Top 3 Street Photography Tips I Wish I’d Have Known When I Started

Since I started PhotolisticLife I’ve written over 1,000 articles not counting the articles I’ve written for sites like Digital Photography School and the likes, so it’s not surprising I’m running out of catchy intros.  So, Something witty, funny, and clever…  You just laughed so hard.  Seamless intro to the top three street photography tips that’s got you on the edge of your seat.  Enjoy!

1.) Trap Subjects

When I first started shooting street photography I felt like I had to run around the city finding each and every decisive moment like a hunter looking for rabbits.  I never wanted to spend too much time in one spot because I felt like the world was moving on without me somewhere else and I needed to be there to catch it.  Eventually, I learned that it pays to hang out in a good location and wait for interesting subjects to fall into place like pieces on a chess board.

Take the image at the top for instance, I stood on the corner of the street for a good 45 minutes waiting for my subjects to line up the way you see there…  I’d have stayed even longer if I could have but I had to pee so bad.  The point is, look for areas around where you are shooting where events can line up and create decisive moments.  I first noticed the steam rising from the manhole and the architecture of the bank created an ominous backdrop to create a moody looking black and white image.  I’d have gone color if I could have gotten a woman with a red dress or umbrella to walk through the frame but like I said, I had to pee so I didn’t get to wait that long.

If I could share with you any piece of advice when it comes to creating great street photography it would be this, don’t worry about covering tons of ground…  If you find a spot with a ton of potential it’s better to spend hours waiting for the perfect series of events to unfold than to walk miles and miles spending hours coming up with mediocre shots.*

*The one caveat to this is when you are on assignment and/or have limited time to cover many locations.  I recently completed a street photography commission in Boston and had to cover about 18 miles a day on foot.  I still made time to stick around really good locations for 30-40 minutes here and there.

Often, when I want to create specific image I will stand in a position that forces subjects to walk through my frame where I want them to.  The image below was created by me squatting on the street between Wiener World and the sidewalk where pedestrians had to walk by.  All I had to do was wait about 20 minutes until someone interesting walked past.  Now I own his soul!  Just kidding…

2.) A Good Story Trumps Technical Perfection Every Day Of The Week

I’m fairly specific about the photographs I share with you and on various social media platforms.  I, like anyone else, take a ton of images and not all of them speak to my skills as a photographer.  With that being said, there are a lot of images that initially made the chopping block because my subject was slightly blurry but the story was great.  In fact, there are images I took with my iPhone that never saw the light of day because they were too grainy and I simply thought they were junk.  Luckily, I learned from many of the professional street photographers I enjoy like Leiter, Frank, Bresson, and Webb that the story trumps technical perfection every time.

3.) Using Your Camera In Manual Mode Is For Newbies

Sure, this will probably get some blow back from die-hard manual shooters but I’m here to tell you that manual mode is perfect for landscape and portrait photography…  Not so much for street photography.  I don’t care how fast you believe you can adjust your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, Anyone will beat you every time with Aperture or Shutter Priority (depending on the time of day) and auto ISO.  Every time, they will beat you.  Don’t shoot manual mode in street photography unless you’re truly more comfortable doing so, you’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.  The name of the game in street photography is speed.  Every nano second counts and if you’ve got to fiddle around with camera settings you are going to miss some precious moments.

A quick moment I’d have missed if I would have had to fiddle with camera settings.

Conclusion

I’m not reinventing the wheel here, these are tried and true techniques used by the founders of street photography and will help you take your street photography to the next level (hopefully faster than I did).   Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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