The 5 Most Common Questions about Street Photography (and the answers)

Hey guys,

I thought about writing this blog post after receiving many questions regarding street photography. I saw it as a great opportunity to help clear up some misconceptions about street photography, as well as answer questions from many aspiring street photographers from around the world! If you have any other general questions, feel free to leave a comment below and have either me or some other street photographer from the community answer your question!

1. Do I need a model release form when shooting people in the streets?

"3 Men"- note that although the man's face is visible, he is not identifiable. Thus I do not need a model release for this if I wanted to sell this print. Also I have no restrictions in posting this online.

No. As long as a person is in a public area and not on private property, you are free to take their photo without having a model release form. However the tricky part is when it comes to selling images of people shot in public areas. If the photo you are selling clearly defines a person’s face, then you need a model release form.

Edit: In the US, you are allowed to sell a recognizable photo of someone on the street as a work of art. What you are not allowed to do is to sell it for commercial photography — that is to say, photos being used to sell a product. This would prevent the sale of photos of a recognizable person to (let’s say) a stock photo service, but not as a work of art, or photojournalistic purposes.

Relevant reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nussenzweig_v._DiCorcia

-Thanks Brandon!

(Note: This applies to the US–not sure about other places in the world. If you could chime in and leave a comment regarding anywhere else in the world, that would be awesome.)

2. What is the best camera/lens to use for street photography?

The Leica M9 Titanium is the best camera for street photography. Naw, just playing. It costs $26,500 USD (a street photographer could never afford this).

There is none. All the cameras out there have their own pros and cons, but the most important thing is actually taking the photos. However as a rule of thumb, the smaller your camera and wider your lens, the better. As I have heard online, “creepiness is directly proportional to focal length.”

I think that on a full-frame camera, 24-28mm or 35mm is ideal. Currently, I am shooting with my Canon 5D with my Canon 24mm f/2.8 and Canon 35mm f/2 lens. Both are relatively cheap, light, sharp, and non-threatening (compared to other massive zoom lenses). However as a note, many of the old masters of street photography such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau used rangefinders. For a break-down of the pros/cons of certain cameras for street photography, read more here.

3. What settings should I use when shooting street photography?

"Stilettos" - If my camera had not been in "P" mode when shooting this, no way I would have been able to get a manual exposure just in time to take this image. The woman noticed me a second after taking this shot.

Want to learn a secret? I mostly shoot in “P” mode with ISO 400 when I’m in the streets.

Wait what? Don’t only noobs shoot in “P” mode?

Hold up a second and let me explain myself. Shooting in “P” mode helps me concentrate on taking images, instead of fumbling around with my settings too much. If I need to change my exposure, I typically use the thumb wheel on the back of my 5D to either underexpose or overexpose my images quickly. I’m sure if I always shot in manual mode, I would have lost so many photo opportunities due to the fact that I might have not had the right settings at an unexpected time.

However when shooting in bright daylight, I like shooting at f/16, ISO 400, and 320ths of a second. Why? According to the Sunny 16 rule that many photographers used to use in the days of film, there are certain settings that are pretty “safe” in terms of getting a correct exposure.

Feel free to use any settings you are comfortable with when shooting in the streets, whether it be Av, P, M, or Tv mode. However generally I advise you to use a large depth-of-field when shooting from the hip to make sure that your subjects are in-focus.

4. Help! I feel awkward taking photos of people in the streets–what do I do?

"The Most Interesting Man in the World" - I saw this interesting man from afar, so I walked behind him, pointed the camera straight at him and took a photo. Surprisingly even after he noticed me taking his photo, he just casually looked away.

Don’t worry–all street photographers have felt that way in their lives at one point or another. Honestly the more you shoot, the less awkward it is going to be for you to shoot in public–especially of strangers. Have the mindset that you are not out there to be a creep, but that you are out there capturing the beauty of everyday life. And oh yeah if you’re wondering– I have only been approached twice by people in 4 years to not take their photo. That is a pretty damn low number, and I’m sure your experiences will be similar as well.

For further readings, read my guides on How NOT to Look like a Creep, as well as How to Overcome Your Fear of Shooting in Public.

5. How does one make money with street photography?

Shoot for the love of street photography, not the money.

Whoever is going into street photography for the money should perhaps look for another specialty. Most people who are passionate about street photography are not in it for the money, such as journalists around the world. Rather, it is about capturing the beauty in the mundane as well as feeling alive through the act of photography.

However that being said, you could make money selling prints or books. Although I am currently selling my prints to support my photographic endeavors, I can tell you that I am nowhere close to making enough money to buy a $26,500 Leica M9 Titanium.

What questions do you have about street photography? Leave a comment below and hopefully I or one of the other amazing street photographers in this community can answer your question!

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