Street Photography Tips for the Non-Invasive Photographer

December 26

6 min. to read

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Street photos are meant to be non-staged, however, it doesn’t mean that you have to hide and take pictures stealthy. Here are a few ideas on how to capture a great shot without being sneaky.

When it comes to street photography, most of us think of candid photos taken of people unawares. While this can definitely lead to some amazing shots, not everyone likes the feeling of being sneaky, “shooting from the hip,” or elsewise taking something that’s not being given freely. Fortunately, this isn’t the only way to get excellent shots on the street, both candid and otherwise. Here are a few ideas.

1. Set Up in an Obvious Place and Wait for the Moment to Come to You

Many excellent street photographers will scout out an interesting scene, compose their shot, and then wait for the action to come to them. This could be sitting next to a street performer, planting yourself in a busy city square, or sitting down in a train station. With the camera out and obvious, people can choose whether to be in your field of vision or not. Of course, not everyone will be paying attention, but it gives an element of choice to those who do notice. When an interesting moment hits the right location, that’s when the magic happens. 

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In this photo, the fish market at Pike Place had set up a monkfish on a string. It was a great place to wait for a good shot. Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

2. Ask for Permission

Many well-known street photographers (like New York photographers Bill Cunningham and Diane Arbus) often asked their subjects before clicking the shutter button. In fact, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York has made one of the most successful street photography blogs ever—just by asking people if he could take their photo and getting a piece of their story to go with it.

If you’re worried about the shot not being candid, simply take the photo well after asking them, once they’ve forgotten you’re there. Sure, this won’t work with passersbys, but for anyone who will be in the same spot for even a few minutes it can be a great technique. Think in terms of local shopkeepers, street vendors, performers, and really, any group of people hanging out on the streets.

And believe it or not, there are times that a straightforward portrait will be the best shot.

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Sometimes the best photo of someone is a straight-on portrait. Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

3. Develop Your Empathy and Instinct

Knowing when to ask someone permission often will come down to empathy and instinct. It’s really more a matter of paying attention than anything else. Permission doesn’t always have to verbal. Making visual contact and tuning into someone’s cues can make it clear whether the interaction will be consensual. 

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If you like the music, take a seat and watch for a while. Often something interesting will present itself. Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

4. Shoot for Yourself

Go for the subjects that interest you, not for what you think street photography is “supposed” to be. For example, it doesn’t have to be solely about candid shots of people. Follow your nose down back alleys, into shops, wait on busy street corners—whatever catches your interest. Look for scenes that catch your eye. Find the images that strike you and focus on those. If they don’t match typical street photography, all the better—great photographers tend to get recognized for their originality and how their shots stand out from the crowd, so don’t be afraid to go your own way.

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Performers are always great candidates for with-permission photography. Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

That being said, the most successful street shots stem from having a sense of when and where something interesting might happen. If you cultivate that awareness, you’ll land compelling shots without having to get in people’s space. How to do that? Get out and shoot!  

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