Here is the ultimate guide to taking great street photography. I have listed below 16 tips to help you crush street photography. These tips are made of photography rules. However, remember that rules are meant to be broken. Let me explain you why!
First things first, every single person has a different definition of photography. There is no right answer! To me, Street Photography is the opportunity to capture simple life moments to share strong messages. I also believe that the interpretation of a photo is unique to anyone. While some photographs might have no interest for you, they might resonate with someone else.
All of that being said, the artistic side of photography is what I value first. The technical side of it is secondary. You can either shoot in a fully automatic mode or an aperture/shutter priority mode. It does not matter much. It is all about the moment you capture.
There is only ONE THING that you should be looking at to improve your street photography skills. What is the MESSAGE that you want to share? Observe the situation with your eyes in the first place.
How do you feel about this place or about this person or about this environment?
What are your thoughts?
What is the overall sentiment towards what is happening in front of your eyes?
Happiness? Sadness? Frustration? Contradiction? Anything else you want…?
Once you have identified how you feel, do not take a picture of what is happening but use your camera to give your interpretation of the situation. I have listed below 16 tips to help you crush street photography.
THE RULE OF THIRDS
The rule of thirds is described as a fundamental in any photography or painting manual. It consists in dividing a photography in a 3X3 magic square. While most people would center a subject in the frame, it is said that your subject should be in one of the fourth intersection points. As simple as that!
Since most caremas offer a gridline option in their menu, you can refer to the manual of your device to enable this feature. If not, you can use the focus points to guide your eyes!
In opposition to the rule of third, you can also decide to center your subject in the frame and use the symetry of the background. Rules are meant not to be followed, do whatever you want. If you only shoot pictures using the rule of third, your will miss a lot on expressing your creativity.
USE MULTIPLE LAYERS
Street photography is quite similar to photojournalism in a way that it usually gives a complete understanding of the situation including both the subject and its environment (in opposition to isolating a subject for a portrait shot).
Adding multiple layers and depth of field to your photographs give the viewer an idea of what is going on. However, it is not that simple! Be carreful with the different layers you are using. You might loose people attention from the main subject having a distracting background.
Think about a movie you have seen several times but still discover subtle things each time you watch it again. This is exactly how it works here. The more your photo leverages questions, the better it is!
In opposition to using multiple layers, minimalism sometimes shows that simple is better.
PLAY WITH LIGHTING
Lighting is the single most important thing when it comes to photography. Wether it is an artifical or a natural source of light, it creates areas of light and shadow. Play around with these two to capture interesting moments.
Golden hours lighting (early morning or late afternoon) gives a nice soft orange light to your photograph. Unfortunatelly, you do not always have the opportunity to shoot during this timeframe. Here is the truth! Even though you might be shooting at sunset or sunrise, the subject you intend to photograph might not be enlighted by a nice soft light depending on where he stands. Does it really matters? No.
Another thing I have learnt about lighting is that even if the lighting and weather are not optimal, it can always get worse! Sometimes a shot is worth it without the proper lighting.
THE RULE OF SPACE
While the rule is easy to apply, it really improves your composition as it conveys movement and dynamism to your photography. It is all about leaving enough space between the direction (or the eye direction) of your subject and the opposite side of the frame. There should always be more space in the direction your subject is moving towards than in the direction it is coming from.
USE INNOVATIVE ANGLES
Most people take pictures zooming in and out while standing on their feet. It is an easy way to get a picture but you will not get a much more original shot than the other thousands people doing it. Life gave you a body, use it to move around your subject, get down on your knees, bend yourself, do whatever it takes to get the best angle you can. It is all about being creative!
PLAY WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
Observe your environnement and use it to produce creative shot. Water, glass and any piece of architecture can be used to exploit your creativity.
PLAY WITH PATTERNS, COLORS AND FORMS
Use patterns, colors and forms in the environment and background to match your subject.
PLAY WITH CONTRADICTIONS AND OPPOSITIONS
Look for contradictions and oppositions between your subject and its environment.
PLAY WITH SIMILARITIES
In opposition to the previous advise, look for similarities between your subject and its environment.
Most things are cyclical wether it is someone walking in the frame or anything else happening. Be patient and wait for the right moment even though you have to wait 15 minutes to take the perfect shot!
PLAY WITH LEADING LINES
Leading lines are natural straight lines or curves of the environment which help draw the viewer attention to the subject.
CAPTURE THE ACTION
Capture an action, a symbol, a facial expression or anything else that impress you. Tell the story!
BE CONFIDENT AND DO NOT ASK PEOPLE
This is probably the most important advise when it comes to street photography. You have to be confident. Do not try to hide yourself from people.
I never ask people if I can take their photo unless I feel the situation could be humiliating. The main reason I recommend not to ask is that people will start posing. It is the very last thing you want as it kills the whole vibe and fake facial expressions.
Take the opportunity to exchange with your subject once the shot is taken!
GET CLOSE TO YOUR SUBJECT
Same as the previous one. Do not be afraid. Be part of the action. You need to live and experience what is going on before you want to photograph it. This will not happen using a telephoto lens or cropping in post processing.
SHOOT AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
Wether you are talented or not, it takes time to take great photographs! There is no secret here, the more you shot, the better you will be! It is no different than anything else in life!