Cambridge Street Scene [Street Photography Guide | Bumbles & Light]

Street Photography

There’s just something about street photography, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Each day and even minute is different to the next, there’s the anticipation of what you might find while you’re out shooting and the fascination with hunting down the shot and being ready for it. Not to mention the knowledge that you’ve captured a candid moment in time that will never be duplicated. The city is organic and it moves like a river, you never step into the same spot twice. The buildings may remain the same for the most part, but the people are a constant flow. These photographs were all taken in Cambridge, England while I was visiting my parents this summer.

This is how I do things, it may not be the correct way or the universally accepted way of approaching Street Photography. Part of overcoming the fear of photographing strangers in a public setting is coming to terms with yourself, with how you want the photos to end up and how comfortable you feel intruding on strangers for candid shots.

What Gear to Use

For street photography, the camera itself doesn’t really matter so much. If you are nervous, you can try starting out with a small unobtrusive camera like a cell phone or a Point & Shoot Compact camera and still get great shots, in fact I love some of the street shots I’ve taken using my cell phone camera. If you’re shooting with an SLR, you need to make a choice on lenses. You don’t really want to take more than one lens out with you, not only would that be heavy to carry while walking around but while you’re fiddling around changing lenses to get the shot, the shot has already gone. This type of photography is often fast paced, things are easily missed.

I prefer to shoot wide angle for Street Photography, using my 17 – 35mm. Mostly because I like to get as much of the scene into one shot as possible, but also I like to be able to capture things as I see them and to be a part of the moment, rather than standing somewhere far away and zooming in on my subject. This is, however, entirely my personal preference and you should shoot however you feel most comfortable. I’ll talk a little about the ethics later.

The only trouble with my 17 – 35 mm lens is that it is a big lens and easily spotted, which could ruin your shot if you’re aiming for something candid. If blending in is your goal then it is a good idea to chose something that is physically smaller, such as a 35mm (or wider) prime.

What to Look For

Street Photography is a type of documentary photography, the primary focus is on people in public places such as streets, parks and malls. Shots without people in them are not usually considered to be true street photography, but I like to think that there is a little leeway when the shots contain objects that are used by people, show signs of people having been there recently, or are part of a series.

As well as people and human interaction, when you’re out shooting street photography the usual compositional and aesthetic rules still apply. While you’re looking for interesting people or human interaction, you should also be paying attention to your background and things in the background that will compliment your photo. Things such as interesting architecture, leading lines, reflections, shapes and shadows. Often it is the surroundings that really make the shot, and sometimes if you know that a certain area would make a great background you can set up your camera and wait for someone to walk into the frame.

If you’re not comfortable with wandering aimlessly and not necessarily getting any worthwhile shots at all, you can identify a few places where interesting moments are likely to happen, and stay in that general area. If you are nervous about being spotted while taking photos, you could try going to a place where everyone else has a camera too, such as a popular tourist spot or an event of some kind.

Rights, Ethics and Etiquette

Before heading out to shoot street photography, you should be aware of your rights as a photographer. This topic can be controversial but the general rule is that in the U.S. anyone may take photographs of whatever they like within a public space or a space where they have permission to take photographs. For further information check here and if you want more information it is a good idea to check with your state advisory and do some research of your own.

Your rights aside, there are also questions of personal ethics and etiquette. Each person will have their own approach, I generally avoid taking street photos where children are the main subject or are easily identifiable and don’t take photographs of anyone who is doing something in a public setting that I would not be happy to be photographed doing myself. This means that I miss the more edgy type of shot, but capturing those is personally not my intention.

This is also why I don’t like using a longer focal length for street photography, because of the intrusive nature of the shot and that the photograph would not be something I would be able to capture without standing right next to the person. Ethics and etiquette, as well as personal safety are more important than getting the shot, my own personal rule of thumb in regards to street photography is to treat others as you would like to be treated and use common sense.

Street photography is something I’m constantly trying to practice and get better at. Finding stories, or interesting moments hidden amongst the swarms of people within the city is just fascinating to me.

Do you shoot street photography? What do you like most about it?

19 Comments

  1. LOVE this post! I used to use my 50mm since it’s SUCH a lightweight lens for street photography. I also like my 85mm because physically it’s still a small lens visually but I can get into areas I might not be able to walk to (or willing to cross traffic in the city for LOL!).
    Sarah @ OneStarryNight´s last post ..I Need Blogging Advice

  2. Pingback: Street Photography: Breakdancing B-Boys | Live and Love...Out Loud

  3. Hey Rebecca!

    Thanks for the insightful post. I came across your blog via Kristi’s “Live and Love… Out Loud blog.

    I just completed an Intro to Photojournalism course and I’m not ashamed to say that, as a 40 year old man, I’m scared to death of street photography. Perhaps this is due to my introverted nature but I get the shakes any time I attempt street photography.

    I’m still going to give it a try though. Your images are quite inspiring; thanks for sharing them.
    Michael Stagg | Light Scribe Photo´s last post ..Monday Motivation Part II: Sometimes…

    • Thanks so much Michael!

      I’m quite the introvert too, that might have a little to do with the style in which I shoot street photos actually. They’re almost always scene type shots with a wider lens, I rarely get particularly close to people but it’s something I’m really working on this year.

      I’m really intrigued by those photographers who shoot street portraits, asking strangers to stop and have their photo taken. The results are often wonderful! That’s something I’m not quite ready for yet but I am trying to build up to it.

      Thanks again, I hope you enjoy taking some street photos soon :)

      • I’ll probably get started soon. I have a Canon G12 camera that I think would be perfect for street photography. It’s got a 35mm equivalent 28-140mm lens so it would be wide enough for closeups and just long enough for distance shots…the rotating screen doesn’t hurt either! Anyway, before I start sounding like a salesman (too late?), thanks for replying. I’ll be sure to share some of them with you when I capture some! :)
        Michael Stagg | Light Scribe Photo´s last post ..Monday Motivation Part II: Sometimes…

  4. This is helpful. I love street photography but the few times I’ve pulled out my camera, I feel pretty self conscious. I’ll just have to get over that.
    Nicole P.´s last post ..Baby in a basket

  5. Kit

    You make some good points.

    But like many photographers, fear holds you back

    I recently published ‘Street Photography – The Complete Guide’. You can find it on Amazon or on my website; and I apologise for the commercial. But it shows you how to take better photos on the street.

    One solution is to dump the SLR. I shoot with either an iphone or a little Samsung compact. The latter has loads of megapixels, so quality isn’t an issue.

    Best wishes

    Kit
    Kit´s last post ..Experience Street Photography this November

      • Kit

        Hi Michael

        Yes, a DSLR is good if you’re at a cafe table. But if you’re in town or a supermarket, a tiny camera is much less obtrusive.

        Here are relative sizes:

        G12 112 x 76 x 48mm

        Nikon Coolpix 114 x 77 x 45mm

        Samsung MV900F 99 x 60 x 17mm

        The advantage of the Samsung is that it’s thinner and smaller and has a bottom hinged screen. That makes it good for shooting from the wait.

        I’m not a camera expert but I think the G12 is side hinged and the current Nikon isn’t hinged.

        Kit
        Kit´s last post ..Street photography – taking photos in a supermarket

        • You’re right Kit; the Nikon P7000 doesn’t have a swivel/tilt screen. The newer P7100 does though. The Samsung camera you mentioned does indeed look like it’s the slimmest of those mentioned. I’m not a big fan of the hinge placement and would probably prefer my G12’s vari-angle LCD. What do you think of the Mirrorless systems out there? I think these would be the best for street photographers due to their size and lens options.
          Michael Stagg | Light Scribe Photo´s last post ..Dads and Hot Chocolate and Marshmallows…

          • Kit

            Yes, mirrorless are great. But some of the lenses are obtrusive. And being a bit cowardly, I like to be as invisible as possible.

            The vari angle is so much more versatile than a fixed hinge screen. But it needs to slide down the front like the lovely P7100. All in the interests of not being noticed/
            Kit´s last post ..Street photography – taking photos in a supermarket

    • Thanks for your input Kit! I was also eyeing the Olympus PEN for street photography, it looks a lot smaller than the DSLR I usually use, and you’re right they are quite obtrusive when you’re trying to blend in with the crowd. I have been using my cellphone a lot more lately for street photos too but am not a huge fan of the quality, they’re good enough for personal photos but that’s about it.

      • Kit

        The Olympus Pen is achingly gorgeous. But it has a fixed screen.

        As for cell phones, I’m beginning to find mine just isn’t good enough quality, except as a last report when I don’t have a proper camera with me.

        But as time goes by, cell phones will improve in terms of number of megapixels, the quality of the sensors and processors, and their optical zooms.
        Kit´s last post ..Street photography – taking photos in a supermarket

        • Cell Phone Cameras have already improved so much, I feel as though it wont be too long before we get some truly great quality ones. My cell phone camera is already infinitely better quality than the first P&S digital camera I ever owned!

          Also, I think I’d be willing to forgive the fixed screen of the Olympus Pen if I could get my hands on one 😉

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