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Go Play In The Street!

While there are many forms of photography, some styles that are forever changing are urban and street photography. The street is full of exciting photography prospects, day, night, sun or rain. If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to live in the city, there is always something going on that can create an interesting subject. So grab your camera and let’s go play in the street!

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Let’s Go Play In The Street!

Street photography has been around as long as photography itself. With its birthplace in Paris in the late 1800’s, traditionally street photography’s main aim was to document the human condition in public places with a focus on emotion. This in turn also led to other styles of photography such as photojournalism.

Some of the most influential street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004), Robert Frank (1924 – present) and Gary Winogrand (1928 – 1984), still influence today’s photographers, with their style and philosophies of what makes a good picture; uncomplicated, natural, tell it how it is. As the early masters used black and white film for much of their work, this is still often the chosen look for today’s street photographers. Black and white can often feel as if it depicts more emotion in a photo and can help draw the viewer’s eye to what is important in the shot, without being distracted by colour. Though there are many influential street and photojournalistic photographers who also photograph in colour, such as Joel Meyerowitz (1938 – present). Another very well known photographer, Steve McCurry (1950 – present) is renown for his strong use of colour and powerful imagery that has made his work arguably some of the most recognisable and talked about photography of all time.

These days street photography doesn’t necessarily have to be about portraying the human condition or emotion. Contemporary street or urban photography doesn’t have to include people at all. There are so many variations that are limited only by our imaginations. From panning, to landscape, to portrait, or architectural photography, these can all fall under the category of street photography at times. In a sense what the photographer is doing is capturing a piece of history that will live on in an image, even if the place the photo was taken changes or no longer exists. This can be said about all photography. As photographers, we preserve a little piece of history in a split second.

What camera and settings do I need for street photography?

Camera Choice

Any camera will do for street photography, from a mobile phone to a DSLR. The smaller the camera, the more light weight and easy to carry around. Also a smaller camera can be less intrusive and more discreet when taking street photography. Using your camera’s automatic settings will get you a shot, but if you have the option to use a semi-manual or full manual mode, you will be happier with your results.

 Lens Choice

If you are using a camera that allows the use of different lenses, then you have a whole world of options. Gary Winogrand (1928 – 1984), almost always used a 28mm lens. If you use a wide angle such as a 24mm lens, it allows you to get up close and fit more in to your shot. A longer lens such as a 100mm allows you to stand back a little further and be a little less seen. However, many photographers use a 50mm lens for street photography. A 50mm lens is usually quite light weight, can take captivating photos and is wide enough not to distort the image. There is no right or wrong with regards to lens choice. Just use the lens you have at hand.

Selling Fish Is A Tough Business


As with lens choices, there are no right or wrong camera settings for street photography. It all comes down to your personal likes. Many of the old masters liked to have the ability to freeze the subject in the shot. That can mean capturing a person mid step, or the hair of a woman blowing in the wind at an unusual angle. The idea was to capture a fleeting moment forever. Also they often used a wide depth of field to try to keep backgrounds in focus behind the main subject of the photo in order to put the subject in context.

To do these kinds of photos a fast shutter speed is needed. 1/100th of a second, 1/250th of a second or higher. Also an aperture of between f/8 and f/16. The catch is quite often in the city there are tall buildings that cast lots of shadow. This can make it difficult to have a fast shutter speed, a small aperture and still maintain a perfect exposure. Because of this a higher ISO setting such as ISO800 or higher needs to be used. This will lead to more grain in the photo (noise), but as long as it is not over done, it can give the illusion of texture and replicate the mood portrayed in the images taken by the old masters. The best way to decide on a setting is to experiment and find a look that you are happy with.

Other tips

When experimenting with street photography, try to travel light. Don’t get bogged down carrying too much gear, it is important to be flexible and agile to move easily. Being weighed down by a tripod and a heavy backpack full of equipment can hinder more than help. Carrying a heavy bag around all day will make you tired and when a photo opportunity shows itself, you may feel too lethargic to take full advantage. Before you go out on a street photography shoot, be very selective of what gear you will take. My advice is to take a spare battery or two, a cloth or something similar to clean the lens if needed and that’s all. The lighter you travel, the more inspired you will be.

One last tip is no to walk too much. Try staying in one area and wait for things to happen. You will end up blending in to the scene more and therefore making it easier not to be noticed. By staying in the one area you are allowing the opportunities come to you and you may be surprised what you will see.

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