The Top 4 Street Photography Techniques

When it comes to street photography, everybody has their own style and techniques. What interests one street photographer may not necessarily catch the eye of another street photographer. However in order for you to get a better grasp of what kind of styles there are in street photography, I have compiled a few elements that street photographers like to use to their advantage when constructing their images.

Play with Juxtaposition

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"Skating" - Paris, France.

Juxtaposition is a big and fancy word that artists love to use. If you are not familiar with the word, it simply means drawing a stark contrast between two elements in an image. One could use juxtaposition in his or her favor by creating an image that is interesting, ironic, or just plain uncanny.

For example, if you were to see a sign that says “get fit” and you see a woman eating an ice cream, that makes for an image with great juxtaposition. Or you can see a sign that says “get big” with a small person standing next to it.

Juxtaposition doesn’t always have to be between a sign and a person. It can be between two people (think attractive vs ugly, fit vs fat, or tall vs short). It can also be between a person and an inatimate object, like a person next to a tree, skyscraper, or car.

Juxtaposition can either be found naturally in daily life, or constructed by a photographer by framing his pictures to only include certain elements. If you are quick enough on your toes and always have your camera by your side, you will be able to capture those “Kodak moments” or as Henri Cartier-Bresson likes to call, “The Decisive Moment.” Furthermore, there may not be an apparent juxtaposition in a scene, but if you can capture an image at a certain angle or only include certain elements, you can create an interesting image.

Look for the Light

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"Despair" - Toronto, Canada.

“Look for the light” is often what great photographers tell aspiring photographers.  When the word “photography” is broken down, it literally means “painting with light.” Great street photographers leverage this to their advantage as well. Look for the light and make interesting and even magical scenes. If you are in a dark corridor and you see a single beam of light shining through, try to capture it so that it appears that a single person is under the spotlight. Such minimalist and simple pictures are beautiful.

Experiment taking photos during the day and night. They both have a life of their own. Although street photography can be favorable under well-lit conditions during the day, fascinating scenes can also be found during the night. As Van Gogh once said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” Experiment with light and shadows, day and night, bright and dark. Look for interesting lighting arrangements, whether it be the flashing lights in front of a movie theater or an alley with Christmas lights suspended above.

If you are able to use the light to your advantage, you can be an amazing street photographer.

Go for the “Candid Look”

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"3 Venetian Ladies" - Venice, Italy.

As humans, we are naturally attracted to looking at other people. There is a strange enjoyment that humans have in studying the faces, voices, and expressions of others in a voyeuristic type of way. As social beings, we often also enjoy comparing our lifes conditions to the lives of others, or even living vicariously through others as well. Therefore when it comes to street photography, the common person loves looking at candid portraiture of people in public. There is something very pure about it, as a person’s true soul and condition can often be shown best when they aren’t posed—contemplating a certain thought or living in a certain moment.

Capturing candid images can be difficult at times. How can you take an image of somebody without them even noticing that you are taking their image? Remember one tip that you can try is “shooting from the hip,” or taking photos with your camera suspended at waist-level, shooting up. Also make sure to dress casually and don’t look too conspicuous in public. If you are going to the slums of a downtown area, it is probably best to keep your bright designer clothes at home. Be cognizant of your surroundings.

Also try to be discrete with your camera. If you have a DSLR, refrain from using a huge and clunky zoom lens, and use a small prime lens instead. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying around a DSLR, bring your point and shoot, which is even smaller and less conspicuous.

After you take images of your subjects, keep your eyes wandering and not fixated on one person. Pretend that other people can’t see you. Then you will truly become invisible.

Go for the “Shock Factor”

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"Camera Shy" - Seoul, Korea.

Bruce Gilden has definitely got to be the grandfather of this technique. One of his techniques can be as follows: He walks around the streets of NYC with his camera in one hand and a flash in the other. Once he sees an interesting person, he quickly steps in front of them, crouches, and takes a photo of them (flash firing and all). Naturally, this surprises many people, which makes for fascinating looking images. People often question this style, as they feel that the subjects are treated as “prey.” However one thing that people can’t argue with is that this approach is definitely legal, and can make for fascinating looking images.

I know only a few street photographers that have balls like Bruce Gilden and are able to have the courage to do such photography. I wouldn’t suggest it to the beginning street photographer, as this is definitely a much more extreme approach which takes years of practice to get comfortable and used to. Seasoned veterans and hardcore photojournalists, however, should have no problem with this approach.

Of course there are much more tips and techniques than those listed above. Stay tuned, I have a lot more stuff up my sleeve ;)

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Comments

  1. Material Lives says

    I love this post. I was at a wedding the other day (that I officiated!), and I ran around chasing the light in order to photograph the food and objects that I knew the other photographers around wouldn’t be as interested in. Once you start looking for the light, it is amazing how much more you see. Keep these posts coming!

    • says

      Thanks Cydney! I actually have another guest post on digital-photography-school.com scheduled. I will let you know when that one gets published too! :)

      And great job looking for the light– your photos look more amazing every day.

  2. says

    Excellent writing and very good images to make your point, Kim! I usually switch between or try to mix all of these techniques in my streetwork, depending on how the day develops. The main approach for me though is to be agile in that sense that I try not to have a certain agenda or theme predecided when I go about. Just let the street life play out in front of me and record whatever happends. The urban life still surprises me and I´m loving it :)

    • says

      Thanks Jimmy. Wise words from you as well–serendipity is the best. I love the fluid motion of life unfolding before my eyes, thus my love with street photography :)

  3. Maryann says

    Linked to your blog from the Digital photography school. Great post. Excellent thoughts and photographs. I liked your list of 100 too.

  4. says

    Great site and very informative! I too linked from Digital Photography School.
    Can’t wait to read more on Street Photography 101. Keep up the great work!

  5. says

    Thanks for all the work you do on the blog. It’s been very helpful – but I have a question I don’t see answered here.
    Do you sell these photographs? If so, to whom?
    One more:
    I’ve tried stock photography sites and they all want model or location releases. I’d like to hear your comments about how to go about that.

    • says

      Hi Bobbi,

      I have prints available for sale, and most of my “customers” have been close friends or family.

      Also, I have not played around with stock photography sites yet, so I’m not quite sure about the restrictions of model or location releases.

      Hope this helped! :)

  6. shrinivas shastri says

    hi eric no words to say about your photography specially black and white.
    i have been searching the photogrpher like you i do want to learn the street photography.
    and i even tried to get some photos soon after watching your photos on you tube.
    but it was night took some black and white no good photos i got
    kindly tell me the tecnical part of th camera to set in day and night streeet photography.
    i have nikon d 200,
    thanking you
    shrinivas shastri,hubli, karnataka india

    • says

      Hi Shrinivas,

      If you are a beginner, I would try playing around with the aperture-dependent setting (AV setting in Canon… not 100% sure what it is in Nikon).

      Or if anything, you can also use the auto settings. They usually work fine (especially for street photography).

      Hope this helps :)

  7. says

    Erik, this is a really interesting article. And I especially like your comment about invisibility. ‘Pretend that other people can’t see you’ is the exact right thing to do and I had never really thought about putting it that way. In my experience people are much less likely to turn around and complain to you if you just keep your eyes wandering to other places and walkig away.

    • says

      Lauri– I’m glad that you enjoyed this article! I would say that street photography is 80% mental, and 20% skill. Good luck shooting in the streets! :)

  8. says

    Thanks Eric. ‘Looking for the light’ is definitely my favourite tip and something I have to keep reminding myself to do. Just wanted to say I absolutely love the photo ‘Despair’. Blocking the subject so obviously and drawing us to his shadow… and the implication that those bottles are linked to his despair. Brilliant.

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