Street photography is one of the most interesting artistic disciplines you can practice. It does not take much to get started, but it takes a lifetime to master.
So what is street photography? It's fine art photography taken in the heat of the moment, with no planning or studio setup involved.
For me, street photography was both a way to share experiences and lose myself in the city. I spent countless hours taking pictures on the street and honing my eye.
If you are a studio photographer, a painter, or even a poet, street photography can help all your art. It allows you to stay observant of the world around you. It helps you train your senses for what makes an image beautiful and meaningful.
To encourage more people to enjoy this artistic practice, I have put together a list of street photography ideas and tips you can start with.
Tip 1: Going Digital for Beginners
If you are just getting started in photography, it is best to choose a digital camera first.
Purists will say you have to go with analogue film, but that's not true. Even consumer-level digital cameras can give you significant range and power to capture the perfect image as it happens.
Plus, if you're just getting started, you would like to take many images; with a digital camera, and you'll be able to delete them easily. Film, in contrast, costs money to buy and develop, and it is single-use.
And as you learn, a digital camera gives you immediate feedback with its digital display. This can be an enormous help when trying to get the hang of things.
Tip 2: Start with Compact Cameras (Point-and-Shoot)
One of the essential rules of street photography is this: be as inconspicuous as possible. A point-and-shoot camera allows you to take photos quickly without creating a scene or drawing attention to yourself.
Point-and-shoot cameras also limit your options, which is a good thing at first.
Tip 3: DSLR or a Mirrorless Camera
As soon as you get going, you want to upgrade. But now you have to decide: Are you looking for a DSLR or a mirrorless camera?
DSLRs (which are digital single-lens reflex cameras) are the king when it comes to image quality. These have large sensors and a wide range of manual settings. They also shoot very quickly, which is good for capturing crisp images of things and people in motion.
Mirrorless cameras are often much smaller but still hold up well in terms of image quality and settings.
If you are looking for a mirrorless camera, my recommendation is the FujiFilm X-T series.
Tip 4: Prime or Zoom Lenses
Prime lenses stay at one focal length, while zoom lenses are adjustable. When you are out and about, zooms can seem superior, but they cause a few problems.
For one, most zoom lenses slight shift while hanging around the neck or being carried in a bag. That means you need to adjust them each time you shoot.
With prime lenses, you can get used to a certain focal length. (My favourites are 28 mm and 35 mm.)
Longer focal lengths allow you to step away from a scene, which can help you get started for the first time. Instead of taking out a hulking telephoto lens, you can wait for scenes to develop and shoot on a shorter lens, taking a more documentary approach.
Tip 5: Go Automatic if You Need To
Untitled, a photo from my series Ordinary Wonder, 2019
Today, the automatic settings on cameras are more sophisticated than ever. And while you are still getting used to things, they are great to help you on the way.
However, there are many automatic settings. As a beginner, the autofocus mode will be most helpful. But even long-time street photographers use it for its core benefits:
- Fast and reliable focus
- Accuracy many times higher than you can get with the small viewfinder
Tip 6: But Manual Mode Is Fun!
Eventually, it will be time to take control of aperture, ISO and shutter speed. As soon as you conquer this, you will take your art to a new level. The amount of control you can have over your photography opens up as soon as you go into manual mode.
At this point in my career, I shoot everything in manual mode. This is because it gives me so much control over the looks and feel of my photos.
Tip 7: Moving to Film Photography
I started with digital, and I will always be grateful for it. But nowadays, I prefer film photography. At some point, you get used to the camera and the practice of street photography. And so you might try experimenting with film.
Some of the major benefits of film over digital photography include:
- More resilient against being slightly out of focus or over/underexposed
- Incredibly high resolution
- More involved and intimate process when developing
- Long-lasting film negatives
- Better colour consistency and dynamic range
- More thought put into each finite number of images
The above is a list of street photography ideas and tricks, but they are not hard and fast rules. Hopefully, they give you a sense of the journey ahead as soon as you pick up this fascinating art form.
What began for me as a technical interest in the camera itself has turned into an artistic practice that continues to enrich my life.
I hope this inspires you to take up street photography. If it does, share your work with me!
Photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok
BRYCE Watanasoponwong is a Thai-Australian photographer and visual storyteller. He is interested in producing a narrative series that evoke emotion and make a personal impact. Becoming more involved in how is photography is... read on