Street Photography 101: Tips and Tricks for Capturing the Urban Life
December 22, 2023

Street Photography 101: Tips and Tricks for Capturing the Urban Life

Are you looking for that perfect snapshot of urban life at just the right moment? Finding that magical moment through your camera lens amongst the chaos of a city can be a challenge.

There are many factors to consider before setting out on your urban photography journey. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming, from choosing the right gear to the best lighting conditions for taking street photographs.

Here is a list of tips and tricks to help you get started with capturing the world, one street at time.

Street Photography

Choosing the right camera

Consider which camera would be best suited for your project. A mirrorless camera is lightweight and easy to carry around for a day of photography. However, a DSLR camera has the option of interchangeable lenses, allowing you to broaden your subject matter.

All things lighting

Have you heard of the ‘Golden Hour'? The golden hour refers to the hour before sunrise and after sunset. It provides the perfect lighting to capture your subject matter as the light is soft, making for stunning photographs. Natural light is that which emanates from the sun or moon. Harness natural lighting to elevate your photographs, adding mood and vibrancy to your images.

The lesser-known ‘Blue Hour exists in a small window twenty minutes before or after the sun sets. The sky turns a cool blue, which creates beautiful photos in contrast to distant city lights.

Nighttime city shots can be challenging, so setting your camera’s white balance is crucial for capturing the perfect photo. For beginners, use the auto-white balance setting to produce those exquisite city snaps at night.

Using color

Urban environments are often neutral and feature lots of industrial materials. This creates situations where pops of natural color can be arresting to the eye. Look out for that pop of green from trees or that fashionable individual in a sea of formal businessmen.

However, while color is wonderful, choosing to shoot in black and white (monochromatic) can be a statement of its own and less distracting.

Know your camera settings

Familiarize yourself with your camera's settings and modes. Slowing your shutter speed helps you to snap those action shots. 

ISO settings assist in adjusting your camera for light sensitivity For example, low-value ISO settings such as ISO100 are great for sunny daytime shoots, whereas ISO values of 1600 and up are good for nighttime shoots. Aperture settings determine how much light enters your camera, but will also create depth of field through the blurriness of an image.

A balance of shutter speed, ISO settings and aperture will help you perfect your images and capture those spontaneous moments.

Selecting the right lens

Opting for the right lens is crucial when photographing different subjects. A 35mm or 50mm lens is great for candid shots. While a wide-angle lens (16mm - 28mm) will capture those urban landscapes and their surroundings.

These lenses are lightweight, meaning you don’t have to carry a lot of weight around with you as you run around the city. Consider using a 50mm lens due to its versatility. This will limit the time spent on changing lenses, allowing you to focus on snapping a flawless photo.

Wait for the right moment

Getting the perfect shot requires patience. Let the action unfold and allow the moment to develop in front of you. An unscripted moment can never be created again and can often be awe-inspiring and original.

Blend into the scene

Taking the perfect snap can be a challenge in a crowded place. Especially when people notice you’re wielding a camera. Being inconspicuous and blending in with the environment is important to allow for those candid moments to unfold.

Capturing these moments can be difficult. Be discreet and keep your camera out of sight to snap that authentic off-the-cuff moment.

Tell a story

Integrating with local communities and connecting with your subject could add to your storytelling abilities. Tell them your purpose and why you are taking photographs. By sharing, people will tend to open up to you. Taking time to learn about your subjects’ lived experiences allows you to tell their stories through your images better.

Building a narrative through a series of photographs about a place or subject can enhance your portfolio of work by adding depth and meaning, engaging your target audience.

Everyone loves a good story!

Detailing

Snap those details and be on the lookout for textures, facial expressions, or unique objects that will enhance your images. Details can evoke feelings in people, further connecting them with your images.

Study the environment you’re in. Knowing the city will help you quickly identify its quirks and features and allow you to capture its unique moments and sites.

Scale

Adding scale to photographs can add a dramatic feeling to an image. Use people as a measure of a large building or statue that you might be photographing. This gives the viewer a feel for the actual size of the subject matter.

Respect and privacy

Not everyone is willing to be photographed, and being mindful of this is important. If someone is uncomfortable with their picture being taken, respect their choice and don’t photograph them.

Practice

In the words of Henri Cartier Basson, “your first 1,000 photographs are your worst.

Like any skill, it’s important to practice. Experiment with different angles, vantage points and device settings. Take photographs at different times of day, swapping out lenses for each subject. Let your camera become an extension of your artistic eye.

To showcase your work, create an online portfolio that you can share with the world. Keep updating your portfolio as you progress, archiving old images and adding new ones. You can also share your wins and learns with fellow photographers and immerse yourself in the scene by networking and attending photography events. Or join a photography community where you can receive constructive feedback and share ideas with other experts.

Get Those Urban-Style Shots

Integrating these tips and tricks will help you to become a well-rounded photographer in urban environments.

Remember to practice in all conditions, experimenting with your camera's modes and settings to execute that memorable shot. The more you practice, the more you will begin to master your camera and understand different lighting conditions, giving you more time to focus on capturing that quintessential street style you’re going for.