Street Photography Tips for Beginners

Practical street photography tips is a request we get often from our iPhotography students. As always, we’ve listened and produced this fantastic guide to some actionable points to improve (or get started) in street photography.

Let’s get started and look at the Top 10 Tips for beginning your adventure on the streets.

1. Look For Emotion

When photographing people emotions and expressions will make your images way more interesting.

Look for gesticulations and changes in body language. People talking on the phone, arguing and embracing are all common interactions to watch out for.

iPhotography Street photograph - child holding his mother
iphotography street photo man stood in crowd

2. Choose the Right Lens

To be able to get close to your subjects, while still maintaining a ‘secretive’ distance for street photography then consider a decent zoom lens. Action may take place close and far from your position, so you need to be adaptable – and zoom lenses do that.

Prime lenses fixed at a certain focal length will have you stumbling to change lenses every few minutes, missing tonnes of shots in the meantime.

If you want to take street photography seriously then consider investing in a zoom lens anywhere from 30mm-200mm. Don’t skimp on the cost, if you can afford to invest a lot, then do so (and make sure it’s suitably insured).

For beginners though, simply start off with your kit lens (18-55mm) or (70-200mm) to get into the swing of things first.

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Join the iPhotography course

3. Look Past the People

Street photography isn’t exclusively about people though either. Buildings, businesses, traffic, landmarks and wildlife are all elements that make up these scenes more atmospheric.

If you’re not comfortable with photographing random people, then turn your attention to the structures that surround you instead.

Experiment with high and low angles, chase reflections, close up textures and wide-angle perspectives.

iphotography street photo man stood in crowd
iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral

4. Dress to Be Invisible

The art of street photography is born from the ability to stay unnoticed. The photographer should be the observer, in the same way, we look at a painting – the painting should not look back at us. 

Pack light and head to tourist hotspots to start out. You’ll likely be overlooked by locals who know to expect the tourists-with-cameras and they’ll hopefully be less aware of your existence – allowing you to capture some candid photos.

If you aren’t in a popular location then think oppositely, and dress as a local. Try to blend in if there aren’t many tourists around. Smaller mirrorless or micro four-thirds cameras look a little more amateur (to a novices’ eye) and ultimately look less alarming.

5. Be on the Right Side of the Law

Check out the trespass laws in the country you’re shooting in. You don’t want to be stopped and have someone rain on your parade. The trespass laws differ from country to country, so always check in advance.

In the UK for example, providing you’re on public property then you can photograph anywhere you want.

iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral
iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral

6. Be Open

But be open to being approached when you’re photographing on the streets.

Private security and police, even strangers, may come up to you and ask what you’re doing, particularly if you’re near sensitive buildings or businesses.

Don’t freak out, just be friendly – you’re not doing anything illegal, so show them what you’re up to. Niceness and friendliness will win over anyone quicker than confrontation.

7. Be Honest

In this list of street photography tips, this one is the most important. Being honest with your shots means capturing things that aren’t always pretty. Not every moment will be ‘Instagrammable’ but that’s good, it means your photo is real and more reflective of life on the streets.

Don’t dismiss shots with odd expressions or awkward interactions – these are the little quirks we only see in a split second which makes them more unique.

iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral
iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral

8. Conflicts & Juxtapositions are Key

Look for opposites and moments where elements contrast each other. Tall and small, round and thin, narrow and wide, rough and smooth. Keep thinking of opposites and the best angle you can find to display them clearly.

Signage is a great way, on the streets, of adding humour to your photography. Audiences will draw parallels between text written on a street or shop sign and the scene around it.

Think of a car parked in front of a sign that says ‘no parking’ – simple, but an easy juxtaposition to capture.

9. Pools of Light

If it’s a bright sunny day when you’re out capturing street photography, look for pools of light amongst the heavy shadows.

Shooting between F/11 – F/22 in these situations will deliver you small sections of interest where the light falls and the shadows will be dark enough to offer the negative space.

Wait for your subjects to pass into these pools of light. Converting these hard-lit scenarios into B&W could look very effective.

iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral
iphotography tutor rebecca st pauls cathedral

10. Patience Above All

More than anything else, apart from point number 7 – be patient. Don’t expect anything to happen, but also be ready for everything to happen. Life is full of surprises which what makes street photography so unique in all forms of the art.

You may spend all day out walking but still catch no notable shots, other days you may get some award-winning ones.

Either way, don’t expect to get winners every time, but the law of averages will level it out over time – providing you don’t get dismayed by the dry days and you motivate yourself to get out regularly.

Summary

Are there any other street photography tips you think we should add to the list? Let us know. You can also find more street photography tips for beginners here as well as on our iPhotography podcast available on Spotify, Pocketcasts and Google Podcasts.

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