Hanoi, 2017
Hanoi, 2017

Practical street photography tips to get you going!

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Find an interesting situation (like a “sad” looking person against a background where people look excited), and get close to fill the frame, and include both these elements in the frame.

To do this, get close, and pretend like you’re shooting the background, and keep “working the scene”:

Get close/use macro mode

When shooting street portraits, get close, interact with your subjects, ask for permission, smile, and GET CLOSE // very close (if your camera has a macro function).

For example, here are some photos I shot with the Lumix G9 pro and Leica 12mm f/1.4 Lens:

By getting super close, you can create more dynamic compositions. As a fun compositional technique in street photography, only include the eyes of your subject.

If your camera doesn’t do close-focus, perhaps try to experiment using your phone, or getting a lens which has a close-up macro function.

Switch up your orientation between horizontal/vertical

You never know whether a vertical or horizontal orientation will work best in your photos. My suggestion: Shoot both orientations while you’re “working the scene”:

Then when you get home, you can choose your favorite photo.

Ask your subject to pose for you

When you see an interesting subject, ask them to pose for you. For folks with tattoos, ask them to show more of their tattoos, and ask them to move around their hands in their face. For example, this surreal photo of the man with his kiss tattoo on his hand (covering his mouth): I thought it might be interesting, and I asked him to do it:

Kiss on mouth. Tokyo, 2018

You can see the different angles/types of photos I shot of him (some not showing his face).

Here is also the YouTube video of me shooting this man with the neck tattoo:

Other orientations of the portrait:

Video camera technique

Man covering his mouth with a cloth and reading a book inside Cafe Veloce Coffee shop in Tokyo, 2018

A good technique to use in street photography is the ‘video camera technique’: hold your camera up, and steadily keep taking photographs (no sudden movements). Pretend you’re shooting a video, when in reality you are actually shooting still photos of your subject.

This is why the psychology of this technique works: When you’re shooting a video, your subjects assume you’re photographing/recording something else. They don’t feel as uncomfortable, because the video isn’t directed at them.

So as an experiment, walk on the streets with your eyes glued to your viewfinder, and keep walking slowly, and shooting. Or you can use the LCD screen on your camera, and don’t make eye contact with your subjects while you’re shooting on the streets.

This strategy works especially well when you’re shooting photographs indoors (indoor street photography).

Work the scene

You never know when you will make a good street photograph. Therefore you must take a lot of photos of the scene to even get 1 good photo!

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheet

If you study “contact sheets“, you will discover that a lot of photographers don’t know what will be their best photograph until after they’ve shot it.

Which means,

When you see an interesting situation in photography, take a lot of photos (100+ whenever possible), and when you go home and review your photos in Lightroom, choose your 1 favorite photograph afterwards.

See how many pictures HCB shot of the scene. Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Final Picture – Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

There is a nice Henri Cartier-Bresson quote I like:

“Sometimes you must milk the cow a lot to get a little cheese.”

And sometimes in a given scene, you might have more than 1 good photograph:

Maybe picture – Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson : Magnum Photos

How do you know which photograph is best? You can of course choose several photographs of the same scene to share (if you want), but if you want to identify your best photograph, here are some tips:

  1. Follow your gut: If the photograph immediately punches you in the gut, it is a good photograph.
  2. Judge the composition of the photo: Ask yourself, is the composition dynamic (yet simple?)
  3. Can you see your own soul in your photo? Which means– what does the photograph show about yourself? How does this photograph show your perspective of life? Does this photograph show your optimism and love of life? What does the photo show about yourself?

Shoot in hotels

Man bowing at Aman Hotel. Tokyo, 2018

(Above is a photograph of a man bowing at me, and I shot the photograph while the doors were closing in the elevator).

Don’t just shoot on the streets. Visit nice hotels– it is free to visit the hotel lobby. Pretend to be a guest of the hotel and take photos inside the lobby! Pretend to be a lost tourist, and smile a lot!

Peek inside restaurants/bars/coffee shops

Salarymen in bar. Asakusa, Tokyo 2018

Don’t be nervous when you are walking on the streets and you see interesting stores, bars, or restaurants. My suggestion: peek your head inside, and snap a few photos.

For example in the streets of Tokyo I saw a scene while walking on the streets: a bunch of salarymen in a small izakaya. I got close, and took several photographs (even though I felt nervous):

Use tactful flattery

Man in hotel lobby. Tokyo, 2018

I was walking out of my hotel in Tokyo, and I saw this man chilling in the hotel lobby. Without thinking, I approached him and started to click. I was smiling, laughing, and called him: “HANDSOME!”

Tactful flattery is a good strategy, by telling people why you like their outfit, why you wanted to shoot them.

Mad men. NYC, 2018

For example, when I was in NYC, I saw this man who looked like ‘mad men’. I started to chat with him, and compliment him on his look. I told him, “You look like that guy in MAD MEN!” He laughed and said, “Yeah that makes sense, because I work in advertising!” I think my giving him flattery is what made him look more confident/cocky in this photograph; and I like the mood of this photograph.

When you see interesting people or you see street portraits you want to photograph (here is a PDF link to my street portrait manual you should approach them and tell them what you find interesting/beautiful about them. This will make your subject feel more comfortable when being photographed.

Photograph at crosswalks, and hold your camera very high in the air and point downwards

When waiting at a crosswalk or stop light, use the LCD screen on your camera, and hold your camera super high in the air, and shoot pointing downwards. This will help simplify your background, and add more dynamic lines in your background.

Kyoto, 2018

You can see the technique in action here:

Learn more here: The 360 Degree Technique and Holding Your Camera High in the Air and Point Downwards with LCD Screen Street Photography Techniques


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