Getting Close and Personal: 11 Tips for Close-up Candid Street Photography

Getting Close and Personal: 11 Tips for Close-up Candid Street Photography

Tip #1: If you see a banana stand, hang out near it.

Street photography is not easy. It tests your nerves, your hand eye coordination and your instincts, and lord knows I’ve missed more ‘moments’ than I can count, but the satisfaction of capturing that split second where everything comes together can make it all worth it.

This article is going to focus specifically on tips to help you get your camera as close to people as possible without them noticing. It is certainly not the only way to do street photography, but it is a very effective way. It helps you catch the world around you in an uninterrupted fashion. And if you happen to get caught then so be it, just smile and own up to what you are doing. You’ll be surprised at how understanding most people are about street photography once you are honest with them.

Now for the record, I use a pretty beefy Canon SLR, primarily because I can’t afford the Leica M9 and the Fuji X100 hasn’t come out yet, but I’ve still figured out ways over the years to get up and close with it without being noticed.

1. How you Hold the Camera


Speed is key and how you hold the camera can make all the difference in the world. I like to wrap the camera strap around my wrist instead of around my neck. It is much quicker and easier to maneuver the camera this way and it also allows you to easily ‘shoot from the hip’ if you need to. When walking down a street I usually hold the camera in front of me at a 45-degree angle, halfway between vertical and horizontal, with my finger on the trigger. This way, I can easily get my camera into the right position if something spontaneous should happen, without tipping off the subject that I am going to photograph them.

2. Shooting from the Hip


Unless you have a very small rangefinder, the reality is that it is much easier to photograph someone without them noticing if you don’t have to raise the camera above your chest or look through the viewfinder.

The advantage to shooting from your hip with the camera strapped to your wrist is that it really becomes an extension of your arm. You don’t have to shoot in front of you and can shoot sideways or even backwards if you need to. It frees you up to integrate your lens into a situation without anybody noticing. You can shoot from the hip with either both hands or one hand holding the camera, but one hand gives you a little more freedom to aim in any direction. Just keep your arm straight down at your side and then angle the camera up and in whichever direction the scene is happening. Then, if you need to, you can raise your arm or bend your elbow a bit to get the exact frame, but be discreet about it.

3. Use a Wide-Angle Prime Lens

I prefer a 35mm (or 20mm on a cropped sensor.) When you shoot from the hip you have to get used to what the camera is going to catch without actually looking through the viewfinder. The prime lens allows you to easily anticipate this and with some practice it will eventually become instinctual. The wide angle helps because it allows you to get closer while also capturing more of a scene and it really injects the viewer into what is happening.

Also, wide-angle prime lenses are usually very light and small, are much easier to maneuver and are much less noticeable than the larger zoom lenses.

4. The Low and Slightly Diagonal Angle


Another advantage of shooting from the hip is that you can catch people from a very low angle. I often prefer my candid photography to come from a close-up and low angle because it elongates people and allows the subject to fill the frame. This is obviously not true for every situation, but a lot of the time this is my personal preference.

The slight diagonal angle can be very pleasing, especially for vertical portraits. The angle injects some energy into a photo and allows you to catch a bit more of the surroundings. It creates a lead for the eye to enter the photo and keeps it there, bouncing around between the subject and its surroundings.

5. Be an Actor (and don’t make eye contact)


As a street photographer, you can benefit a lot from acting. You might play the part of a spaced out tourist, engulfed in something happening across the street, or perhaps someone who is lost and has to stop for a moment to collect himself, but you are certainly not someone who looks like he is about to take a photo.

I like to act like I’m walking around daydreaming, just spaced out by my surroundings and looking in the somewhat opposite direction of what I want to photograph. I will make my path intersect in the right way with the subject and then stop as if I’m gathering myself or as if I see something interesting. My body will often be angled away from the subject while my camera will be at my hip pointing up at it. Then I take a photograph or two and walk out of there like nothing happened.

Most importantly though, is to never point your head directly at the subject, or god forbid, make eye contact! There is something almost evolutionary about eye contact that will make a person immediately notice you. Even for a split second, it will ruin your cover. Instead, try to look ‘through the person’.

6. The Stutter-Step


Sometimes stopping completely is not an option. It will just look too obvious. But at the same time you have to be completely stopped to take a photo. No matter how fast your shutter is, if you are slightly moving while taking a photo then it will probably be ruined.

So there is a move called the stutter-step (can you tell I’m a basketball fan?). It’s basically just a very quick stop in full stride, almost like you freeze for a second in mid motion. It probably looks a bit ridiculous to anyone who’s actually paying attention, but it happens so fast that nobody will notice. Once you try it out you’ll understand what I’m talking about and it takes a little bit of practice to get used to.

7. Be Prepared to Change your Camera Settings Quickly


I often shoot on manual because I like to have my exposure dialed in before taking these types of photos. When getting close-up you never really know how the camera is going to read a situation and that often leads to a lot of messed up exposures. Manual shooting on the street however can take some serious getting used to, because if you suddenly go from a sunny street to a shady street then you will have to remember to change your settings. I usually keep a sunny and shady general exposure setting in my head and flip back and forth between them.

But what happens then if something sudden occurs? Say you’re walking down a sunny street, settings set up perfectly, when all of a sudden you look to your right and notice a couple of locksmiths in a very dark van, one passed out and one about to light his cigarette? The moment is about to happen! Well in this case I quickly switchover to Aperture Value on my camera, which I have preset with a low aperture value. Even though you will have a loss of some depth of field, you will be able to have it work in both extreme bright or dark situations with a fast enough corresponding shutter speed. You can also do this with shutter value as well.

8. Wear Dark Clothing.

It will help you blend in.

9. Set up your Background Beforehand


This is a little out of the realm from what I have been talking about so far, but after all there are a million different ways to take a great street photograph. Search out an interesting background and then wait for the right person to come into your scene. Be patient, it might take some time.

The accompanying photo is not close-up, but I waited for hours for the right person to stop in the right position and it eventually paid off.

This practice also allows you to be in the correct position before the person comes into the scene, so you can ::gasp:: actually look through the viewfinder! Just make it look like you are taking a photo of the background. Some of the best street photographs were planned instead of found. Find the right location and wait it out until the moment happens.

10. Blur and Grain and Black and White


In this photo, because I wanted the camera focus to be on the NUTS street vendor stand (to emphasize the ‘nutty’ quality of this arguing group of tourists), it meant that I couldn’t get the people in foreground to be perfectly sharp. That just goes with the territory and sometimes you have to make some sacrifices. In this case I think it works… in black and white.

As a street photographer I’m much less afraid of blur and grain than a lot of people. The reality is that it’s not always bright out, you need a fast enough shutter speed and you don’t have the luxury of using a tripod. You will often be stuck with some blur, slight soft-focus or grain from a high ISO.

Now this is only my personal opinion, but I think that these types of photos just look so much better in black and white. You can really turn something that looks terrible in color into a great photograph by making a good black and white out of it. After all, street photography is about the content in the photo, and black and white often helps to focus on that.

11. Fill the Frame with the Subject (and don’t be afraid to crop)


My biggest critique of street photographers is when I see a photograph with an extremely interesting subject, yet the photographer decided to shoot the entire street and make what should have been the entire photo become just a small part of the frame. Fill the frame with what is important and cut out everything else. Leave some room for the imagination.

Also, with a prime lens and fast moving subjects you’re not always going to be able to be in the perfect spot or catch the perfect angle on the fly. Don’t be afraid to crop in or improve the angle afterwards. This is not landscape photography, where you are always able to plan out every aspect of your image before taking the shot. You should get used to using the crop tool, even if it’s just for a slight correction.

Just remember that the hardest part of street photography is getting out of the front door. The moments are flying around everywhere, but you need to be there and be bold with your camera to be able to catch them. Now get in there and get close!

Read more from our category

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.

Some Older Comments

  • Bruce December 7, 2011 06:40 am

    I do street photography in the UK but always repsect people in the USA especially in cities like NY as I would have thought there is a greater chance of being shot at if you photograph the wrong person like a gang member, street person or disgruntled member of the public who is carrying a gun.

  • Yoan September 10, 2011 08:33 am

    Fantastic article, thanks for sharing!

  • Rodney Davis June 12, 2011 03:42 pm

    This should have been entitled, "how to sneak up on people." If you were to do that in some places where I live, you'd be liable to be assaulted physically. This actually happened before and the photographer suffered serious head injuries. Having said that, I LOVED this article. I did some shooting with a zoom in Manhattan last year while on vacation. I got OK shots, but nothing as interesting as these! The Sony Alhpa I use has a VERY noisy shutter though, so I may stick to my zoom. Learning to shoot form the hip with a zoom will be a huge challenge, but I'll try. As for back here in the Caribbean where I live, yes, this will work with my friends and family.

  • Kapil May 25, 2011 09:36 pm

    Superb article...thanks...I had taken couple of candid shots in Hong Kong many different poses, styles, emotions. But I was not sure of it...after reading this I think I should upload it ..

  • Jan April 8, 2011 06:19 am

    I love these tips and photographs. But, one question I always have is about showing/sharing "people" pictures after you have taken them. Do you have to have permission to display them in your website, or on flickr or whatever? What is the law/rule?

  • Liu XinYu April 5, 2011 01:21 pm

    This is really a great article. I had been using the tips for my recent trip to Shanghai to take some street photos!
    I especially like the part ' Look through the person'

  • Juergen Buergin February 19, 2011 04:35 pm

    Great work, fine photos, wonderful tetx, much of that is my experience...

  • BC January 15, 2011 12:10 am

    Speaking as someone who enjoys looking at photos, it seems to me that all this furtiveness produces really monotonous low angle shots, over and over and over. So what if you make eye contact? Snap someone else then, it it bothers you. Don't hide behind the camera, or behind this faux-hip "shoot from the hip" style. The best street shots are telling some kind of story, and if you're always taking low angle shots, the story is, "look at me, I bagged another one." The artiness of the low-angle can be a fig-leaf for a kind of neurosis.

  • Bob Coffey January 13, 2011 12:43 pm

    This is something I really want to try but have not plucked up the courage to do so. Next week I'm in London, so maybe easier in strange city.

  • 1Dad1Kid December 24, 2010 03:22 pm

    Great tips! Thanks! The hip idea really helps with my nerves about shooting candids of strangers.

  • bert de schepper December 13, 2010 06:49 pm

    @ Jesse, impressive pictures.

  • James Maher December 13, 2010 10:55 am

    Hi Jesse,

    Very nice work. I don't think one style counts more as 'street photography' than the other. I do the type of street portraits that you are speaking about a decent amount as well, but in this article I was just trying to explain a way to do close and very candid street shots. Getting people to be natural when they know you're photographing them is certainly an integral skill for almost every genre of photography that involves people.

    I think your definition of personal here is different from the 'personal' that I was speaking about. The way you are talking about is getting to know a person and making them feel comfortable so that you can catch them in a natural moment. It's a great way to catch a person's personality. In this specific instance I was using the word personal in a different way, as catching a person as they felt that day in that specific moment in their environment, without the intrusion of the camera interrupting this.

    No way is right or wrong, and becoming skilled at each of these techniques can help you to become a well rounded photographer.

  • Pixel Lord December 12, 2010 11:43 am

    @ Jesse, Great works! Nicely done!

  • Jesse December 10, 2010 04:57 pm

    I think I have a different philosophy on street photography, and maybe a totally different idea of what street photography is. I don't see this as being "personal" at all, out of the implication of "up close and personal." All my subjects in my street photos are aware that I'm photographing them. As a photographer, I think it's a necessary skill to be able to get just as much of a natural expression when they know you're photographing them.

    I also take time to talk to my subjects before taking the picture. That's what I consider to be personal.

    Here's my street stuff.

  • kirpi December 3, 2010 06:45 pm

    I also believe (like @Matthew) that a 35mm (or equivalent on smaller sensors) is the best choice for "casual" photography. It would certainly be my pick if I were to choose only one lens. You can always crop your images in order to enhance them on a later stage.
    This was my point until recently. But things has started changing now that composite photography has made great advancements. You can now easily take "sweep shots" of many (not all, though) subjects and have them seamlessy and effortlessy put together, so that you can (sort of) simulate a wide lens. In this case a "standard" 50mm is a best choice.

  • Matthew Woodget December 3, 2010 02:39 am

    Thanks for the great tips. I found my 50mm is probably too tight and my 24-105mm too big so I guess a 35mm prime is going to be on the cards after all ;-)

    Example of my efforts

  • T-Fiz December 2, 2010 01:13 am

    Actually, I would say that one would have better chances of getting good shots with a wider-angle lens or a zoom lens with a lock at its widest. However, aside from the legalities of anonymous photo-taking, this gives me a new idea about taking non-traditional identifiable portraits :)

  • Richard December 1, 2010 03:46 am

    Great article, thanks for the tips! I'm a big fan of street photo; nothing I love more than walking around and getting lost in a new city with my camera! I also sometimes find it intimidating to shoot strangers on the street, that's why these tips are real gold!!

    Here's one I took in New York this summer.
    Shot from the hip, only had time for one shot... and it came out great.

    And another from the hip :
    Just got lucky that the mother was pointing at her son just as I shot it!


  • AM*shoots*SF November 30, 2010 02:12 pm

    Glad it's a good resource james. Btw, I am part of an active street photography crit group on Flickr- grit & grain. Not sure if this interests you, but a cadre of rather rambunctious folks post and crit SP. Many are quite talented and getting incisive comments on one's work is always helpful. Plus it's a fun group to do some "internet time" with.

    Check us out at:

  • James Maher November 30, 2010 04:14 am

    Great resource AM (And great photos!) We need much more written on the internet about the laws governing this stuff.

  • AM*shoots*SF November 29, 2010 11:38 am

    Ian- you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the law in the USA: people generally DO NOT have a right to privacy in public areas. They do in private spaces. This article may help others too.

    Photography and the law in the USA- as written by an attorney:


  • James Maher November 29, 2010 10:21 am

    Ian I'm sorry you feel that way, and I certainly understand your point of view, but I still don't see the harm in these photos. My experience has been that they make people happy and they make me happy.

  • James Maher November 29, 2010 04:03 am

    Yeah Wayne something specific really needs to be written about the laws governing this. I can understand why contests would want a release for the winning photos, because they then often use the winning photos to promote themselves. Kind of a grey area there.

    Gretchen I've often though about the remote shutter thing, but haven't gotten around to trying that.

    AM Great points. People often will notice my camera but then since they don't think i'm shooting will go back to what they were doing. You don't need a small or inconspicuous camera to do this. I think the size of the x100 will make it so much easier though, even in silver, but will have to test that out first.

    Selling pics as art is different from selling products in the U.S., so you don't need anything at all from them to sell them as prints.

    I also often shoot at 1/400th and up if it's really bright and I can get the speed. I would make sure to be stopped completely though when shooting, and that includes the hand that holds the camera.

    And great points about the ethics.

  • gretchen November 29, 2010 03:39 am

    Thanks for the tips. I have one more. I shoot from the hip most of the time when doing street photography, but I have the camera around my neck and the remote control in my pocket. No one ever knows I am taking their photo. But I am going to try the tip about having the camera around the wrist.

  • Pentahedron November 28, 2010 03:18 pm

    Wow I love this article. I haven't been doing street photography for very long, but as I was reading your article I was thinking if you would include things like pretending you're going to take a photo of something else. It's helped me out on many occasions and helped with my confidence. Street photography is probably the primary reason why I first got my camera. It's relaxing and I do it for myself. There really isn't a market for it, but that's how can you tell the passionate photographer apart from the one who sees it as a way to make quick cash ;).

    I happened to notice that someone made a comment on some of your pictures technical qualities. Honestly a lot of street photos I like it, compositional aspects take second place to trying to capture that decisive moment which street photography is about in my opinion.

    Kudos again to your article. I hope you write more and I'll definitely keep your blog bookmarked.

  • Hal November 28, 2010 10:45 am

    Could you take a "street photo" of yourself in the mirror, so that i can see how you actually equip your camera for this kind of shooting?

  • Bradley November 28, 2010 09:30 am

    Try a Leica X1. I shoot with it and find it ideal for street photography since it can always be with me. Using the camera is a joy. I don't find the AF slow but in a couple more weeks those who do will have their prayers answered with the update. Things aren't as fast here in Chicago as they are in NY, but I think you will love it.

  • kirpi November 28, 2010 09:25 am

    I totally agree that point 9 is quite an interesting approach: waiting for the right subject to enter your scene.
    There is a small page of mines which deals with this:
    Feel free to contribute if you like.

  • Ian Moses November 28, 2010 07:17 am

    I will get straight to the point. In light of the issue of photographs on being taken on the street of person in personal, intimate or private situations, why are you encourgaing this practice. I like the look of candid photographs than something that has been staged, but holding a camera to conceal it or not to be obvious is asking for trouble so why was this guy hiding his the camera. Creating art, people in personal, intimate or private situations is not art, it is an invasion of privacy. Yes, I can hear everybody saying, photographers have rights too, we also have responsibilities. A photographers right is to take photographs in public that does not give the photographer the right to invade someone privacy. When I take photographs on the street, my camera is always up at my eye, out in the open. Thank you.

  • Wayne Christensen November 28, 2010 03:56 am

    Would anyone, someone please write a posting on the laws governing photography and the use of candid photographs and/or people recognizable in a photograph?
    One of our local photo contests requires a model release if a person in the photo is recognizable.
    It makes sense to me that if the candid photo is not demeaning, it shopuld be "OK."

  • amir paz November 27, 2010 11:58 pm

    i love this kind of photography

    showing life as it realy is

    i always shoot from the wrist when going on a street photography session

    here is one of my favorites,

    she was on her knees praying, and i pressed the shutter, my camera on the wrist of my hand, set to 18 mm

    while standing next to her


  • Pixel Lord November 27, 2010 11:54 pm

    Nice article. One info though!
    The person holding the paper in the "Shooting from the hip" is not in Hindi but in Bengali.
    One of my colleagues notice the file name as hindi_paper, so I thought I should mentioned it! :-)


  • bert de schepper November 27, 2010 11:37 pm

    There are some very nice pictures here,but it doesn't feel right to sneek up to people like that. For me taking portraits is not only about the photographer, his equipment and his techniques, it is also about the person you make a portrait of.

  • Surendra Chaurasiya November 27, 2010 07:11 pm

    Thats totally impressive.

    Guess there are some doubts about holding the camera strap in hand effectively.

    Here's what I feel gives a right glimpse doing that…
    [eimg url='' title='ryQmn']

    And at the same point there are dedicated camera straps available for doing so.
    [eimg url='' title='J3tsG.jpg']

    Hope that helps :D

  • AM*shoots*SF November 27, 2010 11:13 am

    Please see my lengthy post about 6 entries back. For some reason it's publishing was delayed. Thx.

  • Andrus Chesley November 27, 2010 08:48 am

    I love street photos of catching people natural and not posing or in the know. I mainly use a small point and shoot so it's not so noticed, and, playing around with the camera , silent click mode, No flash causes many to not come out good indoors but once in awhile I get a stunning picture.
    Thanks for all the tips.

  • Chandira November 27, 2010 06:59 am

    Thanks James, great article, and great comments from people, too!

    All I need now is the courage to get out there and actually do it! ;-)
    Candid photography is fascinating. I have done it with friends, and got great results, but I've never done it just out on the street with strangers before.

  • James Maher November 27, 2010 04:42 am

    Yeah I agree with you B, some of the greatest street photographs ever involved children. And photographs of people are put in the news or magazines everyday here without permission or releases. It's definitely a good idea to show the photos to a person who wants to see what you were doing and think it's also a very good idea to carry around a business card to give to people. A good business card with a photo on it and your info can go a long way in dissipating people's fears.

    But honestly, people rarely ever notice me. If you get good at these tricks then people won't notice you. The acting trick is meant with the specific purpose of not looking suspicious and its not very hard with a little practice. I do often bring the camera up to my face and take photos of people if there's no chance that they will notice me, but the 'sneakiness' thing is so that you don't taint the scene with the person noticing your camera. People are very cognizant of cameras and it can easily ruin a good moment. If it's an option then I will certainly choose to bring the camera up to my face.

    And good points about the wide angle lens with the narrow aperture and manual focus. The problem for me in NY is that because of the tall buildings blocking so much light, and when there's much less daylight during the winter, there's really not enough light a majority of the time to get up to F/8, especially while keeping a fast enough shutter speed and not pushing the ISO too much. Light-wise, the summer is so much easier to shoot here.

  • B November 27, 2010 03:45 am

    For those asking about model releases, in the U.S. sales of individual prints falls under "retail" use and does not require a model release. It's always a good idea to check laws for your locality though.

    Also about ethics... James covered his thoughts on "sneakiness" but in general, in the U.S., there is no expectation of privacy in public places. If you knew how many "security" cameras were recording you at all times, street photographers would look like a blip on the radar. But this is one reason that, in the rare instance I do take photos of people in public, I do not use most of the tricks he outlined here. If you are sneaky, to others it seems like you know you're doing something wrong.

    I prefer to simply stand and take the photos I want to take. Why shouldn't I? I have the right to take the photo. I think saying that kids are off limits is ridiculous too. We would not have some of the best images in the history of photography if photographers didn't shoot kids in public. On the other hand, if someone has a concern about photos I'm taking, I'll show them (one great advantage of digital!). That's a reason I also don't like the "acting" advice. I'm not going to put on an act in order to take a photo, because what happens if your act isn't convincing? If the subject approaches you and sees through it, what's your explanation then? All of a sudden, you're going to seem very, very suspicious.

    Anyway, street photography, if it can be defined as a genre, is a big tent and there are lots of different approaches. That's why I also don't like the advice "don't use an SLR" or whatever. Different people get their results using different equipment. There's really no one right way.

    Finally, on focusing. I find it handy to use a wide angle lens with a good distance scale. The wider the lens, the deeper your DOF will generally be. I like to not use autofocus, and instead set a fairly narrow aperture -- at least f/8 -- and use the distance scale. 28mm at f/2.8 gives you a DOF from around 3 feet to infinity. Then you can simply turn off autofocus, which also speeds up your shots -- no waiting for the lens to focus, no worrying about which focus point is active. I find adapting old manual lenses works great because they have smoother focusing rings and easier to read distance scales.

  • Karen Stuebing November 26, 2010 09:14 pm

    I LOVE these photos as much as I love street photography. I have rarely practiced stealth photography because I haven't really found it necessary. I don't mean I ask permission first. I shoot, show the person the photo on the LCD screen and ask permission to use it. I've only had one person say no.

    I'd like to practice this technique simply for the unique point of view.

    I don't have most of the photos I've taken online. I don't have a gallery or blog devoted to street photography.

    You Should have Heard just What I seen gets a lot of hits and even searches for it using the title. It also has a critique in the comment section from a DPS reader. Not a favorable one either. :)

    I laid on the sidewalk to shoot this for the Daily Shoot assignment of shooting from a low POV. I wasn't inconspicuous by any means. But I've always liked it and could never really say why. Now, I see it has the same POV as the photos in the article.

    MIxed Messagesalso gets a lot of hits. This lady was also aware I was taking the photo. In fact, she struck a pose and I had to tell her to just do what she had been doing.

    I am moving on to a different project inspired by photographer Shelby Adams using a Poloroid Land Camera to photograph life in Appalachia as he did. He posed his subjects But that's film and not relevant here.

    I am definitely going to try this technique. I think it will not be as easy as it sounds to get the proper exposure or even get the subject in the frame without looking. I just always like a new challenge.

  • AM*shoots*SF November 26, 2010 06:14 pm

    Firstly, a great article on hip shooting. That is exactly the way I like to shoot too! I haven't experimented with angling the frame too much, but will try that.

    Interesting you mentioned the Fuji x100- I'm eagerly awaiting to see it too. I do have a question for you/others here. Now I use a leica d-lux3 (similar to panasonic lx3/5 series). Nice thing is that it's very small, black, and I can hide it while holding it in hand. I question if a larger camera, like the x100, especially with silver metal trim, would be a lot more noticeable. People sometimes still notice as i move my camera at hip into position, so a larger shiny camera would get more attention I suppose. The micro 4/3 cameras with wide primes may work well too, as they are very small and black (namely the Sony nex3 or oly pen). I personally would prefer the fuji x100 as my next camera, but worry about being more obvious with my hip shots. But then, you're doing this with a canon slr! interested in more comments about this issue.

    Also, are you sure that selling candid pics as art is different from using them to sell products? I was under the assumption that if you're making money from a pic, the "model" could request compensation. I may be totally wrong, please comment. Thx.

    My 2 cents on tips for hip shooting. 1- I always manually prefocus. I just set a range, say 4-15 feet in focus. Shutter is really quick and no prefocus lag time. 2- I tend to go shutter priority set to 1/500. Why? To minimize motion blur. Often I keep walking as I shoot (need to work on my mid step walk!). Have you tried moving while shooting? Do you think 1/500 would reliably work this way? I sometimes still get blurs, and not sure exactly why.

    My 2 cents on ethics. I agree with you. This is the only way to get these types of shots. They are ephemeral and will go unnoticed unless we capture them! As for ethics, anyone is allowed to photograph people in public places in the USA. As a citizen in public places, you should expect that you may get photographed. Having said that, many people consider it rude. Hence the need to be in stealth mode. What they don't know won't hurt them. But if someone is upset, I tell them what I'm doing. If they are not cool with it I will offer to delete the image. To me it's more a question of being rude/impolite rather than ethical. For me personally, however, I will not keep pics that mock people or make them look bad. It's a love of humanity that motivates me, and to capture them in an interesting manner that dignifies, or certainly not degrades. Shooting street has certainly opened my eyes to the subtleties of other people's lives, behaviors and lifestyles.


  • Saurabh November 26, 2010 05:15 pm

    Thats a great post with lots of information. The only question that I have got is to how to get the focus right without seeing the subject from the viewfinder. I use a Nikon D90 and I guess I need to use the Dynamic area as AF area mode, but that way also I am not sure that the point which I want to is in focus. One way to overcome this is to use high f value.. ranging between 12-18 probably, but then to compensate the exposure I would have to use slow shutter speed, which is also not good in street photography.
    Like in the point 10. Blur and Grain and Black and White, how did you manage to get the 'Nuts' into focus without seeing it through the viewfinder?

  • Victor Reynolds November 26, 2010 03:37 pm

    I shoot street photography these days with a cellphone camera-it's spontaneous and unobtrusive. My second "weapon" is a point & shoot, pretty much for the same reasons as above.

    True, here in the US you don't need a consent form to shoot people on the street. But I also feel that once one is on the street their "privacy" is not all that private. People know they're already being filmed by security cameras-private and public-and don't make a fuss. If a TV news crew is shooting one might get caught on video and shown on the nightly news; in fact, people go out of your way to get filmed (with no compensation whatsoever).

    And if you are a street photographer whose images end up being commercial and someone raises a fuss-sorry. I feel if I didn't catch them at an intimate or embarrassing moment, and out on a public street, they've waived their rights. Otherwise, they should have stayed home.

    That's my two cents. Happy Holidays!

  • James Maher November 26, 2010 02:17 pm

    Pbear I certainly post a few photos on my blog that I would never print or sell because I love the content and want to share it with people. The daily blog for me is more about the content of the photos and my life walking around the streets and I have lower standards for things like perfect focus than I do for my prints. I try to keep generally high technical standards for it, but for my blog I consider the content of the photos to be the most important thing.

    Now to make things clear, this is not what I make my living doing but its what I love to shoot. The photos I sell are different from the street photography that I put on the blog and I do studio and web work as well. For now, I take these daily photos because its what I love to do. Maybe I'll make a book eventually or one day offer some of the best ones for sale if people are interested, but its current purpose is to show the daily life on the street of NY on the blog. A blog and street photography are a perfect marriage in my mind.

    Now many people have spoken about the 'sneaky' aspect of this. I personally do not consider this sneaky because I don't have bad intentions when I walk on the streets, so I have no guilt. I just want to capture what I see and I'm just trying to show daily life in NY through my eyes. My parents were both psychiatrists and it helped me develop an appreciation for the complex personalities of people and this is just an extension of that. I know that a few people might be uncomfortable with it, but what is the harm in it?

  • James Maher November 26, 2010 02:02 pm

    John I generally use autofocus and it works fine but will sometimes prefocus it I need to. Things happen pretty fast sometimes where autofocus is necessary.

    Dogwatcher Yeah I should have mentioned more about learning the laws for the country you live in, but didn't think about it at the time. This was just more of a 'how I personally work' article.

    Nic I don't like to use point and shoots for SP, they're not responsive enough. The bulk of SLRs is annoying but you do the best with your tools. Would KILL for a Leica M9 though.

    Yvonne In the U.S. as long as its not for commercial purposes then you don't need a release for this type of stuff.

    Reynante I always shoot in color so that I have the most information to work with in post to create a good black and white. You have more options when starting from a color negative.

    Duke I rarely ever have anyone get angry. If they notice then I smile at them, if they seem to get angry and want to stop them then I stop and tell them what I'm doing, show them the photo and give them my card and offer to send it to them, and if they asked me to delete it (which no one ever has) then I do.

  • John Gwinup November 26, 2010 02:02 pm

    I have several candid street photos that I have kept for my own enjoyment because of legal concerns. I have always been told that if a person can be identified in the photo you need a Model Release before you can publish the photo unless you are with the news media. I see there are several others have the same impression from the comments. Can you shed some light on this subject? Some of these photos were taken in Europe, are there different requirements from country to country?

  • dukeHenry November 26, 2010 11:55 am

    I took some shot on the streets some as candid but not that close. How about if they will know that you are taking pictures on them and they will get angry, what should we do?

  • Reynante Martinez November 26, 2010 11:42 am

    Wow, very interesting take on street photography. Arguably, this is one of the most informative I have read yet. Nice shots too, somehow it puts a smile on my face. And thanks for reminding us about black and white. I've been debating with myself lately whether or not to shoot black and white "in-camera" and not as post. I might have to try it out and get used to it to realize its worth.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)


  • Yvonne Moss November 26, 2010 11:27 am

    So, James, if you publish a street photo, you still don't need to get a model release? How would I find out the law in NJ on this?

  • Susan November 26, 2010 09:53 am

    I think the discussion is interesting. I also worry about the ethics and "sneaky" flavor to this. And kids should ALWAYS be off limits for this type of shooting. What I find really interesting, is the mention that this is just for art but, here are images of people, appearing on an international website without them knowing or their permission. I can't help but wonder....

  • Pbear November 26, 2010 08:12 am

    Hi, there. Interesting subject. I have heaps of candid photographs.
    I had a look at the pics on your website and found that quite a few have technical issues, especially the focus of course. There are some really good ones, too. But personally, I would be embarassed to post a lot of them. But it is quite impressing that you still make a living out of it.
    As already said, I love taking candid shots. The way I usually do it is reacting quickly to what is happening and looking through the viewfinder. After the shot I usually smile at the subjects after they have become aware of me and my camera, they then usually smile back and start posing and I may pretend or really take another picture, but usually have the keeper before that. Getting the focus right just takes a lot of practise and being able to anticipate what is going to happen usually helps. (If you are going manual, you could practise to correctly guess distances and set the focus accordingly.) Digital photography spoils today's photographers as it doesn't force you anymore to get the technical aspects of photography right consistently. On the other hand it helps so many people to enjoy photography today and it really is a great pastime. All the best to everyone on the blog and great pictures for all of us!

  • Anna Patrick November 26, 2010 07:40 am

    That's a very good article, and love the photos!

  • Mateusz November 26, 2010 06:33 am

    It seems that US is a great country, you don't need other people's consent for taking photos of them...
    In Poland we need to have a consent before taking a picture of a person. Usually a nod or a smile, or simple "ok" from that person is enough but it's safer to get a written consent. Also written consent is required if you want to sell that photo or use it commercially.
    So I guess these tips are really useful but only in countries where you can photograph people without asking them ;)

  • Sherry November 26, 2010 04:48 am

    Thanks for writing this. I really love the concept of street photography but am far too shy to be out there and obvious about it. These tips and tricks should help me out a lot.

  • george November 26, 2010 04:36 am

    This was a real interesting read as I love street, B&W, still as well as moving shots but as one reader mentioned you get a little frustrated after a while what to do with them.

    I have some shots on Flickr if anybody is interested

  • Madison Raine November 26, 2010 04:21 am

    I love it! The one that I believe is at a train station. It's bloody brilliant. I go frantic for any photo with ling time exposure. (spelled wrong most likely). Your others are amazing as well.

  • Martin soler November 26, 2010 04:17 am

    Great article. I'm having fun with street photos as well. One thing that has helped me is to preset my camera to 50mm f5.6 and iso 400 then i can get most shots. Of course thats not valid for everything.

  • Kenton November 26, 2010 04:13 am

    I like the Olympus Pen 1/2 frame. Motion is good.

  • carolyn p November 26, 2010 02:50 am

    Enlightening post and comments... I'm from Florida and took a photo of a homeless man asleep on a bench at a public park. What was interesting was the chess game he had set up next to him... an invitation for someone to play with him.

    There were some people walking by as I took the shot and they commented loudly that they thought I was "rude" for taking a few shots. I felt so bad after I got home that I deleted them. I'm happy to hear that it's legal to be used for art. Sounds like I need to learn your technique of taking the shot quickly, to avoid rude commentaries of my artistic endeavors from "rude" passerbys!

    Thanks for all your helpful comments, here.

  • cray101 November 26, 2010 02:28 am

    Thoroughly enjoyable, incredibly inspiring, and i'm lost for more adjectives (or adverbs, to be precise) :)
    Candid photography is something I'd love to indulge in, but i'm never sure if i should be doing it :P
    i think it just needs balls!

    [eimg link='' title='KazaRush-0020' url='']

  • Davesworld November 26, 2010 02:28 am

    Thanks for the good tips, James. I may not use this too often for raw street photography, but these are some great tips on how to take candid shots of friends while we're out and about. I think that's the value of this type of shooting, and it avoids the idea of sneaking up on strangers. I've gotten some great shots of my friends this way, and they love it.

  • George E. Norkus November 26, 2010 02:14 am

    Another suggestion is to just wait for the subject to aproach you.

    With several of the newer cameras you can be looking directly down but in reality look directly into your camera's rear screen. This works great since your entire head is facing away from the subject.

    If you don't have a "newer" camera and want to suprise someone, go for the pre-focus route and do as told by Steve in his article and shoot from the hip as I did for this shot of country singer Billy Craig. (Yes he was looking at me but still didn't expect the shot at that time.)

  • michael mahlke November 26, 2010 01:36 am

    Hello, it is very interesting but I want to add the problem of the personal rights. In Germany you cannot simply make shots from people on the street. It is forbidden. So a good article describing the problem and a solution you find with examples in German here

  • Nic Oatridge November 26, 2010 01:06 am

    My own view is street photography is exactly the right place NOT to use an SLR. Especially if you are not even going to use the viewfinder to frame the shot. A top end PAS like the Canon S95, Nikon P7000 or Panasonic LX5 are perfect - quiet, unobtrusive but still capable of taking fabulous wide, fast shots. You also don't look like a pro and can get away more with looking like a tourist taking postcard pics. These type of cameras also have sufficient resoution and RAW capabilities for you to crop or adjust exposure.

  • dogwatcher November 25, 2010 04:41 pm

    Thanks for your answers James, regarding the "sneaky subject" of this.

    Didn't want to spoil the fun.. but I think it's important to tell people that street photography the way you do in NY may get you in trouble in other places of the world.. legally and otherwise...

    DPS and its articles are read worldwide.. and a lot of the legal stuff doesn't apply abroad.

    In fact, if you take a street photography course here in Germany, part of the training involves how to walk up to people and talk to them, how the contract has to be designed and such aspects. "Candid shooting" is frowned upon, at least at every decent workshop I know of. Some do it, but it may give you trouble.

    Saying that "this is for art only and not for commercial purposes" won't save you here, as soon as the photo of a person is out "in the open" without its written consent, you may get sued... well, it may never happen, but the person has the possibility to do so.

    What may you give REAL, REAL trouble is taking candid shoots of kids, but I don't think I have to stress this.

    Angry parents and police officers asking you what you are doing wont are waiting for you, if you're unlucky. This may happen even in places where it's not too uncommon to see a lot of kids.. too many sad things happened in the past.

  • johnp November 25, 2010 01:27 pm

    Good article! What about focusing though? You wouldnt want a noisey auto-focus hunting back & forth. Would it be better to prefocus on a point manually and click the shutter when at the right distant from the subject? Also watch out for friends or minders of the subject who might notice what you are up to. I got caught in India by a minder of a Bollywood starlet on location when he heard my camera focusing & firing off a few shots. You are better not to bracket in those circumstances.

  • Jim November 25, 2010 01:27 pm

    Thanks for this. Have been taking this type of shot for some time now and getting some reasonable results I hope, but its always good to get tips from more experienced street photographers.

    Sometimes it's almost like a hunter going after his prey. When I spot something really interesting I maybe have to follow them for several blocks, detour a little, even backtrack a few times in order to catch them in a decent light or where they are less likely to spot me, so during that time I have to find ways to remain invisible. Here in China there are certainly lots of great subjects to photograph. I think I have the acting down, and although I carry a large Nikon and zoom lens, for the most part I remain invisible to my prey. Those times I feel I have been spotted or at least suspected I always snap a few shots of the buildings around me and that usually dispels their fears.

  • James Maher November 25, 2010 11:41 am

    Weird half of these comments didn't show up for me until just now.

    I think something definitely needs to be written and a discussion needs to occur on the ethics of this. I don't let people know that they've been photographed unless they notice me and then I tell them (and most people don't care and think it's interesting.) It's definitely a 'sneaky' thing to do, but it's the only way to get these types of photographs, and in this case I think that the ends justify the means. They are social photographs. But there's another side of the issue that I certainly understand.

    As for the shutter sound, that's probably the thing that annoys me the most (besides the bulk of the SLR), especially when shooting indoors like on the subway. Outdoors in New York there's usually enough car sounds to block it out. I know some cameras have much quieter shutters than others, but I've only ever been a Canon guy so I haven't had the chance to specifically compare.

    And for everyone who enjoyed the article, I'm very happy about that. I love this type of photography and would like to see a lot more people doing it. So if you take some good photos this weekend post them here or please share them with the community.

  • Kathryn Cole November 25, 2010 10:42 am

    Just wanted to say thank you to everyone else for asking the question on the laws, and thanks for the answer! Great article!

  • Jason Bourne November 25, 2010 10:26 am

    You can also accomplish candid photos by using a shutter release cable and a camera chest strap...hide the shutter release cable in your jacket pocket or just in your hand and fire at one will notice and you'll get some great shots this way as well...

  • Steve November 25, 2010 10:01 am

    Compact cameras, like the Powershots, are great for shooting from the hip.

  • carolyn November 25, 2010 08:56 am

    James, thanks for the answer! I've asked the question in other places but it's never been answered. I'm now more inspired to get out in the streets!!

  • Kim November 25, 2010 08:19 am

    Weird. They're back...stupid iPhone. Sorry!!

  • Kim November 25, 2010 08:18 am

    Why were my comments deleted? I didn't say anything offensive, just mentioned model releases like a few others...what's up with that? :/

  • James Maher November 25, 2010 06:06 am

    That's the complete opposite of a dumb question Carolyn!

    First the laws: I only know the laws here, and you don't need a release for this in the U.S.. You are actually allowed to sell these as art without needing a release. But of course you can't use them for commercial purposes to sell a product.

    As for is there much of a market for this type of work, there isn't a huge one that I've personally seen (although that doesn't mean it isn't out there). This isn't the type of work that naturally sells very quickly or easily and it's not something to bank on for your living. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot it. For now I use my street photography as the core of what I put on my daily blog, and its really what brings people back to the site on a daily basis, where they can purchase more "sellable" work or hire me for jobs. It might not be the easiest thing to sell, but there is still a lot of intrinsic value in it.

  • chelsea November 25, 2010 06:02 am

    I really enjoyed this article! Inspiring, helpful, and definitely creative. :D Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forward to trying out these tips and more with some street photography SOON!

  • Darick November 25, 2010 05:58 am

    I use a little Sony NEX-3 with the 16mm (24mm taking into account the 1.5x crop factor) lens which forces me to get as close as I can. I've also found that carrying a strap at all is inhibiting and I can cover most of my camera with my palm until firing a shot from the hip or pulling it up to my face to compose. But if you use an SLR you can't be as stealthy. That's not to say that an SLR isn't perfectly fine for street photography. Though personally I prefer the mirror-less interchangeable lens and micro four thirds cameras for street photography, especially if you're like me (and most other people I imagine) and you can't afford a Leica.

  • Lucy Originales November 25, 2010 05:25 am

    Great question... Is there a good answer?

    Not an expert, but I love street photography look alike on fashion, weddings, etc.

  • carolyn November 25, 2010 05:18 am

    okay, this is more than likely a very dumb question, but i have to ask anyways.

    first, i love street photography. but is there a big market for it? people talk about taking the shots and the how-to's but i never read about the best way to get releases to sell the images. i'm missing something. don't you need model releases for any recognizable face?

    thanks for helping!

  • Lucy Originales November 25, 2010 05:04 am

    Great tips and not only for street photography... and surely not for every place. Even if there's no law that stops you from shooting at random, there'll always be other risks to think on.

    But gets easier with practice... I guess.

  • Stila November 25, 2010 04:47 am

    I found some of the tips really useful and inspiring! The hardest and also funniest thing for me is to challenge myself to get closer to people, without being scared of them noticing me...anyway, I think it's impoortant to be well informed about the laws of the coutry where we're intending to shoot.

    [eimg link='' title='Bad guy' url='']

  • Jeremyj5000 November 25, 2010 03:46 am

    I think he meant the way that you wrap the strap around your wrist. I do it all the time. Just start close to the opposite side from your hand grip and wrap it three times around your wrist (with a canon strap at full extension). If you do it right it will end up like the camera is glued to your hand and you barely have to hold it down low for your finger to be on the trigger. It's great!

    Great tips. I love Street photography and being from Portland Or. there is much strangeness to shoot. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Alberto November 25, 2010 03:27 am

    Thank you for your quick response. Seen in this way, it actually takes a lot of experience and skill, since you have to imagine what your camera is seeing. Maybe I will give it a try someday, I love street photography.
    And I surely, absolutely love New York :)

  • James Maher November 25, 2010 03:10 am

    @dogwatcher Yeah the U.S. laws are great, especially in NY. I have never had a problem.

    @Alberto There are many ways to do street photography, but you don't need permission here in NY. I would actually argue that there is less randomness with this way. As long as you get used to what the camera is going to capture without looking through the viewfinder, then it's much easier to focus on people's expressions and what is happening in a scene without the viewfinder in your way. I see something directly with my eye and click the shutter.

    @summerbl4ck Yeah some people feel uncomfortable about the sneakiness. It's definitely an opinion thing and I really understand the other side of the argument. But my personal feeling is that it helps to capture a more original scene in a way that you otherwise wouldn't be able to capture, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the best final product. But there are a million different ways to do street photography, this is just one of them.

  • Angie November 25, 2010 03:08 am

    The kiss photo..... I like it!

  • Lovelyn November 25, 2010 03:00 am

    Oh, I mis-read the word. That makes so much more sense now. Thanks, Tree Wolf.

  • Rick Hanzlik November 25, 2010 02:56 am

    These are some great photos but I always have to ask; What do you do with them after you take them? I can only hang so many photos on my office wall.

  • summerbl4ck November 25, 2010 02:52 am

    The photo of the guys in the truck is really cool, but the how-to of sneakiness is a little off-putting.

  • David November 25, 2010 02:48 am

    Answering Alberto: You get spontaneity, which is impossible if the subject suspects a camera is around.

  • Tree Wolf November 25, 2010 02:35 am

    I think you mean "wrist" He uses the term "shooting from the hip" but even in that instance the camera is attached the to wrist not the waist. Hope that helps!

  • Alberto November 25, 2010 02:32 am

    I read totally opposite tips about street photography, highlighting how the photographer must be able to ask and obtain the permission to shoot. Maybe I misunderstood, but the majority of these tips give great weight to randomness. I think that the photographer should be more in control of how he takes a photo.
    What am I not getting right from this article?

  • Kim November 25, 2010 02:14 am

    Lovelyn, not a stupid question, just a mis-read. He wraps the camera strap around his wrist not waist. Happy shooting!

  • Kim November 25, 2010 02:07 am

    What about model releases? If you don't have the subjects permission, these photos are rendered only for personal or press use. In other words, if you get a killer shot and want to publish it or sell it, if any part of the subject is recognizable, you're outta luck :(

  • Lovelyn November 25, 2010 01:51 am

    This may be a stupid question, but how do you wear your camera strapped around your waist? Is there a special waist strap you can buy?

  • Carol Hall November 25, 2010 01:43 am

    I love this style of photography and had a go myself when in Venice, Italy back in the summer.
    I kept my distance and used a zoom of 200mm looking through the viewfinder but will now have a go at shooting form the hip with a prime lens!
    Thank you for your inspiration James!

  • dogwatcher November 25, 2010 01:27 am

    I'm always amazed how easy street photography seems to be in the US... legally-wise.

    In Germany, you have to get a WRITTEN CONSENT (!) even BEFORE you take the picture, otherwise you risk being sued by your "victim".

    Yes, privacy is held in high regard here.. as you may have heard with all this google street view panic in Germany....

  • Victor November 25, 2010 01:01 am

    Wouldn't talking pictures of people in the street be a bit of privacy intrusion? Most of the pictures you put on the post, are focused mostly on one person, in my humble opinion that being a portait. Don't you have to ask for permission to take the photo or permission for posting it up? Correct me if i'm wrong.

  • pinkgirl218 November 25, 2010 01:01 am

    thank you for your article sir. It allowed me to see at street photography more interesting :) hoping to practice your tips this weekend :)

  • Scott November 25, 2010 12:46 am

    Certainly nothing against this style of photography, and some of the tips are useful in other styles as well, I guess it's just not my nature to be "sneaky". Some great photographs here, almost (not quite) makes me want to try it.

    I know it can result in some "posing", but I just prefer to be "candid" with candid photography:

  • [Gm] November 25, 2010 12:44 am

    One of my biggest concerns of doing close-up candid street photography is the shutter sound. Any tips on how to conceal it?

  • Jamie Maing November 25, 2010 12:41 am

    Although I'm not a street photographer, these are definitely great tips and it reminds me of my days before I got an SLR where I was actually using these same techniques but with a point and shoot. I found it worked very well! I got a lot of candid shots that people loved!

  • Ilan November 25, 2010 12:29 am

    My kind of article :) Me like!

    For years I was trying to master the "shoot from the hip" skill. It's not as easy as it might sound.
    Got few nice results though, as soon as I could master it.
    Here is an example taken in a busy street. Mix of 'from the hip' and ' low angle'

  • Rhonda November 25, 2010 12:14 am

    Is this legal? I recently took a photo course and one of the assignments was to get "candid" shots of people. I got some fantastic shots, but felt like a peeping Tom. Then I started to think about how I would feel if someone took a photo of me without me knowing about it. Kind of creepy. I used the photos for my assignment and then I deleted them.