Mastering The Modern Era Of Street Photography

Table Of Contents

  1. Definition
  2. The Ethics Behind Street Photography
  3. Legal Rights
  4. Equipment, Cameras And Lenses
  5. Light, Overcoming Your Fears, Get Closer, Postproduction
  6. Mistakes To Avoid
  7. Training Your Senses, Becoming A Better Photographer
  8. Resources, Let’s Learn From The Best

1.What Is Street Photography?

Street Photography has the main subject, paradoxically, thinking about the name, the human. More specifically, its integration into the urban landscape. A street , or even an urban landscape may be missing altogether.

Street photography is documentary and candid. It captures and isolates brief moments that intrigue us and which are not observable to the naked eye. Thus, framing and timing are extremely important, factors without which this kind of photography can not exist.

The human, even if it’s the main piece of this puzzle, can be missing altogether. A landscape with urban architecture can also be defined as street photography.

It is something that can’t be bought and is only acquired through hard work. All photographers start with equal chances. We all have the same resources at our disposal. The difference is the ability and skill of the photographer. Street photography is a very important branch of photography, if not the most important. In a digital world controlled by the cult of personality on social networks like Facebook and Instagram, this form of art gives a whole new reality.

It is part of history, telling visual stories of decisive moments in the history of humanity. We would not have known many of such moments if there had not been for street photography. The difference between street photography and photojournalism (a similar branch of photography) is that the latter is aimed at capturing news stories.

2. At the Border of Morality and Courage

Let’s not hide behind the finger, street photography is an invasive form of intimacy. Photographing people in public spaces in a candid way equals lack of consent. For each captured image, there is a chance that the subject will not appreciate the gesture.

Morality is the cost of this form of art.

My strategy is the courage to stop on the subject and take the picture. I’m not trying to hide. I just press the button that triggers the shutter and after continuing walking as if nothing has happened. Everything happens so quickly that the person does not notice or is left without words and a big sign of surprise.

Street Photography
Lovers In Prague – Nikon D800 + Nikon 35 f1.4 @f1.4, ISO 100, 1/250

It depends, each country has different laws.

Many countries, including USA, UK and Romania, do not offer the right to privacy in public spaces. It is legit to photograph people without their consent.

The next thing is about publishing the images online. There are some restrictions. You may have legal problems in case of complaint, if the person in the frame is in the forefront and his face is distinguishable.

A small update for November 2018. The European Union has just voted a controversial law. Article 13 will have many implications for the publication of street photos in the online environment.

4. Required Equipment

You probably wonder, which camera is ideal for street photography? Many people will say: the one you have with you. I recommend a full frame camera (Nikon D700 or newer) as our forefathers used. Henry Cartier-Bresson the father of street photography used a full frame camera.

A small update for October 2018. Nikon and Canon have just launched their new mirrorless full frame systems. Along with Sony, due to its low weight and other technical advantages, mirrorless represents a solid alternative to the classic dslr.

For years the 50mm focal length was used almost exclusively. Today, besides a 50mm lens, you can also use the new normal, the 35mm lens. It lets you get closer and create more live, personal and intimate framing. As shown below, where the fully opened diaphragm of the gorgeous Nikon 35 1.4 has allowed me to use a low ISO value. The isolation of the subject combined with warm artificial light in the background gives birth to an intimate, personal image. Here you can find an in-depth review of Nikon lenses that I find important for photographing people.

lenses For Street Photography
Hipster Girl – Prague – Nikon D800 + Nikon 35 f1.4 @f1.4, ISO 640, 1/320

Other Lenses You Can Use In Street Photography

Wide Lenses – 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 40mm allow you to get close to the subject. The scene will be much more dramatic. An unwritten rule says you should not use a wider 24mm (full frame equivalent) lens to shoot up close people. The stealth factor disappears, there are chances to be noticed by the human. At the same time, you can capture urban landscapes using wide lenses. You only have to take a few steps back. There is no rule, you can use both zoom and fixed focal lenses. Prime lenses have the advantage over zoom regarding size and a higher ratio of optical quality vs price. Nikon 28 1.8 is an amazing lens for street photography on the budget.

Standard Lenses – 45mm, 50mm, 58mm allow you a more relaxed attitude, with a greater chance to be unnoticed when taking the photo. Provides a balanced relationship between bokeh and context, a focal length close to human eyesight. You can chose Nikon 50 1.8 for a low cost alternative and Canon 50 1.2 or Nikon 58 1.4 for the premium alternative. As I mentioned earlier, this focal lenght has made history.

Short Telephoto Lenses  – 70mm, 85mm, 90mm, 105mm are ideal for street portraits. They allow you to isolate the subject even with a relative small diaphragm of 2.8. The higher the focal length the more compression you have. Notable choices are Nikon 85 1.8, Canon 85 1.2, Nikon 105 1.4, Canon or Nikon 70-200 2.8.

Telephoto Lenses – 135mm, 180mm, 200mm – are lenses with narrow applications in street photography and are not recommended. But the rules are made to be broken. An impressive lens in this category being Canon 135 2.0.

5. How To Excel In Street Photography

The Light Is Key, Choose The Sunset Or Sunrise

Perhaps the most important and obvious thing to consider when taking photos, not just for street photography, is the quality of light.

In my travels to wedding destinations I carefully split my energy resources to the number of sunset and sunrise cycles at my disposal. When not constrained by the situation (paid to photograph a wedding) the only time I use the camera is at sunset and in rare cases at sunrise.

The hard light during the day, when the sun has to travel a short part of the atmosphere, is in contrast to the soft light present at sunset. The sunlight has a much greater distance to travel trough the atmosphere at both sunrise and sunset. Our atmosphere is the largest light diffuser possible, and is free, use it with confidence.

Street Photography At Sunset In Iceland
Street Photography In Reykjavik Iceland

Build Courage And Confidence, Approach Your Subject

Several general rules (which may be broken). I never looked at the subject. When doing this, he immediately knows you have an interest in him, he will see the camera and will deduce your intentions.

How to hold the camera? As your heart desires, you can keep the camera on your chest and constantly shoot at f9, making sure you don’t waste any moment, or keep it tight and precise at f1.4.

Be an actor, I often do this at weddings. I pretend to photograph the landscape (or anything else) and when I consider it appropriate I lock on my unsuspecting target.

The Decisive Moment Matters

Be fast, faster than you are used to. The moment takes a few seconds and you can lose it for eternity if you are not agile enough. I use manual mode in 100% of cases, not because it’s better, just because I’m used to. This way is more difficult, you can try the aperture priority if you fail to master M mode.

Conquer your fear and learn to watch the scene through the camera, do not hesitate, do not overthink the scene.

The Decisive Moment In Street Photography
The Decisive Moment

Master Postproduction

Capturing an image gets you 50% of the final result. Nailing the right exposure makes you only halfway to the final result. Lightroom, the most popular image editor, makes miracles, learn to master it.

If you do not have the patience and knowledge to create a preset to your taste, use VSCO.

Editing Street Photography In Lightroom
Editing Street Photography In Lightroom

6. The Dont’s In Street Photography

Not Shooting Raw

As I mentioned above, taking the photo is 50% of the final shot. A rough diamond. Digital manipulation, the modern darkroom, takes the image to a whole new level. The raw format allows you to easily correct (even major) errors of exposure and white balance. Editing your images allows you to leave a personal touch to your street photography. Use Raw with confidence and never look back!

Not Choosing Your Subject Carefully

Let’s be realistic, you have to be carefully when choosing your target (subject).

Things they told me while doing street photography. Delete the photo? Why you are photographing me? You are not allowed to do that, etc.

This are some reactions I have encountered in my short escapades in Prague, Reykjavik and Bucharest. Does the subject looks mean or really big? Move on. Choose young people who seem open minded or choose harmless old people who do not seem particularly fast.

Chose Carefully Your Subject
Chose Carefully Your Subject

Using A Long Telephoto Lens

Using a telephoto lens is not recommended in street photography. Although it’s tempting to take a close shot while keeping the distance, the only application for this kind of focal point is in the street portrait.

Super Editing Your Photos

As mentioned above, editing photos visibly improves and gives a personal touch to your photography. Exaggerating, like anything in life, is not indicated. If you think the images are artificial, you went too far.

Keeping The Distance

Don’t be a spectator, it’s not a movie to see from the comfort of your armchair. You have to get close and take part to the action. Comfort, both mentally and physically, does not make good home with street photography.

Wanting Too Much, Too Fast

Like any discipline, it takes time to improve your technique and achieve outstanding results. It’s not a 100m race. Street photography is primarily a passion.

Be ready to fail… a lot until getting the right results.

7. Becoming A Better Overall Photographer … Doing Street Photography

Street photography is very difficult to monetise but it can be the foundation for qualities that can make you a successful wedding photographer.

You want to justify to your wife that you need to upgrade your camera every three years. Wedding photography is a solution.

You can learn how light and color influence your images and train your reflexes. Learn to set the camera correctly, fast, in time for the decisive moment. Learn photography by practicing street photography.

8.Lear From The Best

Maybe I still live in the past, but we can not discuss street photography without looking and learning from the golden age of this phenomenon. A valuable resource where you can learn a lot, are the portfolios of the following photographers:

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004), a pioneer of street photography and a founding member of Magnum Photos.

Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) a street photographer who worked for 40 years as a housekeeper. Her work includes approximately 150000 photos of the people and architecture of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Garry Winogrand (1903 – 1975) Famous, among others, for the iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe. He is a street photographer that portrayted the American life in the mid-20th century.

Josef Koudelka (1938 -) Czech photographer who also documented the theme of the Gypsies in Romania in 1968… two days before the Soviet invasion of Prague.

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) French street photographer who documented the life of Paris in the 1930s. He was, together with Henri Cartier-Bressson, a pioneer of photojournalism.

Jill Freedman (1939-) An appreciated photographer whose photographs are exhibited in museums and institutions all over the world.

LATEST WEDDING STORIES / BLOG

Menu