6 Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography with a DSLR

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Seoul, 2009

Seoul, 2009

When it comes to street photography, I am a huge proponent that it doesn’t matter what camera you use. Each camera has its own strengths and weaknesses, and as long as it takes photos it works for street photography.

When I asked a while back on my Facebook fan page, I found out that the majority of the community shoots street photography with a DSLR, so I thought it would be a great idea to write an article on how to most effectively use your DSLR for street photography. Keep reading to read some more tips.

1. Prefocus + set a high F-stop

Hollywood, 2011

Hollywood, 2011

Although modern DSLR’s can have extremely quick autofocus, I still don’t entirely trust it when I am out shooting. This is especially true when it comes to moving subjects.

Rather, a better technique is to set your camera to manual focusing and prefocus your lens to a certain distance and set a high F-stop number such as f/8, f/11, or f/16. What this allows you to do is to figure out how far you typically are when shooting your subjects, and have a high likelihood of capturing them in focus because of your deep depth of field. This technique often works best if your lens has a focusing distance scale on it, so you can determine what distance is best optimal for you (I prefer 1.2 meters). You still shouldn’t have a problem doing this if your lens doesn’t have a focusing scale. Simply find a test subject to focus on, and set your prefocus before you go out and shoot.

2. Don’t be afraid to bump up your ISO

UFO, Santa Monica, 2010

One of the beauties of shooting with a DSLR is the great high-ISO noise performance. Therefore use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. If you want to shoot with a large aperture of f/8 or up, you need a shutter speed of at least 320ths/second which often requires a ISO of 400 or up. There are times when I shoot with ISO 1600 even in the shade during the day, so I can ensure that my images aren’t out-of-focus or blurry.

3. Determine your ideal shooting mode

Santa Monica, 2011

Santa Monica, 2011

When I am shooting with my Canon 5D, I typically shoot in AV (aperture-priority mode) and first set my aperture to f/16 (if it is bright and sunny outside) and set my ISO at around 400. After this I see how fast my shutter speed is. If it stays above 320ths/second, I go out and shoot. If my shutter speed is belove 320ths/second, I either raise my ISO or lower my f-stop (depending on how dark it is).

If you don’t want to worry too much about the technical details, I always advocate people to shoot in P (program) mode and just use autofocus. If you don’t like to worry about all the settings when going out and shooting, P mode often does a damn good job of determining what you want.

4. Shoot with a wide-angle prime lens

Hollywood, 2011

Hollywood, 2011

One of the mistakes that many aspiring street photographers with DSLR’s make is trying to shoot with a large telephoto or zoom lens. If you are currently doing this, ditch it and pick up a wide prime lens such as a 28mm or a 35mm lens (assuming you have a full-frame sensor). If you have a crop-sensor, pick up a 28mm or a 24mm which equates roughly to a 35mm lens.

The benefit of this is that it will help keep your DSLR smaller and less intimidating, while giving you the opportunity to get better shots. Having a wide-angle prime lens helps you get closer to the action, which often makes your images more interesting. Not only that, but by not worrying about focusing, you save precious time which can be used to capture the decisive moment.

5. Use the right strap

Custom SLR Glidestrap

Me with the Custom SLR Glidestrap

When it comes to shooting street photography with a DSLR, I prefer to use the Custom SLR shoulder glidestrap with the Custom SLR C-Loop. I used to highly recommend handstraps, but one of the faults I started to discover is that it can get tiring to use after a full day of traveling and shooting. The main benefit of the Custom SLR shoulder glidestrap is that it allows you to carry your DSLR with the weight distributed over your shoulders, which beats carrying it around your neck which causes strain. Not only that, but you can keep your camera slung to your side when you aren’t shooting to stay low-key, and you can bring it up quickly to get your shot. The best strap for DSLRS hands-down.

6. Cover up your logos

My Canon 5D Taped Up

A quick and easy way to be less conspicuous when shooting on the streets is to cover up the logos on your DSLR with some gaffers tape. The benefit of this is because when you are shooting people on the street, your camera doesn’t scream “professional” or “papparazzi” but looks more low-key like a generic old-school camera.

If somebody pointed a large SLR with the letters in huge white letters “Canon” to my face, I would automatically be suspicious of what they are doing as they look like a pro. If the camera doesn’t have any logos or lettering on it and it was pointed to me, I would probably dismiss it as a film camera and think the photographer taking a photo of me would be more of a hobbyist.

So to those who are out shooting street photography with a DSLR, what other tips would you add to this list? Leave a comment below and let us know your 2 cents!

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  • John

    Another really helpful set of tips, thanks Eric. I can see f16 iso400 working in sunny LA (lucky you!) but I’m in cloudy dull(er) England… do you have a good set of settings to recomend for street photos in that kind of environment?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Bump up the ISO to 1600 ;)

  • ILPARM

    It really is mandatory to know and understand your camera’s strenghts and limitations. That is actually more critical when shooting with a DSLR due to all the features and possibilities they offer. I shoot with the Canon T1I and I can say that bumping the ISO will produce too much noise -due to the sensor size and MP ratio- for my taste. Other cameras with less MP on that same size sensor are more adept for high ISO work though.

    Manual focusing with a DSLR is a pain in the ass. I tried the zone focusing bit, but it is such an annoyance and feels sloppy. Problem is that when working in the street I constantly find subjects at different distances, so I am adjusting all the time, it is a mess. Also, it forces me to close the aperture a lot, thus having to shoot with a lot of light or forcing me to go the ISO route again.

    I ended up adapting myself to the autofocus system. Much easier, faster and more natural making a slight turn until the focus point is over what you want. It just fits my intuitive style much better. I still do the zone focusing trick when shooting interiors with flash though, as in that situation the space is already restricted and you have to shoot close by default.

    For a while I shot at 18mm -28, 29mm as it is a cropped sensor-, aperture priority with f8 and ISO 100-800. That way I got everything in focus, but nothing seemed sharp enough. I am currently shooting around 28mm -45 after crop-, with f5.6 as that seems to be the optimal combo to obtain max sharpness with my crappy kit lens.

    I am still trying to dominate better the whole focal lenght/cropped sensor thing when working the street. Thing is, when shooting at 28mm it still looks like a 28mm shot, just cropped afterwards. Same with any other focal distance, so this forces you into shooting from slightly farther to compensate the crop factor.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      True wisdom–huge thanks ILPARM. Always great to have you :)

    • Leonard Washington

      Cause f5.6 is the sweet spot of your lens. Like the cheap 50mm f1.8 its only gonna be razor sharp above f4

  • Nick

    I think it looks a bit creepy with the logos taped up. “Nikon” or “Canon” just says tourist to me and I think that’s a useful disguise.

    • http://keyofnight.com/ keyofnight

      I’m not sure where I stand on this one. I’ve been shooting Pentax for a long time…and a lot of people are intrigued by my cameras—my Pentax *ist D always gets, “Is that a film camera?! Wow!” If I covered up my logos, I’m not sure what they’d do.

      I think people are more attracted to the silver on the Pentax MX I just got. People are more concerned about it for some reason. Should I break out the gaffer’s tape?

      • Ponhovo

        That’s your position as a photographer blended in the crowd; this sort of attention can bring friends and other photographers to chat, and who knows what might happen :)

        For those unwilling for that, there’s the option to tape it or not, considering the above. If you think it screams rather a tourist than a pro, and you’re fine with it, that’s your answer. If you often feel uncomfortable while streetshooting because of the logos, tape it.

        Personally, the very presence of a camera in my hands bugs me after a crowd or even a desert street (just paranoid somebody is watching, lol). It costs me many great photos I could’ve taken and didn’t. So, taping the logos wouldn’t help much on this matter.

        But shooting an event, for me, depends on what people are in it. Taping might look really creepy on some events, but on some is a necessity.

        Also, comes nicely on the ego shooting with a 800D amongst Powershot or Finepix shooters (don’t even say it doesn’t cross that egocentric part of your mind that you have so much better of a camera amongst your friends or strangers specially!). On the other hand, I don’t have a 800D, but a Canon G15 Pentax MZ7, which made me identify with what keyofnight said… sort of, lol.

        Cheers!

  • Henning Nilsen

    I sometimes miss auto-focus.

  • http://aamerkhan.tumblr.com Aamer Khan

    I use this three step strategy:
    1-f/8-11
    2-autofocus
    3-pray

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Slade/686750540 Jeff Slade

      I prefer to shoot with a wide apperture so as to isolate my subject from the surroundings with a shallow depth of field…It works well so long as you want to concentrate on a single primary subject…I set auto focus to centre spot, then focus lock and move frame if the subject is not going to be central in the frame…Set asa low as possible so as to avoid over-exposing…Background detail in sharp focus distracts the eye from your main subject….

  • Rob-L

    I have a DSLR with a flip-out LCD and I find it helpful to use it in a position that is parallel to the ground. This way I’m looking down and people don’t think I’m fiddling with my camera and not looking at them or taking their photo. (Besides, now it’s very common to see someone in the street with their head down messing with their phone and/or texting, so people tend to ignore me.)

    Also, you advice about wide angle lenses is right on. It’s very counter-intuitive. I thought being far away and zooming in would keep me unnoticed, but the opposite is true – it’s the wide angle that keeps you anonymous. You’re so close people tend to think you’re taking a photo of something behind them.

    • Rob-L

      That second sentence shouln’t have the word “don’t” in it. Sorry!

  • Geoff Smith

    All great tips, Eric. Thanks!

  • http://pbg.lt pbg

    my 2 cents would be: don’t look into your subject’s eyes after you shot him/her. this tells that you were not shooting them, but somebody or something behind and they won’t come up yelling :)

    • Kevin Shelley

      A top tip of mine would be, if your subject is moving, keep framing the same ‘scene’ after you’ve taken the shot and after they’ve walked passed a bit. Then they’ll think your shooting something else. :)

      Oh yeah and as said previously, don’t look at them afterwards or your cover will be blown.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/boliston/ Adrian Boliston

    I use a D700 & 35mm f/2D prime. The 35mm is FAR better for street than the 50mm f/1.4G that I got originally with the D700. I might also get the 28mm f/2.8D lens as I really like the wider view seen on street shots taken at 28mm (eg with the Olympus XA4).

    I mainly set the D700 to “P” mode and set the focus to about 2.5 metres, which works well as long as it’s sunny or brightly overcast, as the aperture mainly hovers around f/8 or f/11.

    I leave auto ISO on and set a minimum shutter of 1/125s, so if I go somewhere darker I don’t have to worry about fiddling about manually setting the ISO. I sometimes use autofocus when it’s darker, or manually focus, as scale focus only really works at f/8 and above.

    Agree with the tip on covering the big “Nikon” logo. Finally a Blackrapid RS7 strap is worth considering – I would not be without mine!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Slade/686750540 Jeff Slade

      I hava a Canon 5d and the full frame sensor means the 50mm is the standard lens…It is ideal for street work as there is no distortion and the distance from subject is comfortable but close…Canon 50mm f1.8 is a really cheap but quality lens too…

      • Leonard Washington

        And 35mm is a classic… 35mm to 28mm is ideal for me on full frame. 12mm on ep3 amazing street photography lens

  • http://1 Edward

    This has to be one of my favorite articles you have done. I was told from some one always remember Sunny 16 (f/16) for a nice sunny day. I also picked up those set of dog tags to remind me (IPA) in Singapore. Your detailed explanation of f stops ISO settings and shutter speeds will be a great help to all. Keep up the great work.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Anytime Edward, I will try to continue giving practical tips :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Slade/686750540 Jeff Slade

      I would hardly ever shoot at f16 unless I wanted the background detail to be intrinsic to the frame…I rarely shoot above f2.8 with a low asa…Compress the depth of field and isolate your key subject from the surroundins unless the background is a key feature of the picture…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Slade/686750540 Jeff Slade

      I would hardly ever shoot at f16 unless I wanted the background detail to be intrinsic to the frame…I rarely shoot above f2.8 with a low asa…Compress the depth of field and isolate your key subject from the surroundins unless the background is a key feature of the picture…

  • http://www.tipixs.com Professional wedding photographer

    Wonderful post. A picture is worth than thousands words. Photography is indeed the best way to express your feelings and depicts the era. I love photography and look over the web for finding useful stuff for the same. I came across your blog and after subscribing in my feeder I hope you will keep on the good posts like this continuously. Thanks You

  • Dehrk

    I love my CSLR glidestrap. One of the best pieces of photography gear I own.

  • Geoff Smith

    Hey Eric, great tips, but I have a question. What specifically do you look for in people when you’re shooting street photography? Do you look for interesting faces? The scene as a whole? Backgrounds? What makes a street photo worth taking? Sorry, probably not an easy question to answer.

    Thanks.

  • http://fotoface.eu Foto Face

    Very nice tips mate.Cheers!!!

  • http://www.inzain.org Ints

    Cover up your logos:)
    I think this really works… after I did so I’ve noticed that much less people are staring me when I walk on the street, camera hanging around my neck.

  • MDanielski

    totally agree with you on the dslr strap topic. I’m using BlackRapid’s RS-7, it’s fantastic!

  • MDanielski

    totally agree with you on the dslr strap topic. I’m using BlackRapid’s RS-7, it’s fantastic!

  • Cukizenkrim

    Well, not all film photographers are hobbyists. I use film rangefinders and cute plastic cameras to get excellent street photos.
    To contribute to this post, I would recommend not taking your eyes off the finder after you’ve taken a shot and looking at the LCD. Just act like you are looking for a shot even after you’ve taken a photo. Makes people less suspicious. In dark environments, turning off the LCD is important because of the above reason.

  • Claire

    Learning, learning and learning some more…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rene-N-Fuller/685576883 Rene N. Fuller

    The strap is the single most important issue in Street photography. I have a Blackrapid and it is amazing! In adition to it’s qualities mentioned, it allows me to take pictures “from the hip” so to speak. My camera has a vertical grip, so when it hangs upside down on my side I can snap pictures without even bringing the camera to my eye, hence without wasting precious moments. The vertical grip places the “trigger” right into my hand. Sure I have to change the orientation in PP and not many of the photos come out right, some without any recognizable subject in it; but the ones that do come out right are amazing.
    Prime lenses are a must, the faster the better. I have a 50/f1.7. F1.7 is the upper limit for me. I am on the hunt for a fast 35mm prime lens now. I use manual focus lenses, M42 a.k.a the “Pentax screw mount” lenses.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Agree wholeheartedly

  • jose-18

    for you eric

  • noel

    Erick, your black and whites are striking…especially #1, #3 & $4. What’s your process in converting your photos to black and white? Thanks!

  • duke

    hi,
    i’m trying to learn street photography.most of the videos and articles i’ve read about street photography is that the photographer is using lens hood.
    my question, is lens hood really important?
    i got canon 450D and 50mm f/1.8 lens with no hood.
    hope you can give me more tips. thank you

    have a great day

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  • G Patrescu

    nice share …. street photography is photgraphing the various mood … let me share article about reactions that may encountered by people, that extremely improve the quality and mood of your street photography. take a look here : http://photograpyreview.blogspot.com/2011/12/street-photography-amateur-beginers.html

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  • http://twitter.com/casadresden Juliette

    Hi there – I took the advice of bumping up my ISO on my Olympus EP2 (17mm pancake lens) to about 800 on a mostly sunny day. To my dismay, I got my images home and in Lightroom I was disappointed. The mild treatments that I apply (for example, adding exposure to darker areas) made that area of the subject extremely noisy. I felt like I didn’t have as much control – though what I do post-prod/LR is minimal.

    Thankfully, I shot half film, half digital, so it wasn’t too bad.

    I’ve only shot about 6 months with the EP2 and never kicked up the ISO this much before. While I felt like everything was in better focus, it killed me on post production.

    Is there anyone else out there shooting with an EP2 who can comment?

    • Ponhovo

      I don’t have a EP2, but I think you should try Auto ISO. Set a upper limit if you have to.
      Also, maybe the aperture was too large. Hope it helps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.mortimore Michael Mortimore

    What about auto ISO? On the D7000, I find it works well (didn’t like it so much on my SX110). As I’d use Eric’s recommended settings – aperture priority, set at f16, min shutter at 320 (though normally I don’t set it that high) and iso range 100-6400. Personally I find easier to use than the P mode. I control depth of field on the front dial and exposure compensation on the back and it’ll work in a wide range of light conditions.

    • http://www.davidksutton.com/ David K. Sutton

      As someone who also shoots with the D7000 (but this obviously applies beyond this single model) I recommend auto ISO for this purpose. It allows you to lock in a minimum (fast) shutter speed to compensate for motion, lock in your aperture, and let’s the camera do the work on figuring out the ISO. And with the D7000 or similar camera, you still get a great image even at 3200 or 6400 ISO.

  • Johnny

    You’re an idiot. Just stop writing. Why would u not use AF and why the hell would u need to cover up your logos?

  • Jon

    How do you get a shutter speed of 320ths at f/8 and ISO 1600? At the settings you suggest there is no way I can get that sort of shutter speed. Best i can get is 120th !!

  • charlie

    be nice if all the photos were up…

  • Aalok

    I personally do not think the last one to be of any value,it doesn’t make sense to me…………

  • fake

    amazing idea. to cover up the logos. fantastic. thankyou

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  • ponhovo

    Following what pbg tells, I tend to wait my subject to pass, then shoot. If I get to go around and ahead to take the picture on the front, I shoot, and keep looking through the viewfinder waiting for them to pass, like I was shotting something behind. Also, about covering the logos, I wish there was custom logos or other brand logos selling for the purpose of swapping the camera brand hehehe

  • Cesar

    To make you quit chimping you could switch off the image preview function (on my Nikon D700 anyways). Or if you have a flip screen: flip it over.

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