Street photography is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.
1. Work the scene
One of the common mistakes I see in street photography is that photographers only take 1–2 photos of the scene, and move on (because they are either too self-conscious, nervous, or impatient).
Try this instead: work the scene. Take multiple photos of the scene. Preferably 15–20 (more tends to be better).
Why? The more you “work the scene” the more likely you are to make a great photograph. Sometimes a subtle difference between what is happening in the background, the eye contact of a person, or a hand gesture is what makes the photograph.
Think of the analogy of baseball— the more times you swing your bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run.
2. Use your flash
If you’re like me (a lazy photographer) you don’t always shoot when the light is good (sunrise/sunset). So if you’re shooting in the middle of the day, in the shade, or indoors, try to use your flash to have your subject “pop” from the background.
I personally keep my camera on “P” (program) mode and use the automatic flash settings. Use the flash built into your camera (if you have it) or a small external flash if your camera doesn’t have a flash.
You can use a flash when you’re photographing a subject against the sun, or when they are in a poor lighting situation.
I used to shoot off-camera flash with a trigger like Bruce Gilden, but nowadays just shoot with an on-camera flash (because I don’t need any crazy flash angles anymore). I also suggest to try to shoot with a flash during the day (people don’t notice it) rather than the night (when it can blind and scare people).
3. Get eye contact
There is a saying: “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I feel that by getting eye contact in your photograph, the viewer feels a lot more connected to your image. It almost looks like the subject of your frame is looking directly at the viewer.
The stronger the eye contact, the more emotional, and more memorable the photograph generally is.
But how do you get eye contact when you’re shooting on the streets? My suggestion: get close to them, and keep clicking, until they notice you and make eye contact with you. The second they make eye contact, that is when you click.
4. Get low
Many photographers shoot from eye-level. The problem is that this is a boring perspective. We are always used to seeing the world from this perspective— try to get a unique perspective by getting low.
By crouching down and shooting your subject from a low angle, you make your subject look bigger than life. Things on the edges of the frame also get exaggerated (which look novel).
Not only that, but by crouching down and getting low— you seem a lot smaller and less intimidating to your subject. Imagine a knight bowing down before a king.
5. Capture the “unguarded moment”
We often talk a lot about trying to capture the “decisive moment” (the moment something interesting happens). However I also suggest to try to capture the “unguarded moment” (the moment when someone forgets about you, and drops their guard).
I like to ask to take photographs. What I try to avoid is having someone just look at me and pose for me with a peace-sign. What I try to do instead is to capture an “unguarded moment” — a moment when they forget me, forget about the camera, and show a little bit of their soul.
How do you capture the “unguarded moment”?
Well— you can either ask them open-ended questions like, “What are your plans for today? Where you from? How would you describe your personal style? What is your life story”? And then when people start to talk and get into “story-telling mode” — you can capture more authentic moments that aren’t as “pose-y.”
6. Direct your subject
To get a subject to do an interesting hand-gesture, I ask them about their sunglasses, their hair, or even their watches. I will ask them “Where did you buy it?” and when they start talking, they make hand gestures— that is when you should shoot.
You can also ask your subject to loosen up by jumping up and down, by “working it”, by playing with their hair, or by “looking tough.”
7. “Can you do that for me again”?
Sometimes when you’re shooting a person, you see an interesting gesture, movement, or happening. I think it is fine to tell your subject, “Can you do that again?”
8. The “fishing” technique
This is one of the most classic techniques in street photography—identify an interesting background, and wait for your subject to enter the frame.
9. Shoot head-on
Another common mistake I see a lot of beginner street photographers make is that they don’t shoot head-on. Rather, they shoot from the side.
If you want to make photographs that are a lot more engaging, full of energy, and dynamic— shoot head on.
10. Look for lines/patterns/texture
If you’re not in the mood to photograph people, know you can do more conceptual street photography without people that focuses on lines, patterns, and textures.
11. Leading lines
Leading lines can be found anywhere—from alleyways, to street poles, to parks, or even drive-ways.
An easy way to incorporate leading lines is to first identify the leading lines, and then wait for the right subjects to enter the frame. You can pair this with the “fishing” technique.
12. Subtract from the frame
The last tip is remember: what you decide not to include in the frame is more important than what you decide to include in the frame. So when you’re shooting, think to yourself, “What is superfluous in my frame? What is a distraction at the edges of my frame? What should I decide to keep, and what to ditch?”
Keep subtracting from your frame, until there are no distractions left, and you are left with the essence of your image.