusing. It is a very freeing feeling, and the extra time you save not having to focus will aid you in catching those spontaneous and instantaneous moments that appear before you.

Advanced street photography tips: final words

Now that we’ve reached the end of our deep dive into advanced street photography, you should be ready to enhance your shots using a variety of techniques. You know how to seek out gesture, look for themes, and even think on a historical timescale.

And spend some time really practicing the items I’ve discussed. Work on your zone focusing, shoot in challenging environments, and push yourself to become better.

So get out there and make the magic happen. The streets are waiting for you – so head out with your camera and enjoy your passion!

Now over to you:

Do you have any advanced street photography tips that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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James Maher
James Maher

is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer’s Travel Guide.
James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

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