Top Tips for Beginners Who Are Trying Out Street Photography

Written by EJ Ray

June 12, 2024
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Street photography is a great way to capture the world as you travel. Read on for street photography tips for beginners. 

For some photographers, delving into street photography can feel daunting. Aiming your camera at strangers and capturing candid moments may feel awkward. Moreover, anticipating the subjects’ reactions upon noticing you taking their picture adds to the challenge.

However, despite the initial unease, street photography can yield immense satisfaction when you capture that picture-perfect shot capable of resonating with viewers and piquing their interest. Indeed, renowned photographers specializing in documentary and street photography captured many iconic historical photographs documenting events and everyday life. A prime example is Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square,” depicting a sailor kissing a dental assistant to celebrate the end of World War II in 1945—an image that immortalized the exhilaration of that victorious day.

If you’re keen on delving deeper into street photography and mastering its techniques, here are a few tips you want to remember.

Get the Right Gear

The foundation of successful street photography lies in having the right equipment. First, opt for lightweight and portable cameras that allow for discreet shooting. Next, pair your camera with a versatile prime lens, such as 35 or 50mm, for greater flexibility in capturing various scenes. Lastly, you need to understand your camera.

Woman photographer holds dslr camera during taking photos sea at sunset

Find a camera that lets you take great photos without standing out too much for capturing the best street photos. Photo by Siarhei Khaletski via iStock by Getty Images

Understanding your camera’s settings is also vital; master aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to completely control your shots. If you’re worried about camera equipment costs, don’t be. You can rent a lens and various cameras in many cities, with reputable shops offering affordable rates for top-notch equipment.

Blend in with the Crowd

Blending into the environment is essential to capture authentic moments on the streets. So, dress inconspicuously to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Are you exploring London with your camera? If so, dress like a Londoner with a trenchcoat and a plaid scarf around your neck. If you’re in Japan, wear simple clothes in neutral colors to avoid standing out. By becoming part of the crowd, you can observe and document moments naturally without disrupting the flow of life around you.

Respect People’s Privacy

While the streets are public, respecting people’s privacy and personal boundaries is essential. Thus, always seek permission before photographing individuals nearby, especially if they are the primary focus of your shot. If someone expresses discomfort or reluctance to be photographed, respect their wishes and move on to find another subject.

Do note that in some cases, people will pose unnaturally if you ask permission first before taking a photo. As such, some photographers capture a picture of the person before approaching them and letting them know they have been photographed. This is to preserve the authenticity of the moment. That said, each situation is unique, so use your judgment. When in doubt, delete the photo in question and look for other interesting scenes to photograph.

Girl near Chiang Mai

Akha girl near Chiang Mai. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Observe Your Surroundings

Street photography is as much about seeing as it is about capturing. Train yourself to observe your surroundings—pay attention to details, patterns, and interactions. Indeed, your subjects don’t always have to be people.

Furthermore, look for interesting scenes, unique characters, and fleeting moments that tell compelling stories. For instance, the shadows of a building making interesting patterns, an old man with his grandson, or an abandoned building crumbling to the ground. The more you observe, the more opportunities you’ll discover for captivating shots.

landscape in Slovenia

Look for moments as you explore. Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Have Patience and Plan Ahead

Patience is a virtue in street photography. Sometimes, you may need to wait long hours for the right moment to unfold before pressing the shutter. Embrace the art of anticipation and be prepared to seize the moment when it presents itself.

Alternatively, there are precise moments that you can plan for to take a stunning photo. A great example of this is New York’s Manhattanhenge. Manhattanhenge is a phenomenon where the setting sun aligns perfectly with the east and west streets of Manhattan, New York City, creating a stunning visual spectacle. It occurs only twice a year, around late May and mid-July for the sunset and around early December and January sunrise. It draws crowds of photographers and spectators, so it’s a good idea to plan your photography session weeks to get the best shots.

Manhattanhenge in New York City, seen from 42nd street.

Manhattanhenge in New York City, seen from 42nd Street. Photo by Josh Namdar via iStock by Getty Images

Experiment with Perspectives

Don’t be afraid to explore different angles and perspectives to add depth and visual interest to your photographs. You can experiment with shooting from low angles, high vantage points, or through reflective surfaces. These unique perspectives can give life to your images and offer fresh insights into familiar scenes.

For instance, if you’re capturing a photo of someone’s colorful hat, you can choose a top-view perspective to create a symmetrical image. On the other hand, you may want to take a photo of a woman dancing in the rain through puddles or on a glass storefront.

Master the Different Techniques for Composition

Composition is the backbone of great photography; street photography is no exception. Familiarise yourself with fundamental composition techniques such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing. These principles will guide you in creating well-balanced and visually engaging photographs that draw viewers into the scene.

Take the works of Henri-Cartier Bresson, a widely known bastion of street photography. His work may seem simple, but his love for geometry and composition shines through his photographs. In his most famous 1932 photo of a cyclist and stairs, the railings lead the eye to the cyclist. It’s a brilliantly composed photograph that captures a glimpse of a simple life in Hyéres, France.

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Perfecting Street Photography

Pursuing street photography as a beginner can be both thrilling and challenging. You have to be bold yet not too bold to forget to ask permission. With enough practice and these tips, you’ll be well-equipped to take on these bustling streets and capture the beauty and essence of everyday life. So welcome the adventure, keep honing your skills, and let your passion for photography guide you on your street photography journey. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for our favorite destinations and more photography tips as you look for your own wow moments.

Written by EJ Ray

EJ Ray is a traveler at heart. It is part of her soul and she loves to share her travels through her words. She has traveled the world, seeking great food, wine, and experiences. EJ was born in the Eastern US but has lived across the country and in Europe and Mexico. She also took to the road for a while, exploring from her RV. EJ always seeks the next great sip, bite, and adventure.

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