25 Essential Street Photography Tips and Techniques

1. Long distance flash

Shoot from a longer distance, around 5 meters, and use a flash.

Some of these shots with film LEICA MP+ 35mm, at f8, Leica SF20, Kodak Portra 400, with flash on full power.

2. URBAN LANDSCAPES: Street photography without people

Show humanity, without including people.

3. Hand gestures

Show emotions via hand gestures.

Jazz hands. Hollywood, 2011
Jazz hands. Hollywood, 2011

4. Eye contact

Eyes are the windows to the soul.

5. Street portraits with permission

Engage with your subject, and ask them to make a portrait of them.

6. Decapitation Technique

Chop off the heads or eyes of your subject, to add more mystery.

7. Photograph kids

8. Make happy photos of people smiling

Don’t think all your photos need to be super serious. Smile.

Lady with hat. Santa Monica, 2011
Lady with hat. Santa Monica, 2011
Woman in elevator. Chicago. 2013
Woman in elevator. Chicago. 2013

Woman in elevator. Chicago. 2013
Woman in elevator. Chicago. 2013

9. Shoot head on

How to shoot head on, from my friend Charlie Kirk. The “cut off technique”. Start as red in bottom left, and walk in front of people (white star) when you shoot. And keep moving. Your incoming subject outlined in yellow.
How to shoot head on, from my friend Charlie Kirk. The “cut off technique”. Start as red in bottom left, and walk in front of people (white star) when you shoot. And keep moving. Your incoming subject outlined in yellow.

Use a wide-angle lens like a 28mm and don’t shoot from the side. Rather, shoot head on.

Shot head on with the “cutoff technique”

10. “The cherry on top”

Girl with pigeon shadow. Paris, 2011
Girl with pigeon shadow. Paris, 2011. The cherry on top is the pigeon shadow in the background.

Find one detail in your photo that makes the photo more interesting to look at.

Superman mural. Superman posing is the cherry on top.
Superman mural. Superman posing is the cherry on top.
Red dot on the suit in London metro. Cherry on top is the red dot.
Red dot on the suit in London metro. Cherry on top is the red dot.

11. Shooting from the side (oblique angle)

These photos aren’t shot head on, but a little from the side. Crouch down while shooting these photos, to be less intrusive.

Hong Kong man with phone. 2013
Hong Kong man with phone. 2013

12. Shoot indoors

Dancing drunk suits at bar. Tokyo, 2011
Dancing drunk suits at bar. Tokyo, 2011

Don’t limit yourself to the streets. Shoot coffee shops, restaurants, or stores.

Man and woman having dinner with orange wall. NYC, 2015
Man and woman having dinner with orange wall. NYC, 2015
Man taking a nap inside Hong Kong mall.
Man taking a nap inside Hong Kong mall.
Man and woman inside restaurant. Kyoto. 2014
Man and woman inside restaurant. Kyoto. 2014
Suit and urinal. Bathroom.
Suit and urinal. Bathroom.
Kissing couple, from inside Hong Kong mall.
Kissing couple, from inside Hong Kong mall.

13. Shoot subways or public transportation

Suits in Tokyo metro.
Suits in Tokyo metro.
Blurry man in Tokyo, in subway.
Blurry man in Tokyo, in subway.

14. Shoot through glass with a flash

This will reduce reflections, and cause your subject to pop out.

Or don’t use a flash, just shoot through the glass and see what happens.

Suit eating sandwich, Chicago. No flash.
Suit eating sandwich, Chicago. No flash.

15. Shoot hotel lobbies

Man in suit in San Diego hotel lobby. He owned the hotel.
Man in suit in San Diego hotel lobby. He owned the hotel.

You will find interesting scenes in hotel lobbies.

Hotel room lobby. Istanbul, 2014
Hotel room lobby. Istanbul, 2014

16. Make social/political/economic critique and commentary through your photos

Be opinionated about politics, social inequality, wealth, or your economic views with your photos.

eric kim car layers mexican man americans
Man selling flowers in Los Angeles

17. Layers and depth

Suits depth. Bookend in far left, and man in center.

Don’t just shoot one subject. Get very close, fill the frame, and have a foreground, middle ground, and background.

Downtown LA, 2015
Layers of people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017
Layers of people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017
Depth New York street photo, 2015
Depth New York street photo, 2015
Downtown LA, 2016

18. Weird juxtapositions

Why is there a security camera in the desert?
Why is there a security camera in the desert?

Create a weird image, comparing different uncanny, or uncommon combinations of stuff next to one another.

Backdoor to the universe?
Backdoor to the universe?
Why does the mannequin on the left look so real?
Why does the mannequin on the left look so real?
Julian Assange and kim Jung il. Where do the legs come from? Zurich.
Julian Assange and kim Jung il. Where do the legs come from? Zurich.
Taxi cab in Mumbai.
Taxi cab in Mumbai.

19. Atmosphere/mood

Smoke with flash. The smoke adds to the mood.
Smoke with flash. The smoke adds to the mood.

Transport your viewer into a new atmosphere or mood. Use flash, smoke, fog.

Fog. Sapa, Vietnam
Fog. Sapa, Vietnam

Or shoot a photo in color, that looks like a scene from a film. Shoot at the beach.

Marseille man at beach. Mood of the azure blue ocean. Kodak Portra 400 Film adds the mood.
Marseille man at beach. Mood of the azure blue ocean. Kodak Portra 400 Film adds the mood.

20. Dodging and burning

Dramatic picture of Hanoi woman. Background darkened, and her face and eyes brightened for dramatic effect.
Dramatic picture of Hanoi woman. Background darkened, and her face and eyes brightened for dramatic effect.

Dodge (brighten) and burn (darken) parts of your frame using the adjustment brush in Lightroom, and reduce and increase exposure on certain parts of your frame to add more drama to the scene.

NYC, 2016. I darkened (burned) the left of the frame, to add more attention to her face.
NYC, 2016. I darkened (burned) the left of the frame, to add more attention to her face.
Hands. Paris, 2015
Hands. Paris, 2015. Shot with a flash, and background darkened with burning adjustment brush.
Hands of a 92 year old woman. Hanoi, 2017
Hands of a 92 year old woman. Hanoi, 2017. Shot with flash. Background darkened more, with adjustment brush in Lightroom.

21. Minus exposure compensation

Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.
Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.

For dramatic effect with dark shadows, and better exposure, shoot with -1 or -2 exposure compensation.

contact sheet side tattoo eric kim
Note how I worked the scene, to get the man to have the dramatic light on his face.
Red shirt and green background. Low perspective shot. New Orleans, woman and deer.
Red shirt and green background. Low perspective shot. New Orleans, woman and deer. Shot at -1 exposure compensation on RICOH GR II

22. Blur/movement

Either shoot with a flash with a slow flash (1/15th of a second), or shoot without flash.

Man with face mask in Seoul. Shot with flash at 1/15th of a second
Man with face mask in Seoul. Shot with flash at 1/15th of a second
Grimace dog. Paris, 2011
Grimace dog. Paris, 2011, shot without a flash, blur.
Jazz man with trumpet and light trails. Shot with flash at 1/15th of a second
Jazz man with trumpet and light trails. Shot with flash at 1/15th of a second
Woman with pink leggings. Shot with flash with slow sync speed (1/15th second)
Woman with pink leggings. Shot with flash with slow sync speed (1/15th second)

More movement will add more dynamism to your photos.

Blurred woman photograph in Tokyo.

23. The decisive moment

Kissing Paris couple

A wonderful moment, like a kiss, embrace, or something tender between two people.

Old couple peck on cheek. Paris.
Old couple peck on cheek. Paris.

Decisive moment means to see a good moment, and be fast enough to capture it.

24. Shoot your subjects as silhouettes

Silhouette of man, rooftop bar in Hanoi.
Silhouette of man, rooftop bar in Hanoi.

Shoot with the light behind your subject, or use -1 or -2 exposure compensation to create mystery with the silhouette of your subject.

Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017
Silhouette of woman behind door. Hanoi, 2017
Silhouette suit man. Street photograph in Tokyo, 2011
Silhouette suit man. Street photograph in Tokyo, 2011
Simple figure to ground composition. Man in silhouette in black in top left of frame against white sky.
Simple figure to ground composition. Man in silhouette in black in top left of frame against white sky.
The conductor. Silhouette at Walt Disney hall at fountain
The conductor. Silhouette at Walt Disney hall at fountain

25. Show your own soul in your own street photographs

Ultimately, your street photos are about you — not your subject. Reveal your own soul through your photos, by engaging with your subjects, talking with them, and also choosing subject matter which reveals who you are.

Eric Rivera with cigar
Eric Rivera with cigar

eric kim street photography hanoi-0004960 laughing lady

Laughing man in Paris. 2015.
Laughing man in Paris. 2015.
Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.
Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.
Woman laughing. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z
Woman laughing, NYC 2017

Laughing lady eric kim. NYC, 2015

Laughing old people. Tokyo, 2017
Laughing old people. Tokyo, 2017

Conclusion

Mad men. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z

Define street photography for you, never stop exploring. Shoot with joy and fun, like a child.

No rules, no regulations. Only tips, and different techniques for exploring the streets with your camera.

ERIC


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