The Complete 3-Part Guide To Street Photography

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Part 1: An Introduction to Street Photography

What is street photography?

Street photography is one of the oldest photographic fields.

Long before cameras had digital sensors that could capture incredible images of everything from the night sky to fast-moving athletes, photographers were shooting candid images in city centers.

In fact, the earliest known photograph of a person is a Paris street scene, shot in 1838 by Louis Daguerre.

Through the long and storied history of the genre, countless photography greats, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier, have emerged.

But street photography is about so much more than that. It's about emotion, about evoking the feeling of the human habitat. It's about capturing the collective feeling of being on the streets with others -- or alone.

Perhaps a photo will evoke a memory from childhood or the awe that you felt when standing beneath a skyscraper for the first time. Either way, the mark of a great photo is the feeling it creates for the viewer.

In order to create images that are deeply ingrained with feeling, though, you need a firm grasp on gear and settings.

Part 2: Street Photography Basics


Street photographers generally rely on their creativity to produce great shots, avoiding excessive investment in gear. But there are still choices to be made about focal length and your choice of camera.

Best Camera street photography

Cameras for street photography.
Small and light cameras have traditionally been favored by street photographers.


Street photographers have traditionally shot with small, easily concealed cameras, but I would encourage you to choose your street photography camera with other criteria.

Photography is an art of compromises. Do you raise your ISO and trade noise for shutter speed? Do you trade depth of field for shutter speed? This pattern is most apparent when it comes to choosing your street camera.

Do you choose a miniature camera, purpose-built for street photography, like the Ricoh GR III Street Edition (Affiliate link), and give up optimal image quality? Or would you rather choose a larger, full-frame camera, that offers the best low-light performance?

It's a decision that only you can make, and it will define your street photography journey.

Your style will change immensely when you change cameras. You might find yourself coming closer to subjects. You might even find that your street photography shifts in style and mood.

If you're really unsure about what camera to choose, consider renting gear for a day or two and experimenting.

Which camera feels best in the hand? Which has the best image quality? These may all become deciding factors in your choice.

Canon EOS 5DS Review

Nighttime street photography
The Canon EOS 5DS' 50.6 megapixel resolution gives it impressive image quality.


Your choice of lens will ultimately be determined by focal length.

Many street photography enthusiasts favor a 35mm lens, but 24mm and 50mm lenses are nearly as common, due to their value, availability, and small size.

24 mm

The 24mm focal length is a favorite of documentary photographers - and with good reason. It provides a perfect compromise between wide-angle and the classic 35mm street photography lens.

It's a brilliant choice if you want to fill the frame with your entire subject, or if you want to take a low perspective. You can find some exciting and impactful shots with a 24mm lens that would be impossible to capture otherwise.

35 mm

The 35mm lens has long been the most popular lens amongst street photographers, partly because it mimics the perspective of the human eye perfectly.

It presents a very natural and effective way of showcasing your street images. Find an interesting perspective for more engaging street photos - this is a commonly overused focal length, but unique images can still be made.

Black and White Street photography
Photographed with a 50mm lens

50 mm

The 50mm lens is possibly the second most popular lens choice amongst street photographers. It allows for lifelike renderings of both full, 35mm-type scenes, as well as street portraits.

Also, there are near-infinite lens options around, and they are sold for very reasonable prices. 50mm is a very good way to go if you're on a budget.

What lens should I use street photography

street photography settings


Just as with gear, choosing your settings is something of a compromise when it comes to street photography.

When I'm shooting in direct sunlight, I will use an ISO of 400, an f/4 aperture, and automatic shutter speed.

In the ever-changing light of the street, I like to give my camera control over shutter speed. It simply shields my images from under or overexposure.

I also use similar settings for rainy-day street photography.

Things start to become harder in low light. I use the widest possible aperture on my lens, f/1.8, paired with ISO 5000 and automatic shutter speed. In street photography, it's important to prioritize sharpness over image grain.

Grain can be toned down in post-processing, but a blurry image can't be made sharp. Often, I like the effect that grain brings to my street photos, and don't feel the need to correct it.

Part 3: Street Photography Like a Pro

Creative Street Photography
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) can add a dreamy quality to your image.

Practice your street photography

Every artist needs time to develop their own creative style and fine-tune their settings.

I'd recommend spending at least a couple of hours every week exploring your neighborhood and practicing your street photography.

Take lots of photos and look back on old 'keepers.' There's nothing like an old image to get a sense of how far your street photography has come.

Try to walk the same route every day, spotting small details and becoming familiar with your surroundings.

If you build up a mental map of the best street photography locations near you, you'll be able to plan and capture unique moments.

Golden spiral street photo