How To Capture The Emotion Of Street Photography Without Angering The Masses (Too Much) :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Capture The Emotion Of Street Photography Without Angering The Masses (Too Much)

by David Peterson 5 comments

The streets are packed full of emotion. From the embrace of two lovers to the excitement of the performers, there’s always something to capture. That said, most people are either too afraid to get great street photos, or they’re too weighed down by their equipment to capture the moment before it’s gone. With the following secrets, you won’t belong to either category. I’ll show you why.

Warning! Before You Start Street Photography, Know Your Laws!

It differs from place to place. Some cities allow street photography while others don’t. The law can even differ from one district to the next. As long as you check up on your local street photography laws, you’ll be okay. The last thing I want is for you to get in trouble with the police.

Also be aware that people will catch you taking photos every now and again. Some of them are completely okay with it while others will confront you. If people start to ask questions, tell them you’re a professional photographer, and then offer to delete any pictures you just took. Oftentimes this gesture is enough to win their respect. If they make any other threats, don’t be a hero. Apologize and casually walk away.

I’m not going to tell you how much risk to take. Only you can make that call. I will tell you, however, that the best images happen when we throw our chips down and go for it. Expect the unexpected.

Walk Slowly And Carry A Versatile Lens

When you’re out on the streets, candid moments can come and go in a flash. That’s why you’ll have to bring the simplest possible camera setup. If you own a digital SLR, carry it over your shoulder, and try to pick a lens that covers a little bit of the telephoto and wideangle ranges. I think one of the best lenses for street photography is a 35mm to 100mm. This is just enough range to give you a little bit of both.

If you’re using a point-and-shoot, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Just keep the camera out of its case, somewhere near your hip. As soon as you anticipate something is going to happen, turn on your camera and keep it ready for the action.

The same goes for those of you who own digital SLRs. Remove the lens cap and keep the camera on. You don’t want any extra steps getting in between you and the moment you want to capture. As soon as something happens, you should be able to quickly lift up your camera, frame the shot, and snap the photo.

Learn To Shoot From The Hip

If you have your lens zoomed out as much as possible, you can capture some pretty candid moments right from your hip. Just keep your camera at the ready, use autofocus, and point it slightly upwards when you see something interesting. Most people won’t even know you’re taking their picture, so they’ll continue on as if nothing is happening.

Don’t worry about being a perfectionist with this technique. You can always go back and crop your images in Photoshop. The point of this exercise is to at least capture the moment. You can work your magic from your computer later on.

Shoot From Far Away

This is another reason why I like to carry the most versatile lens possible. It means I can get faraway from my subjects and still get a good shot. When you get to a certain distance, nobody will even notice you’re there unless they’re looking for you. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t get caught. It just means it’s much less likely to happen. Don’t keep holding your camera in front of your face. Take the shot and put it right back down.

Don’t Forget About The Other Elements In The Scene

Street photography is all about the emotions, that’s true, but you still need to pay attention to backgrounds, lighting, and composition. Something interesting might be happening, but if the shot is cluttered with a bunch unintended “extra’s,” the image will suffer. Always try to isolate your subjects and place them in front an interesting background.

A lot of photographers have different techniques for doing this. One of my favorites involves finding a place you find interesting, waiting for a bit, and then taking pictures once people enter the scene. This ensures that you’ve always got a visually interesting background. The people are the icing on the cake.

Street photograph combines some of my favorite elements. It’s got emotion, risk, and a level of candidness that you just can’t get from any other style. If you’ve got the guts and the eyes for it, you’ll love the images you capture.

Do you have a story of street photography success? Have you ever gotten caught? What did you do, and did you get any good pictures before it was too late? I’d love to see them. Upload them to our gallery.

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  1. Randy Keeler says:

    Mitch..I think you will get into more trouble than I. I went on a educational tour with Sony Canada to Montreal, they brought with them some notable photographers and I got some awesome one on one education in the streets of old Montreal. Take your shot! it will not come around again. Then approach subject and ask if you can take their picture, and do so. Talk to them, learn a bit, maybe take some notes. Show them the pics. Be polite and learn a bit. Don't hang around, keep moving. Your timer is an asset, set it for 10 seconds, frame it, and set it down..plink,it is your shot. Nobody knows the difference. Kennsington Market in Toronto is one of my faves, I'll work with a 24mm, 28mm and a 55mm. People are cool when they are busy.

  2. Bettie says:

    Thats not just logic. Thats really ssnebile.

  3. Harvey Alley says:

    I like to focus on something an equal distance away from the subject then swing to the subject for the picture. You can also have a friend close to the subject, focus, and then take the shot. My most important rule is, do not make eye contact with the subject immediatly after taking the picture. I know it's only natural to want to do so but it's a sure giveaway that you have been up to something. Overseas, I have found that most people feel it a compliment that you want to photograph them.

  4. David says:

    And think about the camera you are carrying, for street shooting (and pretty much any candid shots assuming you are not a paparazzi!) you aren't going to need a huge long lens, something like a Powershot 10, 11 or 12 G gives you pretty much an SLR other than interchangeable lenses in a compact body. Full manual control, raw shooting, my 10G even has the same image processing system as my EOS5d MkII!
    You are going to draw a load less attention even if you are spotted with a compact, and be a whole lot less likely to be noticed! Stealth street photography if you like, look what the greats of the past achieved with essentially this method, Henri Cartier Bresson got pretty much all of his best shots with Leica 35mm rangefinder with a 50mm lens and bits of tape stuck on the camera to make it look a bit battered and less intrusive!

  5. mitch says:

    Thanks for the tips David

    My tips would include leaving your camera on some 'average' settings and practice whipping it out of it's bag, removing the lens cap and turning it on while you're keeping an eye on the scene. That way you can travel through rough areas without having a big lump of money on display all the time.

    Another handy one is to get higher. People never seem to look up so even one floor higher is ample. A favourite haunt of mine is multi-storey car parks for just that reason.

    Good luck one and all


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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.