Street photography is a weird genre, whenever you ask someone to define the art, you get a different answer. It’s almost as if it has no rules, yet it has many. When I first started the advice I received was all gear related. Shoot with a prime, keep the aperture between f/7.1-11, 1/25o is as slow as your shutter should be and always keep your ISO on auto.
These tips were helpful, the majority of them I still utilize today. They’re also interchangeable, meaning you may have been taught otherwise early on. What these rules did for me, as they probably did for you, was teach me to set up my camera. What they didn’t do was help me take better photographs on the streets.
So I came up with a short list that will help less on the technical side and more on the mental side of street photography. Every one of these tips won’t apply to you, as we all define street photography differently, however, I ask you try them all before you write them off.
Below are 6 ways to improve your street photographs!
1. Photograph Often
I live by several mottos, but my favorite is this one: The more I practice, the luckier I get.Click to tweet
With street photography, this statement is so true. Too many people focus on the technical aspects of street photography when they go out, but what they fail to understand is street photography is a collaborative effort. Sure it’s important to know the basics of your camera, but your body of work is based on someone else’s action or reaction and that’s something you can’t control…
This first step might seem simple, but you’ll be amazed at how many people go out twice per week and call it quits. It’s really about effort, the more you practice, the better you get… It’s simple.
2. Photograph Alone
The biggest mistake I see most people make when taking street photographs is going in groups. Sure it’s “safer” but street photography really isn’t a dangerous sport. In fact, you’re likely to take better photographs alone as opposed to being in a large group–nobody wants to be attacked by the paparazzi.
But in all seriousness, other photographers just hold you back. If you’re not a confident shooter than you feel like you’re being watched, which sucks because you’re not able to shoot freely, they constantly jump in and correct your process, which will just make you further insecure.
If you’re someone they respect or look up to, you’ll feel as if you’re teaching. You’ll constantly find yourself answering questions or coaching as opposed to shooting. They may even get in your way at times. Picture a subject walking down the street and your group is standing there quietly with 16 cameras…That subject is likely to cross the street or put their head down when walking past. It’s a lose-lose situation.
3. Explore, Explore, Explore
I’m willing to bet the majority of you shoot in the same location…Everyday. Don’t feel bad, I did that as well. For almost two years I shot exclusively in the Downtown area. It was the most populated, thus I had a better chance of capturing unique everyday moments. To a certain extent, this was true, but I also found less populated areas garnered photographs that were equal in terms of quality. Hell, I even photographed at Wal-Mart once.
The beauty of street photography is pictures can be captured anywhere, simply because ordinary moments happen everywhere. Explore your city, visit small cities, grocery store parking lots, gas stations…Explore everything and simply document whatever’s going on at that time.
4. Work The Scene
How many of you have shot a wedding? If you raised your hand to that question let me ask you this. Did you take a photograph of the bride and groom and then leave? Truth is, you don’t have to be a wedding photographer to answer that question. Street photography is the only form of photography I see people take one shot then walk away. You don’t see event photographers taking one shot and walking away. You don’t see portraiture photographers take one shot and walk away…Why should you?
It’s important to work the scene. Take as many photographs as you can. Shoot high, shoot low, shoot from the side, and even the rear. You tell a different story with each angle. As you employ this, you’ll notice that most people don’t mind the extra attention.
5. Take Bad Photographs
This is a spinoff of the tip above. When you’re working the scene or taking street photographs in general, don’t worry about some of them coming out horrible. Every shot you take isn’t going to be a gem. In fact, when you do take a bad photograph learn from it. Come home, upload your SD card and evaluate that bad image.
Ask yourself questions like: “What made this photograph bad?” or “How can I do better next time”. This method allows you to learn from that experience.
If you had too much negative space above the person’s head or you didn’t utilize the rule of thirds, well you’ll know what to do next time.
6. Spend More Time Editing
This final tip is a big one and I need everyone to pay close attention here.
Stop treating street photographs like they aren’t important! Edit them as you would a client’s photograph or a wedding.Click to tweet
Spend time touching up small things, it makes all the difference! I see too many people apply a VSCO preset and walk away…Did you even remove the grain? Maybe grain doesn’t compliment the image (I’ve been guilty of this myself). Should you add a gradient? Does your photograph need more saturation? How about less? These are serious questions you need to ask yourself.