10 Ways To Take Amazing Street Photos of People

Want to be a street photographer, but don’t know where to begin? It really isn’t that difficult! Here is my quick and easy 10-step guide to taking great photos of people on the street.

1 – DON’T LET YOUR EQUIPMENT HOLD YOU BACK

Taken in Nepal with a pre-historic Lumix GH2 and a battered Lumix 20mm F1.7 lens I bought second hand for $70

Step 1: Start taking photos ASAP. It doesn’t matter what gear you have at all. Just get out there and start shooting. Whatever you can beg or borrow (please don’t steal), use it! Too many people I know could well be harbouring a great talent for photography but won’t get out there because they “don’t have a good enough camera/lens”. It really doesn’t matter. Some of the best photos I have ever taken were with my phone or my GH2 with old second hand lenses. Don’t delay – get out there and start snapping.

2 – ALWAYS BE READY

Always be ready – even if you’re in the back of a rickshaw in Ahmedabad racing through traffic!

When you’re shooting on the street, always be ready. You never know when something might happen. Have your camera ready, and practice switching it on and taking photos quickly. I also try to make sure that if I am shooting on manual, as I usually am, that my exposure settings are always roughly correct. If I go into a much darker or lighter environment, I’ll quickly turn on and adjust my camera settings even if I don’t intend to take a photo – you never know when you might want to grab that shot and trust me, you don’t want to miss it because you were fiddling with your camera.

3 – KEEP BOTH EYES OPEN

This Yangon tram stopped for a second while I was busy shooting something else. I glimpsed this guy looking at me, whirled around and grabbed this photo just as the tram sped off.

On a busy street, there are thousands of potentially beautiful moments taking place every second. Blink and you will miss it. Quite literally. When I’m taking photos or video of people in a crowded environment, I always keep both eyes open and am casually keeping (quite literally) one eye on what is going on around me, just in case anything amazing happens.

4 – SHOOT IN BURST MODE (AND USE A FAST MEMORY CARD)

This was one of over 100 photos taken in just a few seconds!

When you are shooting on the street, burst mode is essential. Yep, it’ll mean sifting through potentially hundreds or even thousands of images, but if it means catching that one perfect moment, it’ll totally be worth it. Note that in order to get the fastest performance out of your camera, you’ll need a fast memory card to save all of those photos fast enough so your camera can keep shooting.

5 – HIGH APERTURE = NICE BOKEH

The blurriness behind adds emphasis to this Nepalese boy’s face and also hides the fact that it’s actually an ugly stairwell!

When a part of your image is nice and in-focus and the other parts of your image are blurry (out of focus), the out of focus bit is called “bokeh” and is an effect that generally makes photographs look more pro. The portrait mode on your phone uses digital tech to fake this effect to make your pictures look more like they were taken on a D-SLR. In order to get the best bokeh you will need a high aperture lens. Aperture is simply how much light is allowed into the camera sensor, and it’s measured in “stops” and indicated by an “F-Number”. Your camera lens might say F4-5.6. This is it’s aperture. The lower the number, the higher the aperture. Gah, complicated I know. Long-story-short, a higher aperture (lower F number) will give you the best bokeh!

6 – KNOW THE RULE OF THIRDS

A young kite runner who was deftly leaping across roofs in Jaipur, India

The “rule of thirds” is a simple rulebook that basically makes images look conventionally better to the human eye. It’s easy: split the screen into three columns and three rows. And try to keep the action in the area around the corners of the boxes as above. Ideally in the red circles in the higher row. Do that and your images will look better! Note that this is an over-simplified approach and there are many other framing techniques, but it’s a good one to have in your mind if you are a beginner.

7 – SHOOT WIDER SO YOU CAN CROP AND CHANGE ASPECT

So much going on in this image of a street in Kathmandu I don’t know where to crop in!

It’s always better to leave some space around your subject rather than to shoot too close-up. You can crop in when you’re editing but you can’t add width. This will also give you a bit of leeway when it comes to changing the aspect ratio of your image which is quite important nowadays as different social media networks require images to be at different aspects. That being, said, it’s always best to try and get the best shot you can there-and-then. Don’t rely too much on post-production. “Polishing a turd” is not much fun!

8 – DON’T STAGE ANYTHING (UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY)

The most staged-looking yet totally un-staged photo I’ve ever taken (in rural China)

Real human moments are beautiful and they happen all the time. Nothing can beat an image of pure, honest humanity, and no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to recreate it. The best photos of people on the street are candid, so however tempting it might be to try to create a moment, in my view your time will be much better spent out there looking for a real one.

9 – BE BRAVE

This lovely lady in a Hutong (alleyway) in Beijing was more than happy to let me take her photo

Yep you can go around with a long tele-photo lens secretly snapping moments without people knowing – heaven knows I do a lot of that. But if you want to capture faces, you will need to get in front of people. This is where a degree of cultural understanding comes into play. Etiquette varies from country to country and you need to be very conscious of getting as close as you can into people’s environments without pissing them off (as well as effecting the authenticity of the scene). The most important thing is to not be afraid. Ask people if you can take their picture. In my experience, you can usually tell when someone will be fine or not with having their picture taken. What’s the worst that can happen!

10 – GO TO ASIA!

OK so I know it’s easier said than done, but of all the places I have been, Asia is a street photographer’s dream, and a great place to learn. In busy parts of Asian cities, not only is there an amazing photograph almost everywhere you look, but most people are totally cool with having their photo taken.

So what are you waiting for? Time to go out and start shooting!

If you have any other tips or would like to comment on anything I have written, please give feedback using the comments below.

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