Street Photography – Tips For Capturing Natural Moments

Written by
An Asian boy


Street photography is all about telling a story in a single frame and that’s an amazing thing. It is also about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. There is a definition at WikipediaIt is sometimes called candid photography, it is a photography type that is conducted for art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters at random incidents within public places.

Aside from different definitions, street photography has the following features:

  • It is about documenting everyday life and society.
  • It is taken at public places (mall, beach, park, bus, subway, doctor’s office, grocery store street, etc.)
  • It is generally done candidly (without permission and without knowledge of your subjects).
  • It is used to capture emotion, humanity, and soul.
  • It often has to include people in it.

street photography

Things that make beautiful street photos:

  • Emotion

Shooting people when they are happy or sad, lonely or in love produces the most memorable street photos, Always look for the emotion, the facial expressions, and the body language of your subjects.

wonderful kid

  • Perfect timing

Search for “The decisive moment”, that is when everything in the scene comes together in a perfect moment, in other words, it is capturing the photo with the perfect timing. Normally you need to take many shots of the same subject, and after that you may choose the best one.

street performer

  • Visual images

Look for shapes and patterns subjected to light and shadows; they often produce interesting street photos.

artistic wall painting

  • Juxtaposition

Look for the contradictions in the scene, the term juxtaposition is when you put two different elements in a frame that directly contradict one another. For example: fat vs. thin persons, black vs. white elements, and old vs. new objects.

a child

  • Urban scene

A scene that contains an old building or an old car can somehow arouse a sense of nostalgia, emotion to our mind.

old car

  • Focusing on details

Instead of taking a full-body shot of someone on the streets, focus on their hands, their face, their hands, or anything else they are holding.

book and hands

  • Ordinary objects

You may try shooting even ordinary stuff and find ways to make them interesting.

street food

Tips for Successful Street Photography

Before starting to discuss tips for taking street photography, there is an important thing to consider; is it legal to shoot strangers without their permission? In most countries, as long as you are in a public place, it is perfectly legal to photograph people for either editorial or fine art purposes. However, if you intend to use any of those images for advertising or commercials, then you need permission from the concerned personnel. Each country has its own laws and regulations about this, so please do your research before you photograph strangers in the streets.

Choose the right lens

As you are going to travel a lot, you shouldn’t carry heavy equipment, use a strap to hang your camera around your neck, or a small bag to carry other essentials. Your lens choice is very important. I find that prime lenses, such as 50mm f/1.8,  or 50mm f/1.2L II, give me sharper images than a zoom lens. I like to get closer to my subjects, rather than rely on Zoom to get me there, that almost ruins the intimacy of street photography.

Camera settings

For street photography, you may prefer to switch the camera setting to aperture-priority mode and select your f-stop and ISO manually, and then the shutter speed is set automatically by the camera. When there is bright sun in the sky a choice of f/16 with an ISO between 100-400 seems to be a good setting for a start. If your camera displays a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are ready to start shooting. You may adjust the f-stop and ISO when needed, but keep in mind to check the shutter speed; it shouldn’t go below 1/100th of a second because you may get some blurry background. There is the other option which is using Program mode; It can do a pretty good job.

B&W or color photos:

There are some advantages of using B&W, firstly, its ability to eliminate any distracting colorful elements from the frame, allowing the viewer to focus only on the subject. Secondly, it’s a timeless quality. I think It is a totally personal choice. Some images look better in color and others B&W gives them the looks of old times.

old man feeding birds

Go for a crowd

To start taking photos in the street look for a busy and crowded public place such as a street market, an outdoor event, and popular local restaurants etc. You can easily overcome your inside fear of photographing strangers and definitely, the scenes are part of the culture of the place you are visiting.

Find an appropriate background

When you are resting after hours of going around, there is still a chance to catch astonishing photos, find an interesting background or an old building and wait nearby.  Be patient and eventually, the right people will walk through your frame.

Always keep your camera handy

You don’t want to miss an amazing photo opportunity by not having your camera available to your hand. Remember that street photography is spontaneous and waits for no one.

Anticipate the decisive moment

Watch people’s behavior and body language. Anticipate actions and moments before they happen. Follow human interactions, watch people, and stand in a spot for an hour, or in one specific area. Wait for a moment to happen, rather than search the streets for it. Try to be invisible. It only a split of a second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever. You rarely get a second chance, so be prepared and wait for it to happen, and be clever enough to even anticipate its happening.

a girl and a dog

Use the LCD screen

There are times when it’s not possible to raise the camera to your eye, and so shooting from the hip is a useful method of capturing a decisive moment. Of course, it needs a lot of practice to get what you want into the camera frame. Or rather, try to shoot without your viewfinder, but just use the LCD screen of your camera.

Taking permissions is a good option

For some street photographers especially beginners, you may ask for permission from people to take a portrait of them, it sounds logical and can be a good option, you, as a street photographer, will be at ease and have a good chance for setting the camera, and they will be more acceptable with the process. After taking the photos you may show it to them on your camera. Tell them why they caught your attention. Everyone enjoys a nice appreciation and a compliment.

Be decent, respectful, and confident.

You get to believe that you aren’t doing anything wrong if someone catches you taking a photo of him and objects don’t shoot! It’s not worth an argument. It is important to avoid photographing people in embarrassing situations. Explain yourself. Be polite, smile, and say sorry if somebody is offended you took a photograph of them.

A young girl

Finally, street photography involves many social activities and needs lots of practicing and learning, improving your communication skills, understanding human behavior, and overcoming your internal fear until you become comfortable with this style of photography.

Thanks for reading the article, hope you find it useful and interesting, You can leave your comment, if any, in the box below.

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  • These are great tips for a newbie like myself on how to take better photos. I can tell that you are a gifted photographer from these great photos which really manage to capture the image so brilliantly. It really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. I am really considering investing in a better camera so that I can move beyond the iPhone camera. Is there a camera that you’d recommend for someone like me who is new to photography and doesn’t want to spend a fortune?

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