Category: Tips and Advice
10 Tips for Successful Street Photography

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The essence of Street photography is about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. You can find opportunities to practice street photography everywhere and you don’t necessarily need to travel to capture great shots. It’s a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject’s knowledge. However, street photography doesn’t rule out staged pictures. You may spot an interesting character that catches your vision; you can wander up to strangers and ask for permission to take their picture. This is a great way to get a more intimate portrait of someone in his or her environment.

 The most important thing with street photography is to have fun and enjoy getting out with your camera. Remember your goal is to capture emotion, humanity, and depict a person’s character. It takes time to get your shot, but with some practice and patience it is rewarding.

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Choosing the best lens

Deciding what lens to use is one of the most important factors for street photography. You may be tempted to use a telephoto lens, however that’s more than likely to result in more harm than good. You don’t want to be that creepy person standing across the road aiming a giant lens at strangers. If you want to look inconspicuous you’re going to need to get up close and amongst the action. Use a wide-angle lens and get lost in a busy crowd. Many street photographers choose a compact camera that’s less confronting than a large DSLR, the advantages being smaller, lightweight, and discreet.

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Camera settings

The quickest and easiest way to setup your camera for street photography is by switching the camera to AV (aperture-priority mode) and selecting your f-stop (aperture) and ISO manually. The camera will then decide the shutter speed (exposure). On a bright sunny day a good place to start is around f/16 with an ISO between 200-400. If your camera displays a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are ready to roll. Take note of the shutter speed your camera is reading and make adjustments to aperture and ISO accordingly. If your camera is giving you a shutter speed that is below 1/80th you run the risk of a blurred shot, but that could be used for good effect too. To overcome blur simply increase your ISO and/or choose a wider aperture.

If you’re new to photography you can always set camera to P mode (program or auto) and let the camera select the correct settings. You can still adjust the EV if you want to over or under expose the shot to your liking.

This is useful if you are shooting run and gun (in a hurry with no time to think), but you have little control over what the camera is doing, so this isn’t always the best option. Program mode does a pretty decent job but I wouldn’t rely on it in low light where there’s a high possibility your shutter speed will be too slow to freeze the action.

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Get close to your subjects

Using a wide-angle lens enables you to get nice and close to your subjects. The advantage of the wide angle gives the viewer a sense of being there in the moment. You’ll also blend in with the crowd as part of the environment, rather than standing out across the street with a long lens.

Many successful street photos were taken only few meters from the action and sometimes only centimeters away. Walking through a busy street, market or park can result in some rewarding pictures if you are observant and keep your eyes open for interesting subjects. If your images aren’t how you visualised them then you may need to get closer, so use your feet as your zoom to be sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

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Take your camera everywhere


Street photography is spontaneous and waits for no-one. It’s a discipline you must practice to make perfect. Your camera is an extension of yourself, it’s your gateway to sharing your vision with the world and you don’t want to miss an amazing photo opportunity by not having your camera on you. If you’re serious about street photography you will have your camera within reach at all times.

This is known as the ‘decisive moment’ where you have only a split second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever. You rarely get a second chance so be prepared.

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Ignore the voice in your mind

Some people struggle with the idea of street photography. Some concerns may be the fear about your subjects getting angry because you took their picture, threaten you with physical violence, or even worse call the police. Fear is simply false evidence appearing real. These are all common fears, but it’s possible to overcome by practicing and getting out more with your camera. Here are some suggestions to overcome your concerns.

Find an interesting spot to sit with your camera. I spend a lot of time at cafes and restaurants when I travel, my camera ready for any opportunities. Observing from a comfortable setting you’ll feel at ease and can wait for pictures to come to you. You are less likely to be noticed sitting outside a café with your camera than what you would be standing in the middle of the street.

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Tune out and listen to your iPod while you are out walking with your camera. Music is somewhat of a distraction that can help relax and inspire creativity. It may not sound logical but it works wonders and if it means you’re comfortable in your surrounds than it’s worth a shot. [I don’t suggest doing this at night, in uncrowded or unfamiliar places! Always be aware of your surroundings.]

 

Shoot from the hip

As a general rule of street photography, if you can get the shot with the camera to your eye, you will get a better shot. However, there are times when it’s not possible to raise the camera to your eye, and so shooting from the hip is a useful method of capturing a decisive moment. When I first started shooting on the street I found it difficult holding my camera to my eye and pointing it towards strangers, so I started holding the camera by my hip to capture more candid pictures. At first I wasn’t successful, but the more familiar I became with my camera and the focal length I managed to capture some great candid moments.

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Shoot at night

Night photography in the city is a great opportunity for unique images. It’s not as easy as shooting during the day; you will need to be mindful of low shutters speeds to avoid blur and use your ISO and aperture to compensate for low light.

Take a tripod with you if you plan on doing long exposures. Alternatively, using a fast aperture lens will enable you to shoot low-light scenes and still freeze the action. When shooting at night try finding interesting lines, shadows and compositions to give the image a bold visual statement. Silhouetted subjects are interesting and can create nice compositions with the shadow filling the foreground.

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Think outside the box

Powerful ideas and emotions can be portrayed through the simplest of scenes. Most people wrongly associate street photography with people or portraits on the street. You don’t always need people in frame, or capturing interesting juxtapositions or fitting as many different people or objects into frame. It may be difficult in some busy places, but take a walk down a quiet alleyway or side street and look for different subjects that interest you. There are infinite opportunities for all kinds of images with or without people. While in Vietnam I spent time wandering the streets photographing bicycles, which I have turned into a small series titled ‘Transportation’, that has been quite popular among the photo community. This was unintentional, but by doing something different I discovered a series that I may not have explored otherwise.

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Image quality isn’t everything

Some photographers may disagree with me here, but from my personal experience, shooting on the street I haven’t been concerned with image quality as much as I am when shooting landscapes or commercial work. Yes, you should strive for high image quality when possible, however, with street photography it’s not as important. In my opinion, composition, light, drama and the story you are trying to tell are of more important than image quality. If your images capture those four things than you’re on the right path to becoming a great street shooter.

Sharpness, low noise and immaculate image quality are worthless if you have poor composition, bad light and no atmosphere to tell a story. Focus on what’s important, that’s essentially what makes a great street image.

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Most importantly have fun

Like all genres of photography it’s important to enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy. If shooting on the street doesn’t sound like your kind of thing then chances are you’ll probably take ordinary images. Creativity flows where the passion lives, so do what makes you happy, not what other people expect to see. I love shooting street because it gets me out and about, meeting interesting people and seeing everyday life from a fresh perspective. That’s what inspires me to do what I do.

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Conclusion

Street photography requires practice and the more you get out there, the more your eye will develop and your confidence grow. The approach is much simpler than other genres and manipulation should be kept to the essentials, with minimal to no post-processing. The only manipulation I tend to do with my street photography is done through the camera viewfinder. 

Perception and intuition are the most important factors. Perception requires a creative eye for detail and is an attentive effort. Intuition is immediate and is not duty-bound to any attentive reasoning. These two factors are combined to create the decisive moment, an amazing process that takes your images to the next level. Because of this process, it’s here in the moment that street photography is captured and expressed. 

Strong street photos come from powerful ideas and emotions captured in a simplistic manner. It comes down to perception to force yourself out with your camera to capture decisive moments that unfold in front of you.

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Capturing The Essence of the Rainforest

Australia is home to some of the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world. These protected environments are often the highlight of many international visitors who travel thousands of kilometers to experience the unique flora and fauna. The best part about these geological wonders is that there’s always something new to discover and they make ultimate subjects for nature photographers. Over the years I’ve developed a strong connection for these natural environments and happily say some of my best work has come from countless hours of trekking through these lush environments in search of those raw and beautiful moments.

Best Time to Photograph

Photographing in the rainforest is all about timing, ultimately it’s best to be in forest is when it’s overcast or raining. It’s a common mistake to assume clear skies and sunshine are the best time, but this is often not the case. On an overcast day the clouds act as giant diffuser softening the light which helps prevent harsh highlights and shadows. If there’s moisture in the air you’ll most likely find mist enveloping the forest, which is ideal for capturing those atmospheric shots. Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to be in the forest when it’s overcast/raining. If you are holidaying you may not get the conditions you had hoped for. As a general rule of thumb it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning when the light is low and the air is cooler. This will give you a better opportunity to capture something more subdued without the distractions of harsh light and shadows and mist will only add to the atmosphere.

Choosing Your Lenses

Wide-angle zoom lenses have several advantages in the rainforest. Firstly, they exaggerate a sense of perspective, which can help give the viewer a sense of being in the middle of forest. Another advantage is the ability to capture everything in frame. This is great when shooting from a low angle looking up at the canopy for example. The downside is the wide-angle distortion on the edges of the picture. Trees can sometimes appear like they are falling into frame. You can make this work in your favour if you have a strong enough focal point in the centre. Trees or people standing in the center of frame make great subjects when photographing from low angles, giving an un-deniably surreal feeling to the image.

Another useful lens I like to use is a telephoto (I use a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM). This a great lens for capturing wildlife, getting up close and personal to wildlife or for capturing an image from a point that may be inaccessible by foot. Keep in mind 200mm isn’t quite long enough for serious wildlife photography, at least not on a full frame sensor. If you are serious about shooting wildlife then I recommend something in the 400mm-600mm range.

Macro photography opens up a whole new realm in the rainforest. We often forget to stop and look at what’s beneath our feet. Macro photography can be extremely rewarding in the forest and the best part is you don’t have to walk very far to find interesting subjects – get down low and observe the miniature world. Mind you don’t flatten a potential macro shot when you put your bag down or step on something tiny and beautiful. If you’re serious about macro photography then it’s a good idea to invest in some speedlites because the light can be challenging in the forest. This will make it easier to shoot fast moving insects in low light. Alternatively, a small LED torch can add enough fill light to get a great shot.

Use a Polarised Filter

A polarising filter is the most important piece of equipment apart from your camera and lens. Polarisers will help reduce the glare on water and saturate the green foliage to give your images more impact and eliminate unwanted distractions from your image. Even on a sunny day a polarised filter will dramatically improve your photos. Circular polarisers come in a wide variety of brands and sizes for different lenses and allow you to “dial” the intensity for best effect. Some popular brands are Hoya, B+W, Tiffen, Lee and Cokin.

Use a Tripod

An essential piece of equipment that every landscape photographer should have in their kit. It’s important you use your tripod in the rainforest because it’s often dark beneath the canopy when shooting at small apertures (f11 – f16), so handholding your camera isn’t always an option. By using a tripod you’ll be able to increase your exposure (slow your shutter speed down) while still capturing a sharp focused image from foreground to background. Trying to capture steady shots handheld with small apertures in low light is almost impossible unless you’ve got really steady hands or can brace the camera against something solid. For this reason I always carry a sturdy tripod, especially if the wind picks up and you are trying to take long exposures – you don’t want your camera to end up on the ground or in a river.

Photographing Waterfalls and Rivers

Water is the heart and soul of all rainforests and give photographers incredible opportunities for beautiful imagery. Standing amongst the forest with the tranquil sound of water gently flowing past is one of those timeless moments every nature photographer cherishes, so why not capture it’s serenity. Waterfalls and rivers can be tricky to photograph because it’s another element (water) to contend with to get a dynamic shot. Observe your surrounds – Where is the light falling? What foreground subjects grab you? How fast is the water moving? These are all factors to consider when shooting moving water. For best results plan to shoot on an overcast day where the light is diffused rather than dealing with direct sunlight.

A polarised filter will also help cut down the glare on the water and saturate the foliage to bring out those rich organic colours. If you are trying to achieve the silky smooth water effect use a smaller aperture (f11 – f16) and low ISO of 100, this will allow you to use a slower shutter speed. Anywhere between 1/5th to a few seconds will give you the desired effect. If the light is harsh then the use of a neutral density filter (ND filter) can help with getting long exposures to smooth out the water. Most people photograph rivers looking upstream, however you could try shooting downstream to capture the water flowing away from frame. You will want to capture clean lines, the curvature of the river as it snakes through the forest, rocks that pull the viewers eye towards a waterfall in the background or an overhanging tree branch framing your shot. Be creative and don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Make sure your tripod is firmly footed when placed in the river, slippery rocks and the force of the water could spell disaster!

Choosing Your Subjects

Rainforests are busy environments, cluttered and full of distractions. It can sometimes become overwhelming choosing your subjects to shoot. An over abundance of trees, foliage, roots, rocks, vines may make or break your shots. The old adage of less is more and composition is equally important as light. A great rainforest image requires balance and structure in order to make visual sense. You may already have an idea in your mind for the type of pictures you want to create. Scope the location and look for details that immediately catch your eye. Once you’ve found your subject study it from various angles to work out what works and then frame your composition. Keep in mind you’ll often be shooting at small apertures, which means your background will also be in focus.

It’s always nice have something interesting in the foreground that leads the viewer’s eyes into frame. My all time favourite rainforest picture was shot from the ground; literally on my stomach shooting up at the canopy with a dominant tree in the center of frame as my focal point. The background is very busy, however by finding a solid focal point I was able to draw attention away from the clutter in the background and focus on the foreground subject even at a small aperture.

Invest Time and Patience

Time is the most important investment you can make in getting great rainforest pictures. Your time begins the moment you make the decision to visit a new destination. It takes time researching new locations, time driving or hiking to get there and time taking the photo. You’ll want to figure out where the sun will rise and set to make the most of your time in the field. Perhaps you’ve found an interesting tree but the light is falling on the opposite side to where you had hoped to shoot – you can either recompose your shot or revisit when the lighting has changed angles. Often I’ll do both to get a different feeling of the same subject. Be patient, the forest has all the time in the world. That gigantic tree you want to photograph didn’t sprout up overnight. That’s the best part of photographing the natural world -Mother Nature is extremely patient. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded with something special, other times you may walk away empty handed with zero pictures. Find time to reflect and take in your surrounds.

Be prepared for the elements

You don’t need an expensive wet weather setup ~ raindrops, water falling from leaves and mist will all add to the moisture issue. Here are a couple of simple solutions to ensure your gear stays dry.

  • A large micro fibre cloth for wiping down the camera or lens which can be placed over the camera while it’s on the tripod if there are water droplets falling from the canopy. You’ll still be able to see the screen and body of the lens.
  • An extra large ziplock bag can be placed over the camera while still on the tripod if you’re walking and brushing past water laden trees.
  • If the ground is really wet or dirty, you can always hang your camera bag from the centre support of your tripod which adds stability as well.
  • Take care if using your tripod in water – the hollow legs can sometimes fill with water.

Cleaning Up

Your shoes, bag, knees, and tripod may be covered in dirt, leaf matter and compost from the forest floor. As we know, water is number one enemy of electronics and anything metal.

  • Make sure you allow time for internal moisture to dissipate when you get home and leave your camera out of it’s bag in a warm, dry environment.
  •  Check your tripod legs and latches for dirt and moisture, extend the legs and wipe down with a clean cloth. A little water dispersant spray on metal nuts and bolts, and then wiped down will prevent corrosion.

Don’t Worry About ‘Rules’

This would be the most important piece of advice I’ve learnt over the years as a photographer. How do you identify yourself as a photographer? What got you interested in photography? Firstly, not everyone will like what you do. There will always be someone who disagrees with what you are doing or how you achieve what you do. Don’t let this stop you from enjoying your craft. Do what you love and love what you do. Yes, there are certain guidelines to capturing great pictures, but these ‘rules’ aren’t mandatory to creating a successful shot. Take photos that express who you are for the things you are most passionate about. Most importantly – be yourself, no one else is better qualified – Own it!