10 Tips for Compelling Street Photography
Words and images by photographer & Olympus Visionary, Mike Boening
Street photography is one of the most exciting forms of photography because all you need to do is go for a “walk.” Actually, it may not be a simple as that but documenting everyday life can get easier as you explore and practice this exciting genre of photography. Capturing that decisive moment when an image becomes more than just a snapshot can happen by following a few tips.
Step out of your comfort zone and come along with me on a walk through the streets…
CHECK YOUR SETTINGS
Street photography is not always technical in nature.
At its roots it’s about emotion and the mood of an image. But, no matter what, you still have to know your camera settings. Understanding your camera is a big key into forgetting about it, so you can focus on the composition of the image. I try to shoot most of my street photography in “P” Mode setting my ISO on Auto with its high end being 6400. When I do this I am letting the camera think for me, while I think about the scene in the viewfinder. Now, I modify this on occasions like night shooting or if I am intentionally trying to create blur in my images, but I select the “P” Mode because it lets me focus on the emotion, which is the most important part of my creative process.
￼Shot with PEN-F, M.17mm f1.8, f/14.0, ISO 200
SELECT THE CORRECT LENS
Choosing the correct lens is a very important factor in street photography.
You might think that long zoom lens would work best because you could be across the street and capture the action without being seen. This will do two things. You will be disconnected from the scene and you may be seen as “creepy” bringing more attention to you than wanted. There are a couple lenses you can try but my most used lens is the M.ZUIKO 17MM F1.8 Prime Lens. It’s extremely fast so you can be outdoors on the street and go indoors and capture low light images very quickly. The natural width allows you to capture so much of the scene too.
PICK A SPOT AND BE PATIENT
Street photography isn’t about getting out on the street and just shooting everything you see.
It’s about observing and making note of interesting backdrops or areas to watch. My thought is to walk and every few blocks stop and take in what’s happening around you. You will be able in envision things happening and you will be much more ready to see that decisive moment in your viewfinder.
￼Shot with PEN-F, M.12mm f2.0, f/5.6, ISO 200.
SHOOT FROM THE HIP
This is a great way to stay more inconspicuous and capture more candid shots.
This takes some practice so put on a wide angle lens to get as much of the scene as possible and have fun learning. You will be surprised what you start to find from your hip.
GET CLOSE. NO, I MEAN CLOSER.
Becoming part of the scene and being close enough to a decisive moment is the thrill of Street Photography.
As you practice more your comfort level will improve and the understanding of your camera settings will melt away so you will be able to get closer and closer. You will find the closer you are, the more your image will make the viewer feel part of the scene. Another advantage is you will be blending in with those in the scene and not the person outside of the crowd with a long lens peeking in. Challenge yourself to get closer and closer each time you go out.
￼Shot with OM-D E-M1, M.17-14mm f2.8 PRO, f/12.8, ISO 200.
ASK FOR A PORTRAIT – GO AHEAD
Try something different, as you feel more comfortable talking with people in the streets start to approach people asking them if you could shoot their portrait.
When you see someone who you find interesting, color of clothes, hat they are wearing, type of dog they are walking, step up and discuss that with them. You will be amazed at how many people don’t mind stopping for a quick shot. Two things to remember are know your settings so you’re not fiddling with your camera and hand them a card with your email so you can share the image with them if they email you back. Give it a try; you will be amazed at the smiles you get.
GAIN A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
What is this tip about?
It’s about getting low when you shoot or choosing a different angle. Look at your shots, are they all from eye level? That can become boring at times. Try shooting from a low angle in crowds or holding your camera above your head, in both cases utilizing your tilt screen to capture the action. The images from this angle offer a much different look.
A bonus tip is to try the Fisheye Body Cap Lens. You have to get really close but you will be amazed at the images you can capture at extreme angles.
KEEP THAT FINGER ON THE TRIGGER
If you want to capture that decisive moment you have to be ready.
You can’t be walking in the street with your camera in your bag. If you do, that shot will escape you. Be sure to hold you camera all the time as you walk and have your finger on the trigger. When you do this, I am positive you will see more and more of those shots you have been looking for.
￼Shot with PEN-F, M.17mm f1.8, f/1.8, ISO 200.
FIND IMAGES WITHOUT PEOPLE
That sounds completely against street photography, doesn’t it, not really though.
Try walking in areas where there aren’t as many people and look for items or tools people use. Maybe there is a rack of bicycles with no one using them all lined up in a row or possibly some tools left while some construction workers are taking a break. Look for things people use and make it a series titled “Where has Everyone Gone.” Take some of these shots at different angles too. It’s about being creative and thinking outside of the box.
I talked about it in tip #1. Don’t worry about noise in the image because that adds to the creative quality.
Look for light and shadows. Use light coming from Neon signs or even street lights. I love to shoot in monotone when I am in the streets at night so I set the camera to shoot that way and save all my images in JPEG + RAW in case I need to look at the RAW file later when I am post processing. I boost contrast and like to shoot through a yellow filter found in the menus on the Olympus line of cameras. You may find other filters work better depending on your most dominant light source. No matter what, don’t forget the night can offer some amazing chances at great images.
In conclusion, street photography takes practice and these tips can get you started, but you must get out there and often. You will find that the more you get out in the streets walking amongst the people the more your eye and your confidence will grow. Once that starts to happen you will develop a sense for detail and how you can move your images from snapshots of crowds to finding that decisive moment full of emotion and intrigue. If you have some other tips that you find useful in the streets please share and I look forward to shooting with you amongst the people.
￼Shot with a PEN-F
ABOUT MIKE BOENING
Mike commonly finds his inspiration on the streets of his hometown, Detroit, Michigan, specializing in street and urban photography. Over the last five years, he has worked with the Detroit Metro Convention Bureau, covering events and taking headshots for a Fortune 500 company, and shooting sports photography. Mike has shared his love of street photography by teaching and leading groups on urban photography in the Detroit area and beyond.