Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
If you’ve never tackled street photography before, you might need a few tips to help you create the most impactful images.
That’s where this tutorial comes in.
With these street photography composition tips (and a few pointers on the best street photography cameras), you’ll be primed and ready to make photos that wow!
Editor's Note: You can get a great street photography camera at a bargain price if you buy used. Read my MPB review to learn why it's one of the best online used camera retailers.
What to Look For in a Street Photography Camera
If you’re in the market for a new camera and you want something well-suited for street photography, then consider the following as the top criteria you should use to find the ideal camera.
Street Photography Cameras Should Be Small & Lightweight
The entire premise of street photography is to blend into the crowd and be unobtrusive. That’s hard to do if you’re toting around a huge full frame DSLR like a Canon 5DS R.
Don’t get me wrong - the 5DS R is a great camera, but it’s nearly 6 x 5 x 3 inches and weighs nearly two pounds without a battery. It’s hard to work unnoticed with that thing in your hand.
Even crop sensor DSLRs can be big and bulky, so I would recommend staying in the mirrorless realm if you want the ideal street photography camera.
Street Photography Cameras Should Handle Well
From a handling perspective, there’s two things to consider.
First, if we’re talking about mirrorless cameras as being perfect for street photography, you want to look for a camera with a nice, big grip - at least to the extent possible on a small mirrorless body.
This is important because you don’t want to be uncomfortable as you’re shooting, because the more uncomfortable you are, the less time you’ll want to spend actually taking photos.
Secondly, look for a mirrorless camera that has an intuitive button layout. Furthermore, it’s best to ensure you can reach the primary buttons and dials with one hand on the grip.
Having a good button layout will only improve your workflow and allow you to work faster and easier!
I shot with a Sony a6300 for a long time (and have since upgraded to the a6400). I personally like the feel and layout of these small Sonys because even though I have big hands, the grips still feel nice and chunky. The layout of the buttons and dials also makes sense to me, so I can intuitively make adjustments without struggling to reach buttons.
Street Photography Cameras Need a Good LCD
Sony a7 III
Having a large, bright LCD is beneficial for street photography so you can shoot in live view and still have a good view of what you’re photographing.
Additionally, having an articulating or tilting LCD is a bonus because you can compose low-angle and high-angle photos with much greater ease.
Sony a7 III
A bonus feature to consider is a touchscreen LCD so you can control things like focusing by simply tapping the screen.
The Sony a7 III (shown above) ticks all these boxes (and many more). The touchscreen LCD is highly resolute, bright, and beautiful.
Street Photography Cameras Should Be Fast
Sony a7s II
Since street photography is a run and gun endeavor, you want a camera that is fast on multiple fronts.
For example, the camera should turn on quickly so you can get shots at a moments notice. It should also have an autofocus system that acquires targets quickly and is able to track them with great accuracy.
Sony a7s II
Furthermore, the autofocus system should perform well in low-light situations, that way you aren’t relegated to always shooting street scenes in the daytime.
I like the Sony a7s II from this perspective, as it’s a quick little camera that has excellent low-light performance.
So, now that you have a few pointers for buying a street photography camera, let’s get into some street photography composition tips.
Editor’s Tip: You don’t have to drop thousands of dollars on a high-quality street photography camera. In fact, if you buy a used camera, you might save hundreds of dollars! With that money, you can also invest in a good lens for street photography, like a 35mm f/1.8 lens, which is small, lightweight, and fast. The 35mm focal length is also ideal for street photography because it closely mirrors what we see with our own eyes.
How to Compose Street Photos: Use Leading Lines
Photo by Daggy J Ali on Unsplash
Composing beautiful street photos is really not that much different than composing any other kind of photo - if you follow essential rules of photography, you’ll do just fine.
For starters, look for opportunities to use good ol’ reliable leading lines.
Leading lines help move the viewer’s eye toward the primary subject, and in doing so, helps improve the depth in the shot.
Photo by Norbert Tóth on Unsplash
Leading lines can also have a “decluttering effect” because they are so effective at grabbing people’s attention.
This can be helpful in a street photo because street scenes can be chaotic with tons of detail. Leading lines help cut through that.
Street Photography Composition Tip: Try a Frame Within a Frame
Photo by Kasper Rasmussen on Unsplash
One of my favorite composition tips to use is a frame within a frame.
Like leading lines, a frame within a frame is a great way to add instant depth to an image.
What’s more, you can use a frame within a frame to draw attention to the subject while also blocking the view of some of the chaos of the street scene.
Frames within frames just look super cool too!
How to Improve Street Photography: Look for Contrast
Photo by Craig Philbrick on Unsplash
Using contrast as a compositional tool not only helps you define the primary subject, but it also gives you an opportunity to use light and shadow or contrasting colors to give your image more visual pop.
The man dressed in white in the image above is the perfect contrast to the darker blacks and grays in this particular street scene.
Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash
In this example, the person’s blue jacket is immediately eye-catching against the predominantly red surroundings.
The point here is that street photography isn’t just about running wild through the streets and snapping quick photos.
Instead, you’ll need to have a plan, find interesting locations in which to shoot, compose the shot using these tips, and wait for a subject to enter the frame.
Approaching street photography in this manner is a surefire way to get improved results.