1. Know your camera
In street photography, things happen so fast that you have to be always ready to take a shot before the scene changes. If you go fumbling with your camera because you don’t know what aperture you should use, chance is great that you will miss the shot. This is why I encourage you to learn the basics of your camera.
In order for you to understand how your camera works, you have to spend time with it. You have to know it which way should you turn the focus ring to, or what shutter speed you should set your camera.
When I’m just on my bed and not planning to go out to take photographs, I would usually grab my camera and study it. I would find the best way to focus fast, or how I can take advantage of Hyperfocal/ Zone focusing. If setting your camera becomes second nature to you, means you can focus more on taking the shot a lot quicker.
2. Study the street photography masters
Be inspired by the great masters of street photography. Know what a quality photo looks like and try to aim for the same standards as they produce. One of the best ways to build a good foundation doesn’t involve you taking photographs. It’s actually just looking through photographs created by other artists. This way you learn how they work and how they visualize their shots. You will understand by analyzing their photos how they compose and how they see the streets they are walking.
Probably the best book I can recommend you to learn from the greats is the Magnum Contact Sheets. It’s considered by many as the street photography bible and I could not agree more. You can use that book to look for photographers that you seem to like the style then from there, you can move on to focusing on their specific works through the books they published.
Click on the image below to see probably the most affordable paperback copy of the Magnum Contact Sheets. Hard cover prices, however, are sky rocketing.
3. Read blogs/ articles and watch Youtube videos
Similar to the second tip but this time look for avenues that will bring you more street photography related articles. There are Youtubers and bloggers whom bring really great content and will highly contribute to your improvement as a street photographer. One of my favorites is Ted Forbes of The Art of Photography. His Youtube page is a Goldmine. When it comes to blogs, I think Eric Kim brings the most detailed posts, but I would suggest you check out his old posts as I feel they are the juiciest contents as compared to the recent blogs he’s been posting.
You see, it’s so easy for us to find blogs and vlogs on the internet. Just type keywords like “top 10 street photographers”, “Composition”, “street photography 101”. We are very fortunate as things are made easy for us and we should be taking advantage of it.
To name a few of bloggers and Youtubers that has helped me a lot are:
The more you go out and shoot, the more you get accustomed of taking photographs and working with your camera. By doing this as often as you can, you are conditioning yourself mentally and physically. When you are conditioned, street photography becomes a normal routine for you. You get more comfortable walking up to strangers either speaking with them or taking snaps of them candidly. You can also develop your style by doing this. Eventually you will find subjects that draws you to it and you will develop an eye for things that interests you.
The more you do it, the more you find ways to improve your shots. The more you do it, the better you get. The more you do it, the more you become comfortable in the streets.
5. Look for the light
A well-lighted subject is always better, I believe. Having a good light changes the quality of the photo dramatically and it helps solidify the story you want to tell.
I always shoot when the sun is high because I like harsh light and strong shadows. Having these play of light creates different tones in your photographs, thus elevating the quality of your photos. After shooting under the bright sun shining down the street, then comes the "Golden Hour". The golden hour happens when the sun is about to set (or rise). It creates the longest shadows and like how it’s called, a golden light. All these combined for sure will give you the creative edge.
6. Learn to anticipate
One thing I learned when observing people is knowing what their next move is. By looking at their body language, you can anticipate if they are going to do a “photo worthy” gesture. You can guess if they are about to raise their arms, walk towards something, or jump off of a table or whatever.
Let’s take this photo I took as an example. I was walking towards my office when I saw this man standing in front of a shop's fridge full of drinks that they sell. I know from his body language that he is interested to buy a drink, so I walked towards his side where the door of the fridge will be between us when he open the door. So as he did, I proceeded to take a photo with my phone’s camera.
7. Stay longer, work the scene
Learning to anticipate and staying a little longer in the scene goes hand in hand. Just wait a little while, maybe just for a few more seconds cause’ you’ll never know what will happen next. If you are looking at a scene and your brain is telling you that something is about to happen, follow that voice in your head and just linger a bit more and probably you are right. Thanks to you, you where able to capture that photo because you decided to wait a little longer.
Sometimes it’s ok to listen to the voices in our head. Really.
And when you are rewarded for waiting, milk it. And by milking it, I meant work the scene. Take as much photos in different angles or composition, or just fire away cause you'll never know what will happen.
This photo below which I took when I was in South Korea is one example of my point. I saw the man with the umbrella and thought it was an interesting scene. So I went on and took a couple of shots, just clicking away as I work the scene. Moments later, the man turned around and that moment, I took another shoot. Turns out that the last shot was the best shot after all. Glad I stayed a little longer, glad I worked the scene.
8. Look for interesting subjects
Don’t just take photos of strangers casually walking or sitting. Find something interesting about them and something unusual. Look for gestures and body language that you think it’s worth taking photos.
Sometimes we pressure ourselves that we need to take a photograph but because of that, we forget that at the end of the day, it’s the content/ message/ story of the photo that will be the number 1 reason for it being a great photo.
And you can also use your background or inanimate objects as your main subject. A lot of street photographers are successful with having an interesting background with people included. What makes their photo stand out is that the background and the person in the photo relate to each other.
9. Follow your instinct
I often hear this line from street photographers; “ I you’re afraid to take the photograph, it means that’s the best time to take the photograph.”
I could not agree more to that line. It’s your instinct telling you that there is something there. Your brain is already telling you that it’s been alerted by something. So go, shake it off and take that photo! But of course, if there is danger involved just don’t take the risk.
Sometimes you see something and your mind tells you to go and linger around or straight away take a photo. Just do it. Important thing is you’ve taken the shot. I’ve missed a lot of shot because fear took over, and I regret it so much.
10. Learn to edit
And by edit, I mean choosing the photos that will best represent your street photo.
This is a pretty overwhelming tip but I think it’s best to start keeping this in your head early on. Editing is one of the most important skills a street photographer should have. It goes equally the same with other types of photography. It’s the reason why there are the best, the ok and the worst photos out there. People have different level of editing standards. Some can narrow down the best single image from 100 photos, while some can pick 10 to 20 ok photos among that 100. I don’t mean that you should be good at editing skills right off the bat. What I mean is, learn it, improve it, get better as you go. It’s a powerful tool and it’s one key to you being one of the best.
Here’s a trick I use.
- If you think it’s genuinely good, shortlist it. Once you have a set of selected photos, narrow it down once again until you choose the best image.
- If you think the image is ok, but in reality it’s less than ok and you are pressuring yourself to post something. Just drop that photo. Realize that we as street photographers are not always successful getting the right shot.
- If you think there’s something about that photo but you are not quite sure why you like it, keep it for a while. Let it marinate for a few days, weeks, months. When you see it again, ask yourself what you feel about the photo again, If you still think there is something about it, then just go for it. Let your instinct do the judging.
That sums up my list and I hope it'll be of great help to you. I'll definitely make another list of tips to help or guide you in improving your street photography. Let me know what you think! Now go out, grab your camera and fire away!