Complete Guide to Street Photography


Urban photography has always been and will always be the most accessible genre. The most interesting thing about street photography is its unpredictability. You leave the house and you don't know what you're going to come back with. 

For creativity,  photographers need an interest in the world around them and a camera. Where to look for subjects? How to catch sincere emotions and stay unnoticed? What weather is good for a street photographer? 

Read the answers to these and many other questions in our article. In this comprehensive article, we'll help you learn more about street photography. We'll tell you what you need to think about, including equipment, ethics, and even legality. This is the best guide to street photography to help you get started in this genre of photography.

What is Street Photography?

What is Street Photography

Street photography is a genre that captures random occurrences and people's daily lives. You can take street photographies on:

  • city streets;
  • buildings;
  • parks;
  • beaches;
  • public transportation. 

Instead of people, the images may show traces of their presence. This genre is close to reportage photography. But it is not limited to essential events and socially significant topics. In the foreground, there is a striving to imprint reality as it is. 

The subject of urban photography is mostly people in public places. More precisely, we can describe street photography as a genre in which there is no place for posing. The photographer explores and captures the relationship between the characters and their surroundings. This type of photo looks pretty good in a portfolio. It can catch lots of attention.

The main elements of street photography are:

  • spontaneity;
  • careful observation;
  • "eyes wide open";
  • a willingness to capture everything that appears in the viewfinder;
  • filming objects that seem meaningful, exciting and, interesting.

A photo is not planned without prior arrangement. This is also another key aspect. That's why photos taken at public events have a different feel than casual ones. In the former, you rarely get a spontaneous shot. Still, we can classify them too as pictures of streets. There is always room for flexibility and experimentation in this genre.

History of street picture

Street photography was born at the same time as technology for photographing people. You can trace this chronology of the development of this genre:

  • The first cameras required too long shutter speeds to capture the occasional passerby. Besides, the machines were bulky and attracted attention. And street photography in the modern sense gravitated toward inconspicuous photography. We can see the earliest images of the city in the pictures of Louis Daguerre. He photographed Parisian streets from the window of a photo studio. Such photographs became widespread by the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, there was an improvement in portable cameras.
  • Urban photography, like its related genres, owes much to the compact 35-millimeter camera. They came on the market in the 1920s. They made it possible to take inconspicuous photographs. Such photos looked more realistic than staged ones. One of the most important photographers of that period was Eugene Atget. He is the father of street photography.
  • Street pictures emerged as an independent genre with a basis in the 1950s. Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs and publications played a big role in this. He is one of the founders of the famous photo agency Magnum. His book "The Decisive Moment" became a source of inspiration for photographers.

Today, this genre has found new life thanks to the advent of digital cameras first. And then smartphones that allow you to take the best quality street photography. With their help, everyone can try as a street photographer.

What Makes a Good Street Photography?

What Makes a Good Street Photography

Emotion and mystery are the keys to good street photography. Recognized masters say that street photography has a special aesthetic. But no one can give a precise definition. They all say, look at many proper photographs, and you'll see for yourself. 

The famous photographer Robert Doisneau said: “The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.” It's almost magic and a fairy tale. According to Nick Turpin, pictures of streets should be a revelation or enlightenment. But if we talk specifically about language, there can be different approaches:

  • There may or may not be people;
  • They may or may not be the main thing;
  • The emphasis could be on the play of light. For example, the observation of light could be the main thing;
  • It could be the main thing's color;
  • It could be a black-and-white photograph;
  • It could be a photograph with or without flash; 

Because a street photographer never knows what kind of "catch" the day ahead will bring. Hence the main advice to a street photographer - take your camera wherever you go. And always take pictures of the streets as much as possible.

Camera Equipment for Street Photography

Street photography is good because you don't need advanced photographic equipment. So, the simpler, the better. The best camera equipment for street photography is a small, silent camera in auto mode and a couple of lenses. Experienced photographers tell to set the best parameters for daytime street photography shooting:

aperture f/16;
ISO 400;
1/320 shutter speed.

And don't be afraid to use high ISO. It is better a little grainy than blurred pictures. 
After all, the photographer should not stand out in the crowd or draw attention to themselves. They should become part of the street, part of the crowd. Leave your long lens at home, but if you have a wide-angle lens, you're in luck. It's perfect for shooting in a confined space.

But that's not the point. You can make a great shot with a plain camera or even a phone. It's more important for a photographer to have perfect shoes than an excellent camera". Sebastiano Salgado said it. But if you are still in the mood to buy a camera, follow our street picture recommendations below.




Digital SLR cameras

(Nikon D750; Canon 5D Mark IV)

  • functions and settings. A wide range of camera functions and settings is an advantage of using DSLRs. You will encounter different lighting conditions, so being able to adjust:
  • ISO;
  • shutter speed;
  • aperture;
  • white balance;
  • and other settings will be useful;
  • high-speed shooting. Digital SLR cameras also allow you to take several frames per second. This is very useful when taking pictures of moving objects: 
  • children in the park;
  • pedestrians crossing the street;
  • interchangeable lens. This is one of the most important parameters when choosing a camera. The ability to change lenses expands the boundaries of creativity. 
  • cost. A high-quality SLR camera can cost about 3 thousand dollars. So this option will not suit urban photography with a limited budget;
  • difficulty in use. Beginners will have to spend a lot of time learning the camera before they can start shooting. It is because of the fully customizable features and manual settings;
  • bulky. The biggest disadvantage of DSLRs in street photography is their weight and size.

The film camera

(Leica M6; Leica MA; Mamiya 7 II)

  • tangible result. At the end of our work, we get a real product of our activity - printed pictures. It gives joy and the opportunity to keep memories in an unusual format for our time; 
  • trains the eye and the mind. Film cameras make us think before we take pictures of streets. It promotes the skills of the photographer;
  • aesthetics. The film combines light and color in a way digital cameras can't yet. The film also gives a visually pleasing grainy texture and gives photos a vintage feel. It is something we still try to imitate with filters.
  • no preview. Film cameras can be hard for a generation that wants to see the results immediately. Using film doesn't allow you to preview or delete photos instantly;
  • a limited number of frames. With a film camera, you don't have much room for trial and error;
  • printing takes time and money. It usually takes a while to develop film photos. Plus, you can't upload a street picture to post on social media without scanning it. Also, filming, scanning, and printing photos need extra expenses. 

The mirrorless camera ( Sony Alpha a7 III; Olympus PEN-F; Fujifilm X-Pro3)

  • compactness. Small and lightweight mirrorless cameras allow you to use a variety of lenses. It provides many functions that are not available in compact cameras. It also makes them more practical for long street photography shoots;
  • advanced settings. This camera allows you to adjust:
  • the aperture;
  • shutter speed;
  • ISO;
  • white balance;
  • and other advanced settings like a digital SLR;
  • slow autofocus. Many mirrorless cameras use contrast detection instead of phase focus on objects. It slows down the autofocus speed;
  • battery life. The battery life of mirrorless cameras is not very long. Because the camera uses an electronic viewfinder. It is not an optical viewfinder like DSLRs. Still, this shouldn't matter much if you have a spare battery.

Compact cameras

(Canon Powershot G1 X Mark III; Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100; Leica Q2)

  • small and lightweight. Some compact cameras can even be smaller and lighter than some smartphones. And because of their size, they don't draw attention to themselves. All this helps you move freely, which is exactly what you need in the  best street photography;
  • silent operation. The zoom and shutter of these cameras are usually very quiet;
  • pre-programmed settings. Usually, these cameras have a set of settings for different modes:
  • portrait mode;
  • a mode for dynamic events;
  • night photography, and others. 

You can use the control wheel to switch between modes quickly.

  • fixed lens. In urban photography, we can't control the environment as we can in the studio. That's why we recommend working with different lenses. They allow you to zoom in and shoot scenes from different angles.  Unfortunately, these cameras come with fixed lenses;
  • limited camera functions. These cameras also have limited features, such as:
  • poor control over the aperture; 
  • shutter speed compared to other cameras. 

They also often don't shoot well in low-light conditions. It makes it difficult to capture moving subjects, shoot at night, or achieve a narrower depth of field;

  • street pictures of average quality. The quality is generally not satisfactory enough. Although compact cameras produce higher-resolution images than smartphone cameras. Of course, some models, such as the Ricoh GR III, can produce images close to the quality of SLR cameras.

Each camera has its pros and cons. Choosing the best camera for urban photography is easier if you know your needs:

  • If you are not limited in money and want to engage in professional photography you should think about a digital SLR camera.
  • If you are a beginner photographer and hope to develop your skills and become a professional. You may consider purchasing a mirrorless camera. 
  • If you are a beginner and like to take pictures, a compact camera or a smartphone with a quality camera is an option.
  • If you want to experiment, a film camera can give you a unique result of pictures of streets.  

Which lenses are best for street photography?

The best settings for street photography are those you don't need to change. That's so you don't miss the moment. 

A fast lens with a wider aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8, comes in handy if you shoot in the dark or indoors. Many street photographers prefer a prime lens rather than a zoom lens: you just point and shoot. Here are some great lens options for street photography:

  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART lens;
  • Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART lens;
  • Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 lens;
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens;
  • Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens.

How do I adjust my camera for the best street photography?

The best settings for street photography are those that don't need to be changed during the shoot. So you don't miss the moment. Many street photographers prefer to shoot with either aperture priority or shutter priority. Decide what's more important to you:

  • the type of motion (static or blurry);
  • control over depth of field. 

To be sure the image is blur-free, work with shutter speed priority and set the shutter speed to 1/500 or faster. For motion blur, you can try 1/60. If the depth of field is the most important factor for you:

  • work with the aperture priority;
  • use wide settings for shallow depth of field;
  • choose narrow settings for greater depth of field.

The Street Photography Code of Ethics

The Street Photography Code of Ethics

Let's not kid ourselves- street photography is an intrusive form of photography. Sometimes it can be intimidating for the subjects. Photographing people on the street usually means you don't have their permission beforehand. 

You have to come to terms with this to do street photography. For every image you take, there is a chance that the subject will not like your action. Some will resent it, but some won't. It is always advisable to find out if urban photography is legal in the place where you plan to take pictures. 

But, in most countries, it is generally legal to take photos in public unless the law states otherwise. It includes taking pictures of passersby in the street and of people in public areas, such as parks. But not everyone is welcoming to be a model. But still, it is better to know specific rules for such a photo shoot. You can read them below. 

Ask for permission to publish photos 

We live in a digital age where we can share almost all images online through:

  • social networks;
  • blogs;
  • online galleries. 

The key word here is practical. Only some have a social networking page, and only some want to put their photo on the world wide web. Be sure to ask permission to post street photography before you take them. Especially if you take pictures of people in public places.

Don't film children with their parents

The reaction is often quite aggressive. It is due to the parental reflex, which aims to protect their child. In doing so, it is more likely that others will support aggression in your direction. 

And if you misbehave, you may be collectively punished. And sometimes turn you into the hands of the approaching police patrol. In most cases, we would recommend refraining from filming other people's children.
Offer to share photos
Maybe that way, people will be more gracious to model for you. After all, many people like to get a few good Instagram shots in addition to the experience. The main thing is to do it unobtrusively. As an example, you can show your previous works.

Street Photography Tips and Ideas 

Street photography is one of the most accessible genres, but also one of the most challenging. That's its difficulty, but also its pleasure. It changes the way you look at the world. You start to see, to pay attention to things you haven’t noticed before.

Every street photographer has their techniques for working in the street. Over time, you will work them out for yourself and choose the more acceptable ones. 

And we are going to tell you about some of them. To make not just a "good" but a "wonderful" street picture, you need one or more elements that turn the image into something unusual or unique: 

  • light;
  • color;
  • emotions;
  • right angle;
  • textures;
  • gestures.

Also, don't forget about people's boundaries. After all, sometimes you may accidentally invade their personal space. Thus, we recommend tactfulness. Read below for more on the best tips for urban photography.

1. Shoot with a silent shutter

It's ideal if your camera has a silent mode. Passersby are more likely to notice the loud clicking of the shutter. Especially if you're using continuous shooting. That way, you might miss a moment or scene that it's essential to sneak up on so as not to frighten them.

2. Use continuous shooting

If you're watching a specific character or action or waiting for the peak of a story, go for burst mode. You're guaranteed to capture what you want at nine frames per second. And when you watch it later, you're sure to keep the best version.

3. Take your picture from the hip level

People often tense up if they notice you trying to take their picture. Hold the camera at your hip and use Live View to compose your urban photography on the camera's monitor screen discreetly. A diagonal LCD comes in handy in this situation.

It allows you to shoot the scene directly. Then turn the zoom ring on the lens. It will bring the subject closer to you. You get a close-up of it while maintaining the distance.

4. Choose lightweight equipment

Weight is a significant parameter when taking a street picture. Since you may have to walk around for a long time looking for a shot. It is best if your camera with a couple of extra lenses can fit into a backpack or purse:

  1. Firstly, thanks to this you, again, will not stand out from passersby. 
  2. Secondly, you won't get tired with a light, compact set of photographic equipment. And you will be able to walk much longer.

5. Pay attention to reflective surfaces

Anything reflective can make your street picture  interesting and unusual:

  • storefronts;
  • bus stops;
  • car hoods;
  • puddles;
  • even the wall tiles of new subway stations.

Using a flip-up camera, you can easily shoot from the ground or glass walls. 

6.  Emphasis on the gaze:

You can hide emotion and fake it, but the eyes will tell the whole truth. Humans feel what the other person is feeling through their facial expressions. When you take the  best street photography, the first thing you should do is pay attention to:

  • people's eyes;
  • the expressions they show.

Likewise, you can see subtle signals from a person's body. So watch how they might express themselves through their body, hands, feet, and legs.

7.  Experiment with slow shutter speeds

The street is an environment where traffic doesn't stop for a second. Taking urban photography with slow shutter speeds allows you to capture the dynamics. You can also emphasize a still object. It gives the shot multiple meanings. For such shots, you can choose:

  • cars;
  • cyclists;
  • a majestic temple in the background;
  • the silhouette of a still stranger talking on the phone.

8. Use different lenses

This tip is relevant for beginner street photographers who just try on lenses with different focal lengths and look for "their" one, but also for professionals wishing to bring something new to their urban photography. 

Bruce Guilden shoots only 20mm, and Cartier-Bresson was faithful to 35mm. Using different optics will train your eye and broaden your vision.

9. Dress so that your appearance does not cause unnecessary attention 

If you don't want to draw the attention of the whole street, don't dress too brightly. It is better if you blend in with the crowd. It will help you to fully concentrate on shooting a street picture.

10. Don't neglect the non-touristy parts of the city

You don't have to visit your favorite city center to catch a curious story and emotion. Sometimes it's enough just to go beyond the threshold of the apartment. 

Children swinging with laughter or a grandmother feeding pigeons in the backlight of a setting day are perfect subjects for photographs that capture ordinary and sincere moments in the city's life.

How to push through your fear of street photography?  

Fear is one of the most difficult obstacles for the beginner. And these moral challenges can make them even tougher. The basic idea to keep in mind is that it is not necessarily that scary to be caught. If you do it right, you'll usually stop feeling a lot of stress. Follow a few of our tips:

  • If someone catches you, acknowledge it. Don't be belligerent. Even if it is within your legal rights, you don't need to use it as an argument. Remember to keep a smile on your face no matter what.
  • Stealth is good for urban photography because if everyone noticed you were taking their picture, it would make it very time-consuming and challenging to take the picture. However, keep in mind that the trickier you try to act, the weirder you may look. 
  • Finally, consider starting somewhere, such as a fair or a market. It's a great way to get over the initial fear. And you can maneuver into completely different places as you improve.

The most famous authors of street pictures 

Many famous masters worked in this genre. Their works are now stored in many museums worldwide. Here are a few photographers considered classic street photography: 

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson. This man is called the father and main ideologist of black-and-white street photography. His famous work  is "Rue Mouffetard in Paris." It demonstrates the principle of the "decisive moment."
  • Alfred Eisenstaedt. He is the author of one of the most famous street photographs, The Kiss in Times Square. 
  • Joel Meyerowitz. One of the most respected photographers of the second half of the 20th century. He did much to bring the color film into fine art photography. 
  • William Eggleston. This photographer saw complexity and beauty in the most ordinary things. He photographed old houses and ordinary streets that looked extraordinary and important.

Create Your Online Photography Portfolio Website

Not every walk leads to a masterpiece. It depends not only on luck. It also depends on your mood at the time of the shooting and some other external circumstances of city life. Keep it simple: you're not trying to get the best street photography.

It's more important to learn to feel the life around you. You can read more of our Portfoliobox articles on similar topics. Now get out there, take pictures as often as you can, and have fun doing it. Also, feel free to contact us. Our Portfoliobox team would love to help you showcase your masterpieces to the world.


What is the number one rule of street photography?

The essential rule is to ask people for permission and be generally polite. Remember that you invade their space. It is a pretty simple tip that will help you communicate well. 

Why is street photography difficult?

You may find this type of photography difficult because of the need to communicate with strangers. It may also be difficult because you do not have the trained eye of a photographer. You may become confused and not see interesting details.

Do you need permission to do street photography?

Generally, if a photographer takes pictures in a public place, he has the right to take pictures without asking permission, as part of the right to freedom of expression. But it is better to ask. In most cases, this applies to pictures of buildings, objects, and people. 

Can you make money with street photography?

Yes, it is quite realistic. It's an outdoor photo shoot with no room for posing or staging. It is this immediacy that fascinates many people.

En portfolio hemsida till kreatörer

Med alla verktyg som behövs

  • Dynamiskt rutnät
  • Jämna rader
  • Gyllene snittet
  • Kvadratförhållande
  • Centrera
  • Pussel
  • Slumpmässig
  • Horisontell
  • Horisontell 2
  • Horisontell 3
  • Vertikal
  • Två-ett
  • Tre-ett

Kom igång gratis

Skapa din hemsida nu

Bygg din egen hemsida