The Most Important Tip for Street Photography

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If you clicked this link expecting a simple technical tip to improve your street photography then you’ve come to the wrong place. This is not an article about getting closer, zone focusing, hip-shooting, camera settings, or using a wide-angle prime lens.

street photography tip

“Mona”

Practicing all of these things is important to be able capture what you see out there in our fast moving world, but thinking too much about this stuff can also distract us from what we should be thinking about, which is what we are seeking to capture out there.

Because that’s ultimately what photography, and more specifically street photography, is; it is about trying to capture what you see and think about life.

Okay, I know you want this tip. So what is this ‘single most important’ tip to street photography?

It’s simple.

It’s that you are photographing yourself out there.

Let me explain. Street photographs may seem like random moments frozen in time, but they’re not. When you take all the photos from the body of work of any photographer and put them together, many themes will emerge between those singular images.

And these themes go hand in hand with how the photographer sees and feels about the world.

tips for street photos

“Shades of Red”

Now incase you are asking yourself by looking at these photos, is James Maher an 11 year old redheaded female? I am certainly not any of those things, but I often gravitate towards people that are comfortable in their skin and their unique looks, especially in our world that is so often focused on picture perfect looks and retouched models. If you look at the shot above, with the subject of the photo wearing bold clothing and accessories that match her unique looks, this gives you an example of what I mean. Even the shape of the flowers in her shirt matches the swirl of her red hair so perfectly and in such a self-celebratory way. If you notice, this is the central theme in the photos that I am showing along with this article.

This tip is not only important for shooting; it is just as important for editing as well. I realized that this was one themes in my work over time by looking through my negatives and organizing them. It took me awhile to recognize this.

When you are looking over your work on the computer or on a contact sheet, think about what you are capturing and think about what you are trying to say. If you are actively aware of it then you will be much better at finding and capturing it. Think about what you are like and how that relates to your photos. Are you a romantic; are you angry; are you frustrated; are you quirky or funny; are you an outsider; or are you a social butterfly.

street pictures

“Urban Tiger”

Me – half the time I’m overly confident and half the time I’m utterly insecure. It’s probably why confidence is an issue that I often search for.

Think about who you are and how you feel and then go out there and try to find it. Seek out those feelings for your photos. You will be much better at noticing them than anyone else.

Street photography isn’t about finding those lucky or random moments out there, where everything falls into place. Special moments happen everywhere, yet we each only notice a small percentage of them. And what we all notice is slightly different because we each have different interests and insights about life.

This is why defining street photography is so tough to do, because the definition is different for all of us.

So what insights do you have? What does street photography mean to you?

Go out there and photograph yourself.

street photographer

That’s me. Confident yet insecure.

For Further Training on Street Photography:

James Maher authored this popular 141 page eBook covering everything about the genre even down to specific post processing techniques that can bring the best out of street scenes.

It can be found here: Essentials of Street Photography Guide

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10 Comments

  1. Excellent and very different approach, i like it! I have been struggling with street photography and comparing my shots with others mostly negatively, I’ll look now into what I have actually accomplished to see if it clicks.

  2. Andy Keeble says:

    The biggest problem I encounter is my lack of confidence when trying photography in a crowd. I know that it’s silly but it really does hold me back.

    Andy

  3. Kathy Clark says:

    These are wonderful shots that pull emotion out of you. Very nice.

    Can someone tell me if you can sell these images when you don’t have releases for individuals on the street?, like the tiger lady?

  4. Kitty Mason says:

    I love street photography. Two years I went on a trip to Israel. We visited the Western Wall during the feast of Sukkoth. We went through security and had no problems entering the area. I had my camera visible, there were no signs regarding photos and none of the many security guards said anything to me, so I shot quite a few photos. Coming from a small town in New Mexico, I was fascinated by the finery the men were wearing so I shot several images of the different looks. While women weren’t allowed on the men’s side there were many women looking through the fencing and some people taking photos over the fence of the large open area before the Wall and the hundreds of men (some old, some very young) praying. I did the same and got a nice wide photo that I really like.
    My concern is posting the photos. I was moved by the intensity of the prayers and the many people, young and old and would love to share some of the photos but I’m wondering if it would be disrespectful?
    It was a public place but also a religious place which makes me hesitant. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated. Thanks for your insightful article.

  5. James Maher says:

    Andy it’s most people’s biggest problem as well – you’re not alone. It just takes practice to get over those fears.

    Kathy you can sell them as art prints or in art books without a release, but you cannot use them for commercial or advertising purposes if you can make out a person.

  6. J.-F. Nahas says:

    I don’t think you need a release if you photograph in a public place.

  7. Great article! James’s thoughts and advise are right on. I love capturing a moment in time and I hope as my body of work is viewed it tells a story as a whole.

  8. excellent!! and such a great insight. Something I’ve been saying for a long while. But such wisdom is sometimes drowned out by the arguments about gear, and other trivia. And then there are the so-called street photographers who think they are big game hunters stalking prey, hoping to stroke their own egos and who do not care for their subject or if they are saying anything. SP is a partnership and this piece says that as much as anything. thank you for being one of the enlightened ones!

  9. Siobhan says:

    Love this article thank you

  10. Audrea Clemence says:

    Some of the commenters have already asked this but I’m dbl checking here, does one need to ask the person or persons for permission to take the pic or pics? Can u post on social sights, aka Instagram? Thats what I’m most worried about when taking a pic, that the person will NOT like it or get upset. Some people hate for their pics to b taken. Then when u do take a pic an they know should u offer a copy for free? Dont want to offend someone or break the law an have a lawyer calling me one day!! Those photos are great by the way. I love blk an whites.

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