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5 Exercises to Improve Your Street Photography

street-photography-exercises

Do you want to capture amazing street photography, but you just feel like you’re not good enough? Don’t worry, because this article is going to give you five fantastic street photography exercises that are guaranteed to improve your street photography. It’ll provide you with the tools you need to take amazing street photos.

Let’s get started.

5 Exercises to Improve Your Street Photography

1. Find a scene and stand in place for an hour

It might not seem like it…

…but a lot of street photography is about being patient.

In fact, plenty of the best street photos were taken after a significant amount of standing in place and waiting.

You see, great street photography often involves a powerful background with a focal point. And that focal point is often a person.

But to get the right person in the right place is one of the toughest parts of this genre of photography.

So this exercise is designed to make sure you recognize the rewards of being patient.

street-photography-exercises

Here’s what you do:

Start by finding a scene that you like. A building, an alley, an interesting background of some sort. Make sure there’s a decent amount of foot traffic.

Then previsualize. Where would you like your main subject to walk into the frame? Imagine the precise place you’d like them to be when you take the photo.

Then wait.

Now, plenty of people will walk through your scene who don’t fit with your previsualized photo. Maybe they don’t stand in the perfect place. Maybe they don’t have the silhouette you’re looking for.

And that’s okay. After all, this is an exercise in patience!

However, I recommend you take photos of these people anyway. You might end up with something unexpectedly powerful.

Even if you do get the shot you like, keep standing in place. Stay there until an hour has passed.

Because it’s important you understand, not just the rewards of patience, but how to be patient. So even once you’ve achieved your goal, stand in place, and keep taking photos. See what you can get.

Make sense?

2. Shoot an entire outing from an unusual angle

When you’re just starting out in street photography, it’s very easy to take every shot at eye-level.

Putting your camera up to your face is natural. And it can sometimes help you get over the stress of taking photos in public; you can feel like you’re hiding.

But shooting at eye-level is a recipe for consistently boring photos.

Instead, you want to take photos from many different angles. Different angles are the key to creating a dynamic, powerful portfolio.

So the street photography exercise is simple:

Go out with your camera. And only take photos from an uncommon angle.

5 Exercises to Improve Your Street Photography

Which angles count as “uncommon”?

The low angle is a great start. The lower you take your photo, the more awe your photos will generate because it’ll feel like the viewer is looking up at the scene. For the photo above, I shot up toward the clock tower in an attempt to make the image more dramatic.

Plus, a low angle can often clear the background, making it less distracting. It causes people in the background to fall away, leaving only buildings and sky behind your main subject.

To shoot at a low angle, you have a few options. You can sit down or crouch low. Or you can hold your camera down at your hip.

Of course, you don’t have to shoot from a low angle! If you like, you can try finding a vantage point (such as a parking garage), and shoot from high above.

The choice is yours. Just make sure you get used to trying new angles.

It’ll seriously improve your street photos!

3. Ask five strangers if you can take their picture

One of the biggest barriers to great street photography is your own nervousness.

After all, it’s hard to capture photos of people from a distance, let alone up close. You probably worry about people getting angry or even threatening you.

First of all, you should know that, in most countries, it’s legal to photograph people in public places. So you’re not breaking laws.

But the anxiety doesn’t always go away once you know your rights.

This is where this street photography exercise comes in handy.

street-photography-exercises

All you have to do is go out shooting. And ask at least five people if you can take their photo.

It’s okay if they refuse. It’s okay if they agree but the picture is bad.

The only thing that matters is that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You’re forcing yourself to see that plenty of people don’t mind having their photo taken in public. And when people do mind, it’s not the end of the world.

This is an exercise that I recommend you try once a week (or until you no longer struggle to photograph people in public).

Because even if you prefer to photograph people without approaching them, knowing that everything will turn out okay will significantly improve your levels of comfort (and, consequently, your street photos!).

4. Only photograph strangely-lit people for a day

If you want to capture amazing street photos, you’ve got to start paying attention to the light.

This is easy to forget about because street photography involves so many variables: people moving fast, cars causing distracting backgrounds, etc.

But you can’t fail to consider the light. Otherwise, your photos will be very inconsistent.

Which brings me to the exercise:

Only photograph people who are strangely lit for the day.

5 Exercises to Improve Your Street Photography

By “strangely lit,” I’m referring to non-standard lighting. The people shouldn’t be lit with standard front-lighting, cloudy lighting, or standard overhead lighting.

Instead, there should be strong backlighting, side lighting, or shadows running through the scene.

By forcing yourself to pay attention to this, you’ll get a better eye for lighting. And it’s the first step toward taking more creative, unique street photos.

Personally, I’m a fan of backlit street photography. So I recommend going out when the sun is low in the sky to see if you can find some backlit subjects.

But you can also shoot people who are walking through shadow. This works especially well if the area around the person is bathed in sunlight, in order to create a high-contrast shot.

Just find some unique lighting, and you’ll do just fine.

5. Spend a week only taking photos of small details

Most street photographers only ever take photos of people.

But here’s the thing:

The streets have plenty of compelling details, too. And a street photographer who can find these details is a street photographer worth watching.

Tiny details lend character to your street photos, even if the main subject is a person. And tiny details can be the sole subject of a photo, as well. You just have to know how to capture them.

This is why your final street photography exercise is dedicated to photographing those beautiful small details.

street-photography-exercises

All you have to do is deliberately photograph little details for a week. Forget about photographing people. Forget about photographing architecture.

Instead, focus on capturing the most compelling details possible.

This might involve creating some abstract photos. Photograph contrasting colors up close. Or photograph spray-painted graffiti.

You can also capture some wider photos: the signs of restaurants, or the front door of buildings. All of these are excellent potential subjects.

Just remember: When you photograph small details, don’t just try to faithfully render the details themselves. Instead, create a compelling composition out of the details. Try to include multiple interesting features.

You’ll take a few boring photos, sure. But you’ll develop an appreciation for the smaller aspects of the city.

And you’ll take some stunning photos in the process.

5 exercises to immediately improve your street photography: Conclusion

Capturing beautiful street photos can be difficult. And for beginning photographers, it can seem impossible.

But if you do these street photography exercises, you’ll notice your outlook starting to change. Street photography won’t seem so difficult.

And you’ll start capturing some amazing street photos.

So get out and start practicing these street photography exercises!

street-photography-exercises

Do you have any other street photography exercises you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments!

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Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey

is a macro photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes’s work check out his website and his blog.