Candid street photography is a lot of fun – but it can also be challenging, especially for the inexperienced street photographer.
In this essay, I’ll reveal my top seven techniques and tactics for improving your candid street photography. These are tactics I’ve honed over a decade of street photography — and I guarantee that if you use them correctly, you’ll get fantastic results.
Let’s get this party started.
1. Travel light and with minimal gear
Many novice street photographers use a DSLR with a mid-range zoom lens — and although this is great for street photography, lowering your burden will make a tremendous impact. You will have more energy, greater coordination, and will be speedier and more ready to explore. You’ll also be able to picture in circumstances when having a huge camera might be inappropriate.
So, what kind of equipment do I recommend?
First, choose a smaller street photography camera. Mirrorless cameras, particularly APS-C and Micro Four Thirds versions, are smaller and lighter, and thus appear less scary to the subjects you’re photographing.
If you must use your DSLR, try utilizing a tiny prime lens, such as a 35mm or a 50mm. A 50mm f/1.8 lens, for example, will be much smaller than your usual zoom. It will also be relatively inexpensive and provide high-quality optics.
It’s worth noting that prime lenses have a fixed focal length, although this restriction may be liberating. Sticking to 35mm or 50mm (the two most popular focal lengths for street photographers) can help you rapidly learn to see how the lens sees, allowing you to better envisage photos before raising the camera to your eye.
2. Increase your ISO
If you’ve ever gone to a photography workshop or taken a photography class, you’ve undoubtedly heard the conventional advice: keep your ISO as low as possible.
However, while high ISOs can produce unpleasant noise effects, modern cameras have very impressive high-ISO capabilities; you can frequently shoot at ISOs of 1600 and 3200 with minimal noise, which is why, in my opinion, you shouldn’t be afraid to increase that ISO.
I photograph casual street shots at ISO 400 in direct sunshine, ISO 800 in moderate shade, ISO 1600 in deep shadow, ISO 3200 at sunset, and ISO 6400 at night. I would reduce this by one stop if using an entry-level or less-advanced camera (i.e., shoot ISO 200 in sunlight and up to ISO 3200 when doing street night photography).
As you can see, a high ISO provides you with a significant edge. It enables you to utilize a fast shutter speed even in low light, allowing you to shoot handheld, freeze motion, and use a tiny aperture to optimize depth of field.
(Why is a large depth of field required? For one thing, even if you don’t focus on your subject, you could still acquire a reasonably crisp photo. Furthermore, it will allow you to retain several subjects crisp inside a single composition, which is a terrific way to add context and depth to your candid shots.)
3. Pick a spot and wait
Street photographers frequently grab a camera, wander about, and investigate — but continually walking may be doing you harm. You’ll lose out on shots that demand a little of patience (which are frequently better than shots obtained while roaming about).
Instead of continually walking, go outside – and when you locate a great spot, remain for a bit and wait for anything to happen.
By choosing a place, you allow a magical moment enough time to manifest – and if you’ve picked your location correctly, you’ll be able to combine the topic appeal and a suitable setting for a top-notch result. After all, a fantastic snapshot emerges when the proper setting combines with an engaging moment.
Furthermore, if you lie in wait, you will be more aware of your surroundings. You won’t be focused on walking, so you can spend your time examining the crowds.
Furthermore, people will be drawn to your setting rather than the other way around. This may not appear to be a huge thing, but in my experience, it makes the entire process of candid street photography smoother and less confrontational.
Finally, if you want to shoot candid street photography while going unseen, be sure to lift your camera to your eye before your subject steps into the frame. Then, when the figure exits the frame, keep your camera pointed upward. In that manner, it will appear as though you were simply capturing the background!
4. Know what to say if someone stops you
Street photography, no matter how you look at it, is fundamentally unsettling – if not for you, then for the people you’re photographing. Some of your subjects may be pleased by the camera, while others will be perplexed or even irritated.
Even if you take a low-key approach to street photography, you may eventually encounter individuals who question you. They may even become enraged.
So, what do you say in this situation?
When someone asks if you snapped their picture, admit it and explain what you were doing. Communicate with them and explain why you find them fascinating. I usually have a business card with me and offer to provide the snapshot if they email me.
Keep a grin on your face no matter what occurs. There’s no need to react defensively or angrily if someone appears to be upset. It is your legal right to shoot on the street (depending on where you are photography, of course), but you don’t need to explain this at first. It’s not a good idea to bring it up immediately away because it might aggravate folks.
Instead, consider ways to diffuse the issue. Explain that you didn’t mean to make them feel uncomfortable. I’ve volunteered to erase a few images throughout the years when I believed it was necessary.
However, if you’re cautious, you shouldn’t have too many problems. I’ve been shooting for 15 years and can only recall a few difficult circumstances.
5. Don’t be afraid to get experimental (or even weird)
Candid street photography is concerned with capturing life and culture as it unfolds around you. It doesn’t have to be about beauty, and it doesn’t have to be about making “typical” Instagram street images.
So be yourself. Shoot anything that piques your curiosity. Capture subjects that are one-of-a-kind. You don’t necessarily have to capture the most gorgeous or loveliest photos; instead, attempt to produce something that makes people think or throws them off balance, even if it’s strange. Capture pictures for yourself, regardless of whether others understand or like them straight away.
Remember that it is not your responsibility to please everyone. It is your responsibility to take nice photographs.
Also, be free-spirited. Other types of photography allow you to be a perfectionist in every aspect. While this is equally vital while taking street photography, many of your judgments will be decided in a single second. Allow yourself to relax. Go for it whenever you think there’s a chance for a strong image, even if you’re not sure. Many of these pictures will fail, but some of them will turn out to be your greatest images yet.
6. Group your photos while editing
Make it a habit to go over your street images on a regular basis, and to categorize them as you go. Make a vague narrative out of them. Return to these groupings, add to them and subtract from them. Over time, you’ll see ideas sprouting out on their own, and you’ll be motivated to take more photos, varied shots, and intriguing shots.
The ultimate manifestation of “photo grouping” is a book, and you may want to consider putting one together at some point. Before you go down that road, get a basic corkboard for your office wall and fill it with 46 and 57 photographs. Print and update photographs on a regular basis to create a unified wall of images. It’s a lot of fun, a wonderful method to track your progress, and a terrific way to generate ideas and inspiration.
7. Explore the work of other photographers
This is really basic advice, yet it is quite significant.
In your spare time, research and examine the work of street photographers. Investigate the material, master the skill, and consider the styles you prefer. View films of these photographers in action to learn more about how they approach the street. Attend gallery displays and look at real-life prints to hone your vision. This will provide you with a variety of ideas for what to photograph the next time you go out shooting.
Also, don’t be scared to venture outside of the candid street photography genre. Consider looking at still-life street photographs, architectural street shots, or street portraits, for example – whatever interests you, make sure you explore it, as it will only benefit your photography!
All of this is both motivating and enjoyable to accomplish. Begin a photographic book collection or buy a few prints for your walls. The more street photography you expose yourself to, the better you will become, the more ideas you will have, and the more motivated you will be.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s a selection of amazing candid street photographers to check out:
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
- Garry Winogrand
- Robert Frank
- Helen Levitt
- Lee Friedlander
- William Eggleston
- Walker Evans
- Daido Moriyama
- Martin Parr
- Elliot Erwitt
- Joel Meyerowitz
- Mary Ellen Mark
- Bruce Davidson
- Saul Leiter
- Trent Parke
- Alex Webb
- Vivian Maier
- Bruce Gilden
Go out and have some fun now that you know how to enhance your candid photographs!
The more time you spend shooting, the greater the quality of your photos will be. So keep practicing, improving your art, and expanding your talents.