Street photography is a unique exercise in that you have to have the photography skills and the equipment to get the kind of shots you desire, but you also have to have a certain fortitude to take pictures of perfect strangers. Additionally, street photographers need to be observant, but not just of what’s happening on the street - they also must consider what interesting scenes might be above or below them.
In this tutorial, we explore each of these aspects of street photography. If you want to find success as you photograph the people, the architecture, and the streets of your city, give these tips a try.
Work in Stealth
The fear of getting caught by a person you’re photographing is certainly very real for street photographers. Awkward confrontations by someone that doesn’t appreciate you taking their photo are bound to happen. But, by and large, people in public spaces understand that their photo very well might be taken and don’t fuss about it.
Your job as a street photographer is to ensure that the scenes you capture remain as real and unstaged as possible. By blending into the crowd, you’re more apt to photograph genuine scenes, as opposed to odd looks, cheesy grins, or forced poses when someone realizes they’re in your shot.
The way to get around this is to work in stealth to the extent possible. For example, choose clothing that blends in with the crowd - you’re more likely to blend in wearing a black t-shirt and jeans that you are if you wear a bright yellow t-shirt and jeans. Move slowly, but purposefully, finding the shots you want to take and take them without a lot of spectacle. Additionally, in some cases, having the right gear will determine whether you can work in stealth or not. Using your smartphone - something that is as ubiquitous in everyday life as anything else - is a great way to put people’s minds at ease.
Think of it this way - how often are you in a public space when someone raises their phone to take a photo? It’s something most people are used to - far more used to than having a full-frame camera with a 50mm lens on the front shoved in their face. The point is that with a smartphone, you’re more apt to get the shots you want - especially those involving people - because you’ll blend in more with the crowd.
Street photography isn’t just about capturing scenes at your eye level. There is a whole world of interesting patterns, textures, lines, and shadows at your feet too. Though taking pictures of the street itself is an incredibly literal interpretation of street photography, it’s a worthy undertaking just the same.
Taking photos of the street makes your job a little easier in two significant ways. First, it means that you might disarm people that are hesitant to have their picture taken. For example, you might take a photo of a puddle on the street, which in turn reflects the images of passersby on the sidewalk. In this instance, the people walking on the sidewalk might not even know they’re being photographed and you can get the more natural-looking street photo you’re after. And, second, looking down opens you up to new compositional possibilities. Because there isn’t a horizon to work with, you’re forced to think more purposefully about your perspective and the angle from which you shoot. That’s not a bad skill to practice!
Just like looking down can open a whole new world of photographic possibilities, so too can looking up. An integral component of street photography is the urban landscape. By looking up, you can take advantage of the interesting lines, lights, and patterns created by the different buildings in the area.
Take the image above as an ideal example of this. By looking up, you’re able to capture a scene with multiple interesting elements. The lines created by the panes of glass give the image a sense of geometry and order. The light reflecting off the building’s facade gives the image a wide range of tones, from bright whites to dark blues. The angular shape of the building’s walls provide even further visual interest as well.
Get the Gear
Of course, getting the types of shots discussed above requires that you have the accessories for your mobile phone that will make getting top-notch images more likely.
In terms of helpful gear, an add-on lens should be at the top of your list. Add-on lenses take mobile photography to an entirely different level because they expand the somewhat limited capabilities of your smartphone lens into the realm of more traditional lenses. Sirui has an excellent line of high-quality lenses for smartphones that will help you capture the street photos you envision.
The Sirui wide-angle lens is a great choice for street photography because its angle of view gives you the ability to capture more details of the scene. This is especially helpful when looking up to highlight the architecture in the area, looking down towards the details of the street itself, and when taking a photo into the distance.
If street portraiture is more your style, Sirui has got you covered there as well. Their portrait lens offers a narrower angle of view that’s ideal for portraiture - a perspective similar to a 60mm lens on a full frame camera. That means you can get pleasing portraits without the distortion that sometimes occurs when using a wide-angle lens for portraiture. Either way, Sirui’s mobile phone lenses will enable you to take better photos that are clear and sharp every single time. Their lenses use the highest quality glass, including SCHOTT spherical lenses, which create images in high resolution without any vignetting. That’s the kind of superior optical performance you should demand!
Hitting the streets to take photos of perfect strangers and strange places is simultaneously nerve-wracking and fun. It’s easy to focus on the fun part of it, however, by following the guidelines we’ve discussed in this article. Work in stealth, blending in with the crowd by making smart wardrobe choices and by using your phone as your camera. Look up and look down as well to see what photographic possibilities there are. And certainly don’t forget to outfit yourself with quality lenses for your phone. The result will be more impressive images - and more varied images - from your street photography outings.