by Ori Guttin co-founder of Viewbug
Street photography is not often easy to do. Cities are dynamic places and the environment is constantly changing. Unlike with photography of static landscapes, the subject of a photo can change in a split second when you’re in an urban environment.
If you want to be able to take photos of everyday life in a busy and constantly moving city, this presents some challenges. But don’t worry — there are ways you can adapt to make sure you take the best street photography possible.
Though street photography often appears to be spontaneous — and this is an important part of capturing a true slice of life as it unfolds — there are certain preparations you can make to improve your art. Keep reading to find out how you can maximize your skills to take stunning street photography every time.
1. Have a Lot of Patience
This may seem very simple, but it is the most important tip of all. In all types of photography but especially when people and how they interact with the environment around them are the subject, patience is critical. That being said, patience is often a difficult skill to cultivate. Being prepared to wait for the right time of day to take your pictures, as well as your desired amount of human activity, are things you must be willing to do to take truly great street photography. For example, if you want to capture many people, you might choose to take pictures at rush hour. If you’re looking to snap a moment of quiet contemplation and capture a busy city in a rare moment of stillness, mid-morning might be your prime opportunity. Whatever your preference, being prepared to wait it out until the conditions are just right is important. When the right shot comes along, you will know it, and you’ll be ready.
2. Introduce Yourself and Talk to Your Subjects
Successful street photography does rely on spontaneity, but this doesn’t mean that you have to keep your subjects in the dark. If appropriate, such as if you’re shooting a small group of people who would be identifiable in photos, introduce yourself to your subjects. Tell them what you are doing and show them the pictures you have taken. Some may not want to be photographed, and that is fine — you should respect that. But if the subjects you approach are happy to have their picture taken, you could get some useful insight into them and their lives, which will add depth to your photography and help provide additional context. Humans of New York has had great success asking people for photos and interviewing them for a slice of their life story.
3. Get up High to Take Shots from a Better Level
If you want to take shots that challenge people’s perspectives, the only way is up! Don’t be afraid to get up high in tall buildings. You don’t have to be on the roof — simply climbing to a high floor will allow you to take great shots of people below. While you don’t have to go for the full birds-eye view seen in drone photography, armed with your camera, you can take powerful shots from a high vantage point that many of us don’t see regularly.
4. Find Creative Ways to Frame Your Photos
One of the best parts of photographing urban environments is the sheer variety of ways you can capture people. One way to make your pictures stand out and possess more artistic qualities is to make use of framing. Archways, doorways, and alleys can act as natural frames for your shots, brilliantly illustrating the snapshot nature of your photography. This will make your shots seem like glimpses — moments in time that may be fleeting but are nevertheless impactful.
5. Alternate between Color and Black and White as Appropriate
Colors are vital for expressing and conveying certain feelings and emotions, but the absence of color can often have the same effect. Depending on what you want to portray in your street photography, alternating between keeping the color in photos and opting for black and white is a useful tactic. If you want to capture the bold tones and vibrancy of a certain environment, you can use color to your advantage. If however, you capture a timeless, tender moment between two individuals, black and white may make a bigger statement. The beauty of digital photography and editing means that you could take all of your photos in color and experiment with them later to decide whether some may have more of an impact in greyscale.
These are just some of my tips for getting started with street photography. If you want to improve your skills further, there’s no better teacher than experience. Consider sharing your photos online or entering a free photography competition to receive feedback. Happy snapping!
Ori Guttin is a co-founder of Viewbug, an online picture-sharing community, and has spent years working in the internet industry.