10 Essential Photography Tips
How to Shoot Better Street Photography
Photography is my life. I remember moments of my life in shutter releases.
Click: I’m on a chimney atop a roof in Vienna, with the city stretched below me and the wind at my back.
Click: a million fireflies surround me in a field of white flowers – billowing clouds flicker with lightening and rain pours down.
Click: beautiful faces smile up at me, and tiny hands grab my shirt at a home for boys in Mexico.
Click: wheels shake the ground as the subway rushes away from a platform in New York City – the air is putrid with burnt decay, and bodies press past me as if I don’t exist.
Click: I squint against the reflecting sun and hurry through a group of Bahraini taxi drivers before they can make their sales pitch.
Moments like these are seared into my brain forever; to me, the camera captures more than light – it immortalizes experiences.
My Life in Shutter Releases
Many of my favorite images have come on foreign streets, at times when I had little time to react. I learned that great street photography requires fast reaction time, and a lot of guts; I learned to be quick on the trigger and throw caution to the wind.
But it wasn’t always like that; at first, taking pictures of strangers on the street was terrifying. I learned to shoot-on-the-sly from-the-hip with techniques like the ‘sunny 16′ and the ’10 foot rule,’ before I was brave enough to brashly capture human behavior around me.
Learning these techniques has greatly enhanced my travel images, and emboldened me to interact with new cultures that I otherwise would be afraid to approach – so whether you’re an amateur or a pro, or you’ve never held a camera in your life, I hope that they’ll do the same for you, and take your travel photography to the next level.
1. First Rule of Street Photography: You’ve Gotta Be Fast
That means you can’t waste time fiddling around with dials and displays: put your DSLR camera in manual, get your settings right, and leave ’em be as you wander the streets.
Don’t use automatic mode or even aperture or shutter priority: adjust your settings for the mood that you want to capture. Learn to read light and adjust by instinct without looking at the camera; that means, shoot often and carry your camera everywhere you go: even just around the block to the gas station and back.
2. 35mm Lens
There’s a reason why the 35mm lens is considered the journalistic lens. It’s a happy medium between wide angle, and telephoto: you can capture portraiture, landscapes, and everything in-between. It’s a little bit wider than the average human’s focal length, but doesn’t have too much lens distortion. Basically, it’s perfect for street shooting.
3. The Sunny 16 Rule
This one is simple: on a sunny day, set your f stop (aperture) to f16, and your shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO. So that means, if you want your shutter speed to be 1/400 second, put your ISO at 400.
Or, if you want to shoot at 1/1000 of a second, set your ISO at 1000. It works, every time. The f16 allows enough depth of field that you don’t have to worry too much about your focus, and the relationship between the shutter speed and ISO makes adjusting your settings on-the-fly a breeze!
4. 1/125 Shutter Speed
As a general rule, try not to let your shutter speed go below 1/125 second; anything less, and you’ll struggle with motion blur and won’t be able to catch a sharp image. That being said, all rules are mean’t to be broken; but just make sure that you understand the concepts before you break them.
5. The 10 Foot Rule
When I was in high school I worked at a supermarket for a little while; there was a giant poster up in the break room about the ’10 foot rule’ – basically, the rule was to say hi to every person when they were 10 feet away. The same rules apply to photography, just in a different language. Set your focus (switch your lens to Manual Focus) to 10 feet, and snap away when you’re 10 feet from a subject. Leave your camera hanging around your neck, or pinned to your hip, set your focus, and fire away without looking through the viewfinder.
The best way to capture human interaction is unaware. People act differently when they know they’re being observed – so shoot slyly; but not shyly. Don’t be bashful (I was incredibly shy when I first started) when you’re taking a photograph – but at the same time, understand that the best photographs sometimes come from-the-hip.
I use a long strap that allows the camera to hang inconspicuously low, so that I don’t bring attention to myself as I casually fire away. Also, check and see if your camera has a silent shooting mode (that can come in handy).
7. Shutter Speed is Priority
Contrary to advice given for other styles of shooting, where the ISO should be left as low as possible to reduce digital noise, and the shutter speed is adjusted to maintain the aperture, leave the shutter at a fixed position; instead, adjust the aperture and ISO to get the right exposure.
If you have to shoot at a higher ISO and lose image quality, so be it. When it comes to street photography, the most important factor is capturing the image – you can’t afford to risk a blurry image.
8. Less is More
Leave all your fancy gear at home, except for your camera and a 35mm (or something similar). Try to blend into the environment as much as you can – dress casually, and don’t bring attention to yourself. It’s better to be light and inconspicuous than weighed down by gear that you won’t use.
9. Compose in Your Head
Because of the fast-paced nature of street photography, piece together images in your head, before you think about the camera. While you’re walking, be aware of light and shadows (especially stark contrast from buildings), reflections in windows, billboards, and moving objects. Suddenly, the world becomes a canvas; the people, actors; the streets, a stage; you become the artist, and it’s up to you to freeze all the elements in the perfect place (don’t forget about the rule of 3rds, and other compositional guidelines like using lines to lead the eye).
10. Be Bold
When in doubt, ask: if you see an interesting person on the street, ask him or her if you can take a portrait – the worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and the best that can happen is you’ll capture the best image of your life.
People are less apt to look at you funny or ask questions if you boldly display your camera, than if you try to hide it and take photos when they’re not looking. In many ways, photography has brought me out of my comfort zone, and made me more confident around strangers – when I first started, I was petrified by the thought of photographing someone on the street; today, I’ll walk up to anyone, stick a camera in their face, and let the shutter loose.
That’s it for now – of course there are a lot more useful tips out there; the most important being, to get out and shoot more!