Street Photography Tips

5 Essential Tips to Awesome Street Photography

 

For this article, I will share essential street photography tips to remember when you travel. I am no pro nor do I have taken lessons in street photography. Just a travel blogger who continue to improve my craft because I am a permanent beta, a work in progress.

When I travel I always take to the streets, the local market, grocery stores, sit in the sidewalk for hours and take time to compose a movie in my mind with all the sights and sounds happening before me. I don’t have any criteria, just whatever that seems to tell a story or something new that I don’t see everyday. I’m sure you agree, that when you take time to observe the local scene around, there are a thousand scenes that play before you and arouses your curiosity. That’s the time I aim my camera and take a shot. But how to improve your skill in taking photos of the local street scene without disturbing it or losing that moment?

Blend in, be a local

Like what they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So as not to stand out and people looking at you like you stepped out of gothic novel or from the future. Dress down and be a local. If you plan to take photos of the happenings around a Sunday market, then be cheerful as the locals are, greet the vendors and market goers, and smile a lot.

Street Photography
Saturday mall scene in Akihabara district, Tokyo

Don’t scare!

Seriously, don’t scare the person you want to take a photo of. Avoid taking photos too up close or creeping from behind someone who is buying a bunch of flowers. Avoid stalking them and asking them to go back to the last corner and walk again. A big no no.

People are also intimidated if they see you aiming your zoom lens at them. They will think that you’re a stalker and that you’re looking for them. Your photo should convey a happy story not a horror story.

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Meiji Shrine entrance, Tokyo

When taking a close-up photo of a person, or a person is your main subject, always, always ask permission first. Smile and make a short introduction of what you’re trying to do. Don’t feel bad or be angry if the person says no. Always be respectful. After taking your photo, remember to always give thanks to the person and bid him/her a good day. This is a golden rule when taking people shots wherever and whenever.

Spear firsherman in Cebu Philippines
Spear firsherman in Cebu Philippines

Leave the zoom lens at home

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Fisherman taking a break

I use my DSLR with its kit lens from when I purchased it. I seldom use a zoom lens or a telephoto lens. I rather take the photo of the scene in its entirety rather than just taking a photo of a man tendering to his goods in a flea market.

One more thing, kit lens are lighter to carry around than a telephoto lens plus it makes you less intimidating while going around looking for that perfect shot. So when using the kit lens with your DSLR or mirrorless cameras, you’re actually solving 2 problems here. You’re not lugging around a heavy zoom lens like toting a gun at your subjects, plus you get a wider angle photo of the entire scene. Picture perfect.

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Meiji Shrine scene

Tell a story

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At the ferry station in Hakone, Japan

Find that angle that tells a story. Find that juxtaposition that includes a slice of humor, irony or daily slice of life so the outcome is that when people look at your photo, they are also composing the story in their minds. This is what makes street photography unique.

So when taking to street photography, walk, sit, move a lot. Try different angles. Find that juxtaposition that connects the person or subject to the environment or to the backdrop. If you’re in the middle of a Sunday flea market, try to look for that x-factor that made you look the second time. Maybe there’s something there so just snap away.

For the photo above with the tourists consulting a map and a guidebook, I took this photo because it reminds me a lot of me, of how I travel around new destinations. I still do it the old way, with a map and guidebook. So I took a shot.

Prepare your gear

It doesn’t matter what gear you plan to use, as long as it ready to click away. It would be such a waste when a picture perfect cute scene of kids playing by the side streets is happening right in front of you, and you realize you forgot to put in the memory card.

If you’re using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera that require some setting adjustments, make sure that it’s already done before you leave your room. Fussing around your camera settings while walking around is not cool. It not only makes you attractive for muggers and bad elements, but it can also totally waste a perfect scene.

I usually leave my camera in aperture priority mode when on a street photography mode for the entire day or night. I also usually leave my auto-focus settings to ON. This way, whenever I see a photo worthy scene, I quickly click away and take about a couple of shots or more, shifting my camera angle when I can.

Market scene in Yangon Myanmar
Market scene in Yangon Myanmar

Related Post: Recommended Travel Camera for Beginners

Lastly,

Your street photography skills and you are always a work in progress. So when you reach a new destination just grab your gear, get out the streets, keep practicing, move a lot, change your angle and if something made you look and stop for a while, just aim and shoot it!

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Comments

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  1. Reply

    Helpful! I always feel strange asking strangers for a photo and often they want to smile and show their ‘best side’, instead of a candid. How do you deal with that?

  2. Reply

    I found this helpful as I’ve just arrived in Prague and am heading out to do some photography. With all my jet lag, I could really use some tips, so thanks. Now if only the light holds …

    • Carol Colborn
    • September 3, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks. I didn’t know I am already practicing street photography. Just have to change my angles more! Thanks.

  3. Reply

    Good tips. I think I’m not alone at finding it hard to take photos of people when I am travelling. This is excellent reading for me.

    • Jenna
    • September 5, 2016
    Reply

    Great tips–thanks for sharing! Agree, it’s always a good idea to ask for permission or acknowledgement before taking a photo of someone. If the person agrees you usually get a much better photo that way too!

    • Holly
    • September 6, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing these great tips.

      • carlaabanes@justtravellingsolo.com
      • September 7, 2016
      Reply

      You’re welcome Holly.

  4. Reply

    I have recently been trying to enhance my photography skills so this post came at a great time. I love all of your tips and will definitely try them out on my next trip. 🙂

      • carlaabanes@justtravellingsolo.com
      • September 7, 2016
      Reply

      Thanks and I really hope my article will help many more people out there. Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Reply

    Great tips and great shots! I do find that a 50mm lens works a lot better for me when I do street photography. 😀

      • carlaabanes@justtravellingsolo.com
      • September 7, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you! Yes, I will try to do that also and see if I can get new angles and interesting shots!

    • Mags
    • September 7, 2016
    Reply

    Great tips. This is definitely something I need to work on. I feel like such a creep taking pictures of people from afar.

  6. Reply

    I agree 110% with blending in with the locals. You get such great shots doing this, and are more likely to get candid moments instead of the locals playing for the camera.

  7. Reply

    Thanks for this. I was into street photography a few years ago and this has made me want to pick up a camera again. Definitely agree with the idea of telling a story.

  8. Pingback: Now What? - My Solo Travel Tips - Just Travelling Solo

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