Street photography is a crafted skill that enables us to create powerful, emotional depictions of everyday life. From capturing crowds of unhappy commuters flocking past busy pedestrians to the silent expression of a person walking across a deserted alleyway at night, street photography is all about recording the nuances of human activity.
What techniques make a great street photograph?
The most important rule in street photography is that the quality of the subject is much more important then the quality of the lens or camera. Unlike landscape photography, which requires high quality gear for the best details and colours, street photos are primarily about culture and society, rather than aesthetics.
In the famous words of Frederick R. Barnard, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. In street photography, the best pictures are those that can only be captured in a split second – the completely natural, spontaneous events like a person’s facial response when they unexpectedly meet a beloved partner, friend or relative in public, or the expression of horror at being soaked on a pavement after a nearby bus passes over a deep puddle.
Composing your street photos
The story of a street photo must be instantly recognisable and each subject, whether it’s a person, a building or a sign post, must create an harmonious image. Although colour and contrast do not create great street photographs alone, they can be utilised to help reinforce a particular scene. Think of a scene in London involving a red telephone box, a person with a red iPhone and an entirely black and white background. Just one photo alone is enough to demonstrate the evolution of telecommunications throughout the centuries.
Indeed, this is a classic technique of street photography and many photographers use this black and white/colour trick to make specific subjects/objects to stand out and correlate with one another, whether it’s the relationship between objects or people.
Angle and perspective
The angle and perspective of a street photo is also particularly important; it is difficult to convey a clear subject if a picture that is obstructed with distracting shadows, overly bright highlights or unattractive/unrelated objects.
If you’re focusing on one person, try to use an appropriate field of view; avoid missing out areas of the face or body and make sure the autofocus is centred on the individual, rather than the background (unless this intentional).
Lenses for street photography
If you’re a more serious amateur photography eager to upgrade to SLR or you simply want to know what sort of lens is most suitable for street photography, consider something that is practical.
A long telephoto lens is particularly heavy and is also very obvious in public places, which may make it difficult to capture authentic scenes. However, a wide angle lens with a limited zoom factor might prevent you from getting some of the most coveted street photos – the ones that you can’t get close to because of a large crowd or a busy road, for example. Of course, many photographers prefer not to get too close to their subjects to avoid getting noticed!
One of the best multi-purposes lens is the Canon 24-105mm lens, with offers photographers the chance to capture large, wide angle images and zoom into scenes that would be almost impossible to capture otherwise. It should be noted however, that this particular lens is generally more suited to full-frame camera bodies, which have wider angles than the more cost-friendly crop sensor cameras.
The best lens for beginners on crop censor cameras is the Canon 18-55mm lens, which is small and light, perfect for busy areas like London’s Oxford Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, which are some of the most renowned locations for urban street photography.
Don’t underestimate the value of a phone camera either. Although lower quality, they are often much more practical and convenient for everyday situations than bulky SLR cameras.
Great street photos can be taken anywhere, at any time
You don’t need to live in a thriving metropolis to take great street photos. It is possible to take excellent photos in any small village or town. The most important point to remember is that your photography must be a native expression of your community.
Think about a small town along a river that was recently subject to severe flooding. A photographer could capture the local community atmosphere, the transformation of a busy High Street into a torrent of brown flood water and the arm of a rescue worker on a boat reaching out to save a stranded resident.
Use Photoshop to create outstanding street effects
Consider purchasing or signing up for a 30 day free trial of the latest Adobe Photoshop programme to customise your images.
Photograph a typical scene one of your local shopping streets on a cold, rainy day. Capture exactly the same location from the same spot at the same depth of view on a warm summer’s day and process both of the pictures in Photoshop.
Next, open up both of the photos together and use the cloning tool to ‘bind’ them into one image The left side of the canvas could characterise the lifeless, empty street with coats and umbrellas; the right side could feature an entirely different scene, where large groups of friends and families are gathered along shopfronts on a bright day in summer.
Use a tripod for long exposure street photography
A tripod is essential if you are planning to take long exposure photos with a shutter speed of more than one fifth of a second (depending on how steady your hands are). Whether it’s capturing the light trails of passing traffic, creating blur effect of various people or photographing a particular monument or building against a moving background, this is a fascinating technique to explore.
- License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/724314
- License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1365082