Saturday, June 05, 2010

Street Photography Tips, Anyone?

I have been doing some digging and reading online on how to improve street photography, since, well I have been so indulged in it these days. There are many pointers and advice being shared online by professionals and amateur photographers everywhere, and many of the tips do contradict themselves. Nonetheless, I have long been faithful to, and I do find what they have published there all these years to be very helpful. The entry was "Quick Street Photography Tips" that listed 20 points, which I shall reproduce in this blog entry, followed by my own thoughts and comments on each point. The original writing would be copied and pasted in "Orange", while my own comment would be normal black. Do give the original 20 points a read, because I find them very useful myself.

1) Less is More – don’t take too much equipment and travel light. It’ll make you less obtrusive and you will be able to move around for the best shot quickly.

Robin says: I brought my DSLR body with two lenses, one long, and one wide. They cover 11mm to 300mm (22mm to 600mm in 35mm format equivalent). If that kind of range is not enough for you I do not know what is. And those two lenses are rather light and compact too !! I love you Olympus.

2) Off the Beaten Track – don’t just go to all the touristy shots – try to get ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘real life’ scenes.

Robin says: I have become more and more daring these days, venturing into the backlanes and off the main road access. People pay too much attention to the main roads, and trying to keep everything from the outside looking so artificially perfect. Once you step into the back street, you will discover an entirely different world, most often a world of hidden truths. Many of my street photography shots which I am satisfied with came from the "off the beaten track".

3) Stolen Moments – anticipate moments between people before they happen.

Robin says: I guess I still have a lot to work on this one. Strong observation skills is very important to anticipate what will happen next. Sometimes, in a photograph "the moment" decides everything. If you managed to successfully capture that moment, it is worth so much more than spending precious seconds fiddling with F-number or ISO settings. To be honest my photographs still lack "stolen moments".

Breaking ice. One of the horrors of using Olympus, though I have properly exposed the dude in shade, the ice being reflected by strong morning sun has come out completely clipped in highlight. I shot this in RAW and I still could not recover it in any way.

I stood behind this guy for quite some time. I had my lens on him and waited for the moment he turned his head, and luckily he did.

On the throne. As if he was looking down at us mere mortals.

4) True Colours – black and white is often where it’s at with street photography but at times colourful situations arise and can really make a shot – be on the look out for these.

Robin says: B&W has become such a cliche when it comes to street photography. As much benefits it could bring to enhancing the shot by minimizing the distractions and bring out the harmony between all elements, I prefer to show the colours, most of the time. I think it is just my preference, but colours can tell really important stories too, and a good story is what a good photograph is about.

5) In the Background – what’s goign on behind your subject can actually ‘make’ the shot. Billboards, signs, graffiti and other visual elements can really make a statement in a shot.

Robin says: I always try to keep my background simple. If I do have a very pronounced background, I will try to blend it with my subject, so they complement each other well. The background will have to be able to support what the main subject is trying to achieve.

6) Dare to Go Diagonal – don’t just hold your camera horizontally – experiment with angles. Street photography is a less formal medium – make the most of it.

Robin says: I do diagonal compositions rather seldom, maybe because it is not very comfortable to view. Nonetheless, you will find one or two diagonal shots here from time to time. For usual photographs, I prefer everything evenly leveled.

Basking under morning sun, the reflection of the ray from the face made his expression quite intense.

An interview with the cobbler. A morning conversation on the street could just be the best way to start both gentlemen's day.

And the series of mutilated vehicles continues on

7) Opposites Attract – shots which challenge the ‘norm’ in terms of composition and story/subject matter can be powerful. Look out for ’surprising’ subject matter and composition.

Robin says: I agree that finding creativity and new original ideas in terms of composition would be quite important. I always asked myself this question most of the time before I click the shutter button: is there any other, better way to take this particular image? Closer, or further? Which part of the background to include, which to discard? How about if I shoot from the aide? The back? The bottom line is, try to make the photo look outstanding, and prevent from making ordinary looking shots. I am still struggling with this, obviously.

8) What a Performance – street performers, parades and other street entertainment can be great subject matter on the street.

Robin says: We don't get this much in Malaysia, do we? I still remember seeing a street performer in Perth, who snatched a digital camera from one of his audience, and pulled out his pant's rubber waistband, and snap a photo of his.. erm.. manhood. Too bad I did not have a camera with me that time, or else... that could have been a shot of a lifetime.

9) Off the Streets – other places where people gather in number can lead to great shots in this genre – zoos, fairs, shows, parks, sporting events etc all can be worth trying.

Robin says: I think, I did all of those things, before I dived into street photography !!

The leaves in the background was rather distracting, and I could not blur them off since he was quite near to it. Hence, I converted to sepia to minimize the distraction.

I think this is probably one of the most used composition method. Giving the guy a space to look at in the frame.

A cheerful daughter, a sleepy son, and an exhausted mother. I love this shot !!! There were ugly motorbike on the right and an ugly plant on the left, hence I cropped this photo into a square format.

10) New Angle – find ways to get up high or down low – these new perspectives on subjects that are familiar can lead to eye catching shots.

Robin says - i think this falls under the same scope as point no 7.

11) Practice makes Perfect – over time and with practice your photography will improve. You’ll not only get better at technique but also spotting the things to focus upon on the street.

Robin Says - This is very true. During my first few attempts I did not know what to shoot !! I just walked and walked and return home with less than 50 photos in the memory card, and good ones, probably only 5. Now, I can fill my entire card in one session, and I have so many shots I wanted to share with you guys I do not know how to decide !!

12) Fortune Favors the Brave – sometimes the best thing you can do is to get close to your subject – this can be a little confronting but will produce powerful images.

Robin Says: The brave would go close and approach his subjects. Though I still shoot from a distance with my tele lens, I have pushed myself to go nearer to my subjects. There is a certain personal space zone to watch out for, and always play on the safe side. Nonetheless, the risk taken was worth the results obtained.

I did not know such a thing exists - Street Outreach Feeding Programme. Makes me wonder, was it because the streets here have so many homeless/needies that they started such a programme, or was it because the center of feeding was located here that all the street citizens migrated here?

Another lifeless car. I never stopped finding them !!

A motorcycle's requiem, dead and chucked into the drain.

13) Fun in the Sun – often we try to avoid shooting into the sun and the shadows that direct sunlight can produce – in street photography breaking these ‘rules’ can lead to great shots.

Robin says: Shooting portraits or human being in harsh sun is a big no no. However, for street photography, who cares !! The harsh sun added deep contrast, and this is the drama that we want.

14) Ready to Pounce – have your camera out and ready to shoot at all times. Things can move quickly on the street so if you’re not ready you’ll miss lots of opportunities.

Robin Says: Always keep BOTH eyes open. Be alert, be attentive, and know whats happening around you, and predict what will happen next. I have missed out many great opportunities because of my slow reaction, but each shot I missed made me much faster in getting the next coming one.

15) Revise the Revisit – street photography is not all about spontaneity – if you see a scene with potential don’t be afraid to keep coming back to it until you get the shot.

Robin says: I need to learn to be more patient, and persistent. Sometimes after acquiring a shot, I found it to be out of focus, or wrongly exposed, I decided to give it a pass and move on to another opportunity. Perhaps, if it was a great image, I must make a point to return and make another attempt until I get it right.

Hard labor. I saw the guy coming into my direction, and I readied my camera, and pre-focused the lens to the nearest point (the ground he was about to walk on) and waited for him to come. He saw me from a distance, which was exactly what I intended, so I could get his eye contact !!

Distributing detergents. Funny, because I am using that brand of laundry detergent at the moment.

Splashing water. The dude was probably cleaning the delivery lorry after a morning's work. Possible goods of delivery were vegetables.

16) Frozen Motion – the street is a place of movement – to capture it and still get sharp shots make sure your shutter speed is fast enough. 1/125 or more with an ISO of 400 is what this article recommended as a base. I also think it can be fun to experiment with slower shutter speeds on the street – capture the movement as blur.

Robin says: It is extremely important to watch the shutter speed. I had so many chances to capture better shots, but they were all ruined with motion blur, the subjects were moving too fast and I did not set the camera properly to anticipate such fast movements.

17) Street Wallpaper – blend in with the scene – shoot unobtrusively and unnoticed.

Robin Says: I have been doing so, with a super long tele-lens, yeah?

18) Life Through a Lens – ‘exaggerating perspective will help set your subject in context and provide a more forgiving depth of field’ – use a wide angle lens (or even a fisheye).

Robin Says: Yeap, that was why I carried a wide angle lens. There are certain scenes that just require the oomph of wideness to bring out its full character.

The smiling aunty. What gave her such cheerfulness?

Sleepy morning. Like usual, I would go really close to my subjects. Headshots have become my long-time favourite.

Another sleepy guy. I was going to take the full body, but that would have gathered too many unwanted objects.

19) Expect the Expected – people can be suspicious of street photographers so shoot in places where people expect to see people doing photography. Smile, be polite and be willing to delete images if people protest.

Robin Says: There are many instances when people moved away, or changed what they were doing because they spotted me and my lens pointing at them. Rejection is something we all have to learn to live with (in life, generally speaking), and if one subject refuses to cooperate, find another one that will !! Do not be discouraged, the street is wide and long.

20) Location, Location, Location – really this is what it is all about. Choose places where people interact with one another and times when they are present.

Robin Says: I have got to say, KL is probably one of the coolest place for street photography. You do not find so many drama behind the streets, and not so many cool homeless dudes elsewhere in Malaysia, especially the smaller towns. I only regretted starting street photography this late !!

So there you go, the 20 tips from, and what I had to say on each point. I do think most of them are very applicable, and for newcomer to street photography, I find the tips have greatly aided me to better prepare my mind, and be assured on how to take on the streets.

Feel free to disagree with whatever points that were brought forth. I want to know what you think !!


  1. One day, we should shoot street photography with PnS only. One fine day...

  2. hey chong,
    sounds like an awesome idea !! Lets do it whenever you are free ahahah

  3. Do you know WHY the street performer did what he did? It's because when you photograph a street performer without first ASKING THEIR PERMISSION to photograph them, it's as if you are STEALING from the street performer. That is why that street performer was angry at the photographer - the photographer probably didn't ask permission, and so they hurt the performer's feelings. The photographer treated the performer as if he was not a human being who is trying to make a living.
    If you like what the performer is doing enough to want to photograph them - ask permission.
    Also - if you take a photo of a street performer 1) give a donation 2) apologize if you can't give a donation, but ask for the performer's card so you may send them a copy of your photo of them.
    In otherwords - be respectful and not hurtful.

    How do I know this? I'm a street performer.

  4. hey saw lady,
    first of all, I never mentioned the street performer to be angry. You must have read my writings wrongly.
    he took the camera and snap a photo of his "penis" for the girl. FREE of charge, and he gladly did so. It was quick, but everyone there saw it. He posed gladly for everyone there (non-nude of course) so there was really no issue there.

    As for me, I would choose to shoot as I like, but if the street performer rejected my humble effort, then so be it. Street photography is NOT all bout street performers.

  5. Great tips..

    Now, the only thing I need is a DSLR... :P I know.. u have been pushing me, but the iPhone was to tempting when my phone broke down...

    Guess a DSLR has to wait for another year :P

  6. hey cyril,
    Thanks !!
    Well, you do have a very good camera at hand now. Make full use of it. My coming entry will be about the wonders of a compact point and shoot camera. Do check that out, soon.

  7. Awesome shots there.

    I once did a street photography attempt, but most of my photos are either angle distorted or failed in the rules of third.

    I used shutter priority on most of my shots. Do you mind sharing yours?

    Also, is the 'P' mode on Olympus DSLR helps in street photog?

    Oh by the way, I stumbled on a typo on your #5 point which is (goign).

    Sorry, I mean no offense in correcting the typo.

    snowfire64; from screw2 forum. =D

  8. hey snowfire64,

    Thanks for your compliments.

    First of all, the orange color text were not my points, I copied pasted from, a website I usually refer to for tips and tricks in photography generally.
    However, you will find dozens of mistakes grammatically and spelling wise everywhere in this blog, ahahaha..

    I usually shoot in A, because I want to control the depth of field. I usually need high shutter speed, and setting F-number to the maximum (lowest number) gives me the fastest shutter speed too. Hence A is a very versatile and flexible mode to use on street shooting, but thats just me, of course if you are comfortable using P or S, it is perfectly fine as long as it works well for you.

  9. sometimes I found some great new places and situations that lead to new street images just by accident.