How to Take Great Street Photos

April 02

22 min. to read

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Our goal is to help street photography beginners by telling as much as possible about this exciting genre and giving useful tips and tricks.

What is street photography?

Here’s our street photography definition. Street photography is one of the most complicated but at the same time one of the most exciting genres of photography. It’s not as time-consuming as urban photography, but it requires skill. Taking snaps of people in their everyday lives is challenging. You need to be patient, work hard, and sometimes be brave to photograph complete strangers! In this article, we take a peek at what street photography is and how it differs from other photography styles. We also give you some helpful street photography tips to get started.

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Challenges of street photography

Depending on your purposes, street photography can be either easy or difficult to come to grips with. On the one hand, you have plenty of fascinating subjects to record. There’s no need to plan a photo shoot or buy special gear to get awesome shots, especially if you live or work in a city. Great subjects for street photography are right in front of your eyes.

On the other hand, street photography involves ethical challenges that other types of photography don’t. Questions of privacy and respect are often debated, as not everyone likes being photographed without consent.

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Street photography can be breathtaking and even crucial for photojournalism. But it can also be unpleasant and disrespectful, causing anger and resentment. In some countries, you can even get into trouble for taking street photos.

For example, Sweden has strict limitations on shooting cityscapes with a drone. Once police officers notice you (and they will), they’ll ask you to stop photographing ASAP. Taking photos of workers in Amsterdam’s Red Light District is prohibited as well.

In many areas, though, photographers are given a lot of freedom. They can legitimately take photos without receiving consent as long as they’re on public property where privacy limitations can’t be required.

Why do we need street photography?

Taking street portraits is the process of documenting other people’s lives. You walk up to someone, greet them, and ask to take their photograph. You can get a lot of compliments on your shots, but every now and then someone will debate you and tell you that street portraits aren’t the same thing as street photography.

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We’re not here to discuss that, but we do think this type of photography is equally necessary. Creating street portraits of the modern generation is important; we live in a fast-paced world, and we should capture its current state. People may not seem to be interested in it now, but in fifty years when we live in a virtual reality, they might be. Don’t allow others to hold you back from taking street photos. There’s nothing complicated with getting permission to photograph somebody, and sometimes it even results in a better image. Life is now, and street photography helps us to understand this fundamental thought.

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Street portraits – should they be candid?

Should street portraits be candid? While sticklers out there will say yes, you must take street photos candidly, we’d disagree. A street portrait requires you to approach your subject and interact with them. Communicating with a stranger may be uncomfortable if you’re new to this type of work. However, try to relax, be patient, and explain what you’re doing and why. People will appreciate a friendly photographer rather than a feared paparazzo.

Another non-candid situation while snapping street pictures occurs when you make eye contact with somebody. The eye contact takes away from the spontaneity of the moment, and thus affects the scene. So you want to avoid eye contact, behave like a fly on the wall, and remain unnoticed. However, if your subject notices you and looks up, just snap the shutter. These accidental encounters often add a bit of humor to the photo. And eye contact often makes an image more intimate.

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While experts still argue whether street photos should be candid, let’s take a look at how to capture an outstanding street photo.

Types of street photography

There are several popular subgenres of street photography. Moreover, they’re easy to come to grips with. So take a look and choose which is to your liking.

Street fashion photography

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Many photographers like to take street portraits of fashion, as the street is a budget runway for your photoshoot. Though it may seem an easy task, there are a few factors that you need to consider before and while doing street style photography. Think about the location and scout it in advance, use ambient light for your photos, find a proper background, get the best exposure settings, and shoot in RAW. These are the basics for taking street fashion photos.

Black and white street photography

Modern digital cameras offer impressive image quality, with billions of colors. And with technology, we can post-process our photos however we like. Yet there’s still a charm in monochromatic photography.

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Black and white is simple, minimalist, and free of distractions. Black and white street photos allow us to focus on the essence of a scene, while colors can be a distraction. Black and white is just a different way to shoot street photography. Choose what works better for you.

NYC street photography

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Street photography and New York City are terms that blend with each other. New York is a city that celebrates the diversity of nearly 8.5 million people, all gathered on a tiny island and its surrounding boroughs. Each street has its own unique atmosphere and flavor, and there are so many impressive, authentic areas that you can see here on a daily basis. New York City is one of the greatest locations in the world for this genre of photography.

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Inspirational tips to help you do your best

To keep your creative juices flowing, bear in mind some of these helpful ideas. Plus, you can get inspired by checking out this list of the best street photographers.

1. Play with forms and shadows

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Shadows and silhouettes are the essential elements in street photography. They’re mystical and captivating, yet familiar and common. You can find attractive shapes and shadows anywhere in a city. Plus, they disguise the individuals you’re photographing so they can remain anonymous.

2. Capture the environment

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Often, street photography focuses on people, but the surroundings are no less critical. Just like adding people, including buildings and other elements into your street photos provides context and depth, making your images more meaningful and dramatic.

3. Frame your subject

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Framing is used when you want to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular subject. It’s like putting a frame around an artwork to make it stand out. In photography, however, this frame doesn’t have to be a four-sided box. Photographers find original frames to highlight their subjects.

4. Use juxtaposition

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Juxtaposition is about making a comparison. A photographer puts two objects close to each other and tries to attract the viewer’s attention to their differences. When the contrast between these objects is the first thing that catches the viewer’s eye, juxtaposition is achieved. For more examples of juxtaposition, check out our blog post on this topic.

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5. Play with symmetry

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Symmetry gives a street photo a sense of organization and harmony in a chaotic city. It’s tricky to spot symmetrical elements on the street. Pay attention to the geometry of buildings, windows, roads, shops, stairs, and other urban elements which may be unremarkable until they’re composed ideally in a photo.

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6. Experiment with motion blur

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Cities are always on the move. Day and night, you see vehicles moving on the roads and people wandering on the sidewalks. There are cars, bicycles, buses, pedestrians, trams, and more. There are a lot of moving subjects to shoot. Instead of freezing them in a moment, try using motion blur so your photos capture the relentless energy of the city.

7. Watch social events

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Emotions are most likely to be unveiled when people are communicating. Whether it’s the smile of a couple, the joy of kids playing with their parents, or the love of a man and woman walking side by side, you can capture a wide spectrum of emotions when you carefully observe people. Every interaction is a story waiting to be told. Here’s a vibrant shot taken in Bristol during Upfest, Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival. Isn’t it a wonderful chance to get some cool pictures?

8. Find unique scenes and situations

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When all else fails, try to find something unusual. In every city, there’s a wealth of attractions that can give you a mass of emotions and therefore plenty of striking images. Consider, for instance, going to Japan this spring to catch the sakura season. These iconic trees draw the attention of photographers from all over the globe.

Alternatively, look for local urban photoshoots or photo walks. These are an excellent opportunity to find new friends, catch some cool shots, and share your experience.

9. Add creativity to your photos

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Photo by Ev Tchebotarev

Sometimes an ordinary street photo may transform into a jaw-dropping shot if you play with it a little bit in photo editing software. With Luminar 3, you can make impressive images with minimum effort. For example, you can browse all your shots in Luminar, sort them conveniently, and define which are your favorite and which should be deleted. Then you can try out the collection of Street Looks to get an instant effect.

Another quick editing tip is to use a Workspace, which allows you to save custom settings and apply them every time you need specific adjustments. Pick the filters you regularly use for certain kinds of shots, for instance street photos, and save them in a custom Dramatic Street Photo Workspace. The next time you open Luminar 3, you can open that Workspace and have all the filters you need.

Street photography tips

Here is a list of street photography tips that you actually don't have to follow every time you go for a photo shoot. But sometimes breaking the rules may unlock new horizons and let creative juices flowing.

1. Don’t shoot in manual mode

This is a rule we ask you to break not because we want you to be a rebel but because it makes your life harder. Don’t give yourself too much to worry about. Imagine trying to change the settings every time you take a picture. If you’re in dark conditions, you have to adjust your ISO; if you’re in a well-lit area, you have to rush and modify the aperture.

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Photo by Ev Tchebotarev

It’s best to shoot street photographs in P (Program) mode or aperture priority mode. We’d recommend setting your camera to f/8 and minimum 400 ISO and letting the shutter speed do its own thing. Don’t worry about your camera. Enjoy!

2. Don’t shoot at a low angle

Some just think a low-angle shot doesn’t tell a compelling story. But all shots have the potential to tell a story; it doesn’t matter whether you’re in shooting from a high angle or a low angle. The mission of street photographers is to tell that story.

Now, that doesn't mean you need to get low and just snap away. What we mean is that you should give every moment a try if you see something interesting.

3. Don’t shoot from the hip

When you see a portrait of a street photographer in action, they’re likely holding the camera close to their face. This is how an average artist takes the majority of shots, but it’s necessary to try shooting from various perspectives. To experiment, all you need to do is pull your camera away from your face. Go high, get low, shoot from the hip – this is what we call a different angle.

4. Don’t crop

This rule was created in the times of film photography. It took a lot of effort to crop a photograph back then. We don’t have that headache: cropping is now super easy, and you can still control the aspect ratio. If the image looks better cropped, then crop it.

Since modern photo editing software offers a wide range of features including cropping, clone stamp, and transform tools, you can effortlessly modify your images or leave them as is.

5. Don’t shoot wide

I think a lot of people created new rules because they broke the previous ones. You can go and shoot at 28mm, but don’t mind shooting 200mm either.

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You don’t have to shoot only at 70mm, but why not give it a try and see if it works for you? Maybe you’ll find that you like that extra compression that gives your photos a unique look.

6. Don’t look for the best street photography camera

There’s no best street photography camera and lens. But choosing which camera and lens to use is one of the most critical factors for street photographers. Resist the temptation to use a telephoto lens to stay invisible. This will more than likely frighten strangers around you. Imagine a creepy photographer standing across the road with a giant lens. If you want to blend with the crowd, you need to get up close and among the action. Go with a wide-angle lens and get lost among busy pedestrians. You may also choose a lightweight camera that’s less confronting than a large DSLR, being compact and discreet.

7. Don’t shoot at night

Really? Night in the city is a great chance to get authentic, eye-catching, and dreamy images. But it’s a tricky thing to shoot at night – you need to worry about low shutter speeds causing blur and adjust your ISO and aperture accordingly in low-light conditions.

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Photo by Ev Tchebotarev

We recommended having a tripod with you, especially if you plan to shoot long exposures. Alternatively, use a fast lens to shoot low-light scenes and still have the effect of frozen action. When snapping at night, look for interesting lines, shadows, and compositions to let your images make a bold visual statement. Silhouetted subjects are exciting and can create excellent compositions with the shadow filling the foreground.

8. Get close to people

Using a wide-angle lens gives you the opportunity to get nice and close to your subjects. The benefit of the wide angle is that the viewer has a sense of presence.

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Many successful street photos were taken only a few meters from the action, and sometimes just centimeters away. Wandering through a crowded street or market can result in some wonderful images if you keep your eyes open for attractive subjects.

9. Don’t overthink the quality

Some photographers may disagree here. But from our personal experience, when shooting on the street you don’t always have to be concerned with image quality as much as when shooting landscapes or commercial photography. Yes, you should strive for high image quality when possible. But the most important thing is composition, light, atmosphere, and the compelling story. If your images tell a story, then you’re on the path to becoming a renowned street photographer.

Sharpness, low noise, and flawless image quality are useless if you have a poor composition, bad light, and no drama. Emphasize what’s essential — that’s what makes a great street shot.

Wrapping it up

Street photography requires practice, and the more you go out there, the more your eye will develop and your confidence will grow. What you definitely need to work on is perception and intuition. A dramatic street photo is the result of a powerful idea and emotions captured simplistically. So travel a lot, communicate with strangers, make new friends, be friendly, and practice.

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