10 Steps to Get Started with Street Photography

Getting the best candid street shots possible requires a good creative eye, the right equipment, an understanding of how your camera works, and patience. You can walk around your city or town and get lucky sometimes, sure, but if you want to really get started as a street photographer, these tips from Josh Katz are a super helpful first step. Here, Katz tells us about his process for capturing unique and interesting street photos and what equipment he uses, and offers up some great tips for the beginners out there:

10 Steps to Capture Awesome Street Photos

1. Find the Right Area for What You Want

Look for a busy area with lots of foot traffic and think about who’s going to be in that area. If you’re out to photograph people in suits, go to the financial district of the city. If you’re going for eccentric, go to the artsy areas.

2. Find the Best Specific Location to Shoot in That Area

Look for cool characteristics in the area—graffiti or a wall mural, a cool building in the background, a weird-looking tree, patterns, anything that stands out.

background patterns composition

3. Think about Lighting

Where do the shadows fall? Where is the sun hitting the ground? Know how you want your subject to be lit. Golden hour, for example will give you beautiful lighting and shadows.

golden hour photo

4. Shoot in Manual Mode

This might sound intimidating at first, but manual mode gives you full control of how your photo will look and it’s easier than you think. Katz breaks down the settings in the next steps…

5. Set Shutter Speed

Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all counter-balance each other. Set shutter speed first and then adjust the others accordingly. The shutter speed is how fast you’re taking the photo—how long the shutter stays open.

slow shutter speed long exposure

For example, if you’re shooting long exposure, you want a long shutter speed, like 10 to 30 seconds. But, for street photography, or any slow moving subject, you can get away with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second. This setting will freeze the subject properly with the most possible lighting and eliminate any shake you might have by hand-holding your camera.

If you’re shooting a fast-moving subject, like someone on a bike or skateboard, Katz recommends a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 of a second.

fast shutter speed6. Set Aperture

This is how much light your camera lets in. It’s a bit confusing though, because the bigger the aperture number, the smaller the hole. This means you’re letting in less light, which will give you a deeper depth of field, meaning more of the image will be in focus.

aperture settings chart

A smaller aperture number, like f/2.8, will give you more light and create a shallower depth of field. This just means your subject will be in focus but other parts of the image will be blurry.

shallow depth of field photo

If you’re shooting in low light conditions, you’ll need to have a lower aperture number to let in more light. For a good lens that shoots well at night, Katz recommends a 50mm f/1.8.

7. Set ISO

This is the digital sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number, like 1600, the brighter it will be. It’s best to shoot with a low ISO (100 or 200), however, because the higher it is, the more grainy your image will be. Katz suggests setting your ISO to automatic. If you do, then take some test shots first to make sure it’s doing what you want. And, make sure it’s not set too high; again, this can cause grain.

8. Set Your Lens to Autofocus

If someone you’re photographing is walking toward you, or away from you, the focus is constantly changing. Autofocus allows you to keep shooting without having to refocus.

9. Shoot RAW and Set White Balance to Auto

RAW will give you the highest possible image quality and you can always fix white balance in post if you have the RAW file.

lightroom white balance

10. Shoot Until You Get the Perfect Shot

You’ve chosen your ideal location and background, now keep shooting every person that walks into that frame. When the right person comes by, you’ll be ready.

Other Useful Tips

  • Patience is key. Instead of wandering the streets hoping to catch something amazing, pick one spot and settle in. Find a nice background that you like and wait patiently for the right people to come along. If you have a great backdrop with interesting people, you’ll have a more compelling image.
  • Photograph unique-looking people. Old people with canes or interesting clothing, for example, are going to make for a better photo than an average looking middle-aged person who’s just walking down the street. So, that’s the next tip…
  • Look for people doing distinguishing activities. Photograph someone biking, smoking, doing anything a bit different than anyone else on the street.

“So, if you find a biking grandma with a cane and a baby, smoking a cigarette, you are in luck.”

  • One person can be more interesting than a group of people. If an image has only one person in it, all of the viewer’s attention goes to that one person. A group of people can be distracting.
  • Be prepared to get caught!

Dealing with Getting Caught When Taking a Stranger’s Photo

If you’re shooting in a public space (at least in the U.S.), you have the right to photograph people.

“If you’re shooting through someone’s private window into their home, that is very illegal, don’t do that.”

photographing strangers tips

Most of the time, you won’t have a problem, but if someone does approach you, here are some tips:

  • Always be friendly.
  • Act like you weren’t doing anything wrong.
  • If they’re really annoyed, you can tell them you didn’t mean to take their photo; they just walked into your shot.
  • If it’s super obvious you were photographing them, own up to it. Smile and tell them you liked something about their look and had to take their picture. A lot of the time, people will be flattered, as long as you’re nice about it!
  • Offer to send them the photo. You can use this approach right off the bat if you want. Go up to someone and ask if you can take their picture and tell them you’ll send them a copy.

“Don’t be creepy; be very friendly. Approach this with the right attitude and you are totally good to go.”

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2 responses to “10 Steps to Get Started with Street Photography”

  1. Doug Ditchez says:

    If someone hassles me, I pull out my Glock.

  2. Steve Fix says:

    Hi Josh;
    Enjoyed your clip. One other tip you may wish to impart. Have business cards printed. For $25 or $30 anyone can be a “pro photographer.” It lends credibility, helps cement relationships and can help diffuse awkward situations.

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