6 Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography with a DSLR

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.

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