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Photography Street - 6 Tips for Street Photographers Starting Out

In this post, I’m going to share some tips and tricks on how to take better street photos. Whether you're just starting out or looking to improve your craft, this article will show you some of the things I’ve learnt over the years and hopefully help you too. Covering the very basics of photography, how to operate your camera, composition advice and much more this article is packed with value to get you started on your photographic journey.

Get a Camera

If you’re new to photography you don't need to spend loads on the best cameras, most phones nowadays have amazing cameras that are great for learning. They also often have pro modes that allow you to adjust individual settings similar to the manual mode on a camera, this is a great way to learn what things do without splashing out on gear. When you do decide to invest in a camera there are plenty of guides online to help you pick the one that's best for you and your budget. Personally, I have always used Canon cameras but there are different brands that have their own pros and cons. There is also the choice between DSLR and mirrorless cameras, I use mirrorless but again there are pros and cons to each. The next step is lenses and this is something I will cover in more detail in another post. For learning the kit lens that comes with your camera will be more than fine and as you develop your style you can get more specific pieces of kit to go with it.

Understand Camera Settings

Learning what the different settings on your camera do and getting yourself out of auto mode is one of the most important steps to taking better photos. By knowing what the settings are for, you will learn how to use them to display your creativity and capture the sort of images you picture in your head.

Firstly there’s shutter speed, this is the speed at which the shutter opens and closes when you take a photo. For fast moving objects, you might want a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, imagine the photos taken at sporting events with a football frozen in mid-air just before a goal. Equally, you may want to introduce blur into your shot to give a sense of motion, perhaps letting a passing train or car go through the scene or capturing smooth milky looking water, these are achieved by using a slower shutter speed and often a tripod to keep the camera steady. Selecting the correct shutter speed is a very important aspect of planning your image and allows you to really express yourself creatively.

Aperture is next on the list, also called f stop, and this is the size of the hole that opens to let light into your camera. With a wider aperture you get more light on your sensor and so you get a brighter image, a smaller aperture will give a darker image. What might be slightly counterintuitive to new photographers is that a wider aperture will be a lower f number on your camera, so f1.8 is a wide aperture letting in lots of light, f20 is a narrow aperture letting in very little light. Aperture is also responsible for the depth of field in an image, this means the depth of the part of the image that is in focus. With a wide aperture, you will get a shallow depth of field, think of portrait photos with a very blurred background but sharp detail on the face. With a narrow aperture, you get a much larger depth of field, think of a landscape photo where the image is sharp throughout, from the foreground to the background.

Lastly is ISO, which controls the sensitivity of your camera to light. A higher ISO will result in a brighter image, lower ISO will give you a darker image. However the higher the ISO the more noise you will get in your photo, so it is often best to shoot with the ISO as low as you can get it while keeping your image correctly lit. If you shoot too dark and boost it later in editing software this will also introduce noise so balancing the ISO is important to get right in the moment.

All of these features affect how much light will hit your sensor and how bright the final image will turn out, as such they must all be used in tandem to create the image you want. For example, if you want to capture a portrait with the aperture wide open to get a nice blurred background, you will want to lower your iso and increase your shutter speed so the image isn’t over exposed. Equally, if you want to capture a sharp landscape image at f9 you may have to lower the shutter speed and place your camera on a tripod to keep the image properly exposed. Learning how to use these three features together to get the images you want is a big part of developing your skills as a photographer.

Master Basic Composition

Composition is an incredibly important aspect of photography and can change an average image into an amazing one. There are a few different things to think about for composition but one of the most talked about and easiest to understand is the rule of thirds. Two vertical and two horizontal lines break up your photo, breaking the image into thirds horizontally and vertically. The rule of thirds is to put the points of interest where these lines intersect or along the lines themselves. For example, instead of having the horizon of your image cut straight across the middle, place it slightly lower to capture more of the sky, or higher to get more of the ground. This will give you two thirds as sky or ground, and one third as the other depending on how you line it up. This creates a much more interesting composition that is nicer on the eyes and will hold the viewer's attention better. This also applies vertically, let's say there is a single building in your scene. By lining this building up with one of the vertical lines instead of right up the middle of your image you will get an image that tells a bit more of a story behind the building and the location by showing more around it. The reason this rule is the most common to talk about and the first to learn is that it is the easiest to practice, on pretty much all cameras and phones there will be an option in the settings to turn on a 3x3 grid so you don't have to guess where the lines are, you can just line it up on the screen and see how it looks. As with any rule though it is made to be broken, there are many occasions where you might want to compose differently, reflections are a good example where you want the line of reflection running through the middle of your picture to create symmetry. Even in the example above with a single building, you could create a more imposing and dramatic image by placing the building right at the center of the image, this is where the experimentation and practice come in as you develop your own style and learn about what sort of images you like to capture.

Another composition element to get you started is leading lines. These are things within your image that draw the viewer's gaze into the scene and help keep their attention. When shooting street photography some good options to use are roads, road markings, tram tracks or railings. These are all easy lines to use that you can line up with the background and will draw the viewer’s eye through the scene while also creating a nice depth to your image. Experiment with taking images from a lower angle to really accentuate these elements, get down low to a curb to use the yellow lines or the edge of the pavement as a leading line through your scene. Even just shooting straight down a road works well if there is a point of interest at the end of it, this will create a clear line from foreground to background. Leading lines don't always have to go straight front to back, they can also go diagonally to draw attention across an image or they can curve through the scene. Experiment with how you line things up in your image and see what you prefer. For example, if there is a tram you want to be the point of interest that is running along the tracks. You can place the tram in the middle of your image and have the tracks create a leading line straight to it, or you could place that tram off to one side so the tracks are instead going diagonally across the image. Both can look good and are mostly a matter of taste so it is up to you to play around and find what you like.

Know When to Shoot

The time of day and weather can make a huge difference to the shots you can get. At midday on a bright sunny day there will be strong contrast, with bright highlights and very strong dark shadows in your image. Overcast days make the light softer and you will see softer edges to the shadows and less contrast in the scene. Shooting in the morning or evening when the sun is lower will give you longer shadows and warm golden light, these times of day are called golden hour, at sunrise and sunset and a bit after/before. Shooting in the rain can give you amazing reflections on the wet roads and pavements, as well as making people carry umbrellas that can make some amazing additions to your image. At night you will get the lights of the city and this is a great time to get out a tripod and shoot with a long exposure to create light trails of passing traffic. All of these things will change the style of the images you capture and allow you to experiment with different techniques and photographic styles. By experimenting and shooting at different times of day and different weather conditions you will learn what you like and what works best for your styles.

Shoot in RAW and get editing

On your camera, even on most phones, you have an option to shoot in jpeg or RAW. RAW files are much larger as they contain all the information from the image, every bit of light that is recorded by the sensor is stored in the file. A jpeg is a compressed file where the camera has done some work to it to change white balance, exposure, sharpening and colours to get what would be considered a ‘normal’ looking photo. By shooting in RAW you have a much greater ability to edit your photo later as you have not lost any information, if you find the image is over or under exposed you can often save it if it’s shot in RAW, in jpeg you will struggle to recover details from the brightest and darkest parts of the image. The problem with RAW however is that it can’t be used for much until the image has been edited, you can’t put a RAW file straight on Instagram and be done. This is where editing comes into it, I use photoshop but there are many different options for photo editing and a few good free options to get you started. Learning how to edit photos is just as important as learning how to take them and allows you to express your creativity even more. There are countless resources online to learn how to edit photos, two of the Youtube channels I use most to learn are Phlearn and Piximperfect and I would definitely recommend checking them both out. Editing is part of the creative process, some people like to do very minimal editing to just get the light and colours how they want them, others like to create very surreal scenes by completely changing the sky or flipping buildings upside down and adding mythical creatures. Pretty much anything is possible and so it is important to learn different things and develop your own style.

Make Mistakes

My final tip to anyone starting out is to make mistakes! We all want to capture amazing images on day one but mistakes are how we learn, as you progress with photography you will find things that work and things that don’t, you will miss opportunities and wish you'd shot a scene differently when you start editing it. All of these mistakes will make you a better photographer as you practice the basic skills and narrow down on your individual style. If you get back home and wish you'd taken an image from a slightly different angle, next time you go out that's exactly what you'll do. If you look through your images and find that they are too dark, too noisy or too blurry then the next time you shoot you will change your settings and learn how to correct those mistakes. I’ve been a professional photographer for quite a few years now and I still make mistakes constantly, that's how I know I am still learning and growing as a photographer, there is nothing worse than just stagnating at your current level and never progressing. Now you have read all this advice, it is time for you to get out and practice, do some research, try new things and make mistakes along the way!

If you found this article useful and are starting out on your street photography journey then Leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you! If you have any questions or are looking for more advice on photography then ask away and I will try to help everyone I can!


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