5 easy street photography tips

5 easy street photography tips

My two year old son thinks it is a novelty to ride in a car yet he knows which subway line will bring us home. He is well acquainted with the art of chasing pigeons, the boat traffic along the Hudson River and the guy who delivers our Thai food. I’m not sure I could have predicted that we would be raising our kid in New York City but here we are, and if you could find me an extra closet I’d even go so far as to say we love it.

Living here and documenting our son’s adventures has also ignited a love affair between me and street photography. It is a fascinating and diverse genre that I cannot give justice to in a short blog post. Nor do I purport to be an expert in the field. However, I can’t get enough of it and would encourage anyone with an interest to get out there and give it a try because it is an extremely freeing form of photography.

And while I do not believe that there is one “right” way to go about it, urban spaces are dynamic, bold and teeming with interest. Here are a few of my suggestions for getting images that are all of those things as well.

1. Plan Ahead

Think about what you intend to shoot, where you plan to go, and what gear you want to bring.  Tripods are great for night shooting. Wide angles are fantastic for cityscapes. You might want a prime for portraits.

I recommend toting around no more than two lenses though I try to stick to just one. If I am not sure what the day will bring and really want the versatility (and have the stroller to carry my load), my favorite combination is my 16-35mm and my macro. Importantly, use common sense, especially if you are in an unfamiliar location. Be aware of your surroundings and consider the safety of yourself, anyone traveling with you, and your gear.

2. Keep it in Perspective

When out with my camera, I usually wear darker colors and it’s not because I am a trendy New Yorker. If you want to get an interesting photograph of your kids with the city around them, or the harsh shadows on a building or any number of other eye-catching subjects, you may need to get up close and personal with the streets themselves. Obtaining the correct perspective can really make or break a shot, and often, if size is what you wish to convey, you need to get low.

Then again, you may also need to climb tables or railings, or do any other number of things to get the right angle to achieve your vision. Cautious photographs often end up looking like snapshots so check your embarrassment at the door and move with confidence – eventually you stop caring if other people think you’ve lost your mind. Besides, you’re probably building up your immune system.

3. Choose Your Approach Wisely

If you are particularly outgoing, ask people who interest you if you can take their pictures (I usually draw the line right about there but many street portrait photographers ask their subjects for permission – or use a really long lens).

If you photograph street musicians or other performers, be nice and leave a buck or two. They are also working for their art. (Side note: be aware that if you intend to use any of your images for certain commercial purposes, you may need model release forms from your subjects or property release forms in the case of businesses being visible in your shots.)

Of course, although you may choose to be bold in certain situations you will want to tread lightly in others. Shooting from the hip is a great way to get interesting shots without attracting attention to the fact that you are taking photos of total strangers. And even then, consider your subjects carefully in order to avoid altercations.

4. Be Prepared

I usually meter off the sidewalk at zero (in the same light as I’m shooting into) and get my settings where I want them to be so if I see a shot, then I can frame and shoot. When shooting from the hip, I hold my camera reasonably straight at around waist-level and fire away when I see something interesting.

I often go with a narrower aperture and higher ISO to get more of the scene in focus. I keep an eye out for interesting motion and try to be aware of my composition as I aim to fill the frame and I move quickly to change settings if I decide I want motion blur or panning.

Using a wide angle lens will give you more room to crop after the fact and converting to black and white in your post processing will give your photos a timeless feel that will help you out when you get home and discover that someone’s orange Crocs made it into the frame.

5. Anything Goes

When you’re out there, be creative, have a great time and keep your expectations low. Like any type of photography, bringing home keepers takes practice. You are guaranteed a lot of junk but much of the fun is in the trying. Play with shutter speeds, depth of field, perspective and subject matter. Try using only manual focus.

Be thoughtful about composition and what goes into the frame. The city is filled with leading lines – be led! Take pictures of your family interacting with the environment, not just posing in front of landmarks.

Finally, only take pictures of things that actually interest you. Then return home with a full memory card and go treasure hunting. I am certain you will find some gems.

Have you given street photography a shot?  Would you like an excuse to?  Come join us for the second annual ClickinWalk being held later this month!  Find a location and register for a photo walk near you here.

And a special thank you to all the incredible sponsors for this year’s Walk!

About the Author:

Stacey Leece Vukelj spends her time being a mom and a lawyer and wielding a heavy camera around the streets of New York. She loves cities (hers and others), cheese, and the company of friends and loved ones, particularly when they bring wine to go along with the cheese. She is thankful for the boundless support of her husband, who kindly refrains from commenting on her growing lens collection, and is highly amused that her brother has unwittingly become a heartthrob for a certain subset of Clickin Moms. Should you come to town and find yourself in need of a friendly face, give her a shout. Visit Stacey Vukelj online.
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51 Comments

  1. Sarah Vaughn Sep 05 2012 at 11:03 am - Reply

    So excited to see you on the blog! Wonderful article.

  2. Colie Sep 05 2012 at 11:10 am - Reply

    This is fantastic!!! Thanks so much for the tips.

  3. Aimee McNamee Sep 05 2012 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Excellent post, Stacey! I love your work!

  4. Emma Wood Sep 05 2012 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Stacey, these are awesome tips, and I love your images. THank you so much for sharing your thoughts on street photography, you've inspired me to want to try it. <3

  5. Megan Sep 05 2012 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I am a huge fan, Stacey! Beautiful work 🙂

  6. Justine Sep 05 2012 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Great article Stacey!!! Cant wait to hit the street again with you!

  7. Holly Thompson Sep 05 2012 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Stacey, I am going to try to refrain from gushing but I adore your work! Authentic, captivating, vibrant… you are fabulous! I can’t wait to see images from your ClickinWalk! Fab article and images!!!

  8. Julie Kiernan Sep 05 2012 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Great article and images, Stacey! They make me want to visit you in NYC. At the very least, I am going to start shooting from the hip:)

  9. Kim Lane Sep 05 2012 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Love your images and your article Stacey!! And your bio comments gave me the giggles

  10. teamhumphries Sep 05 2012 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Aw Stacey this was a fantastic article. Your humour and articulation marry so well with your stunning photography. I am in awe. <3 <3

  11. Sarah Zalan Sep 05 2012 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Love your checklist!…especially checking your embarrassment at the door, and improving immunity! Entertaining read Stacey. Totally made my day. 😀

  12. Anne Sep 05 2012 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Yay !! Thank you for this fantastic article, Stacey. Now I want to try shooting from the hip.

  13. Sarah Murchison Sep 05 2012 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Stacey you rock! what an honor to know you in person!!! love your photos and the article!!!!

  14. heidi Sep 05 2012 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I am in love with your street work!!!! :hp

  15. Liz Sep 05 2012 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    This is awesome! Thank you 🙂

  16. Julie Mak Sep 05 2012 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Great tips! This is great!

  17. Julie Mak Sep 05 2012 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Oops hit send too soon. This is beautifully written and I learned a lot from it!

  18. Jodie Sep 05 2012 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    This is my favorite blog post yet. Thank you so much for sharing. Your images are fabulous!!

  19. Erica Collins Sep 05 2012 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Awesome, Stacey!!

  20. Katrina Stewart Sep 05 2012 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Such gorgeous work and a great lesson on street photography.

  21. catherine r. Sep 05 2012 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Great tips! I am looking forward to taking it to the streets, too! Love your work!

  22. Alison Crane Sep 05 2012 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Great article and inspiring images!

  23. Kim Sep 05 2012 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Stacey, awesome suggestions! I find that sometimes I am so rigid in what I am trying to accomplish that I don't just let go and loosen up. This is a great reminder to do JUST that!

  24. Danika Sep 05 2012 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Stacey, these tips are awesome!! Thank you so much for sharing and I can’t wait to try some of them out. If only I lived somewhere cooler… 🙂

  25. Genesis Bowen Sep 05 2012 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    This is a great article, Stacey! I have always been drawn to street photography and had no idea how to tackle it. I love your work. You are my new photog crush!! :o)

  26. Jax Davidson Sep 05 2012 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Great images and great article, Stacey!

  27. charmypix Sep 05 2012 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    I LOVE this article, thanks so much! Going to have to visit the city to have a go at this!

  28. Angie Sep 05 2012 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Great post! I love your work.

  29. Mara Vaughan Sep 05 2012 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    One of my favorite blog posts so far! This is such awesome, concrete advice, and your images have such unique composition! Totally inspiring.

  30. Jennifer James Sep 05 2012 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I love this article. As a fellow city-dwelling mom I really need the push to use my camera more boldly. Thank you for sharing both your tips and beautiful images.

  31. Gigi Sep 05 2012 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Stacey this couldn't come at a better time -I'm inspired to get out in the city pronto – please consider coming to DC for a private tutorial! 🙂

  32. Celeste Pavlik Sep 06 2012 at 12:59 am - Reply

    What a great informative and fun read! I have loved getting to know you in EOD this past month. Thank you for sharing so much info today. I would love to street shoot and have never had a chance.

  33. Elicia Sep 06 2012 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Fantastic article Stacey! Loved all of your tips! Thanks for sharing.

  34. svukelj Sep 06 2012 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Thank you, all! I'm so glad it was helpful.

  35. Megan Sep 06 2012 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Fantastic, Stacey! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  36. Kelly Sep 06 2012 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Yes! Terrific article, Stacey! This morning we took our son on the subway to his first day of Kindergarten. I went with iPhone in tow, snapping photos on the way. I got a photo of him entranced with a fiddler, busking for loose change. It did not even occur to me to ask the musician if it was okay, but we did give him a dollar. Great tips – you have inspired me to flip the switch on my lens to manual the next time we brave Manhattan.

  37. Kristin Dokoza Sep 06 2012 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    What a fantastic article! I love the tips you've shared — your street photography and the way you are documenting your son in the big city is inspiring. I'm a fan 🙂

  38. Lauren Sep 07 2012 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Thank you for this great article, Stacey! I visited NYC last November for the first time, and that was the first time I had really experimented with street photography. I loved it, and of course there is so much subject matter around the city! I am visiting again in a few weeks…now that I have a wide angle lens, I want to get some great city-scape shots from high up. I plan to go to the empire state building for sunset shots, but they don't open early enough for sunrise photos. Do you have any suggestions for places to get great views of the city at sunrise? Would love to hear your suggestions!

    Thanks again for the tips. Can't wait to put them into practice!

    • svukelj Sep 08 2012 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      Lauren, off the top of my head I can't think of any high public buildings that are open at sunrise. However, you could probably get some amazing shots from the bridges on the East side – Brooklyn, Williamsburg or 59th St. Bridges all have pedestrian access. Have a fantastic trip!

      • Lauren Sep 11 2012 at 9:32 pm - Reply

        Thanks Stacey!

  39. Heidi G Sep 07 2012 at 11:22 am - Reply

    My goodness. I love your work! I live in a rural area and am in awe of the beauty you capture in the big city. Your work is very distinct. Love looking at it in the Daily Project. This is a fantastic post!

  40. Syreeta Sep 07 2012 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    I love this, I live and grew up in London, there are so many things that you get out of living in a massive city. I am trying to make sure that my daughter gets to enjoy them all, just as I did. It's really cool to be able to document this and I think you have chosen a great way to do this I am sure your son will thank you for this when he's older.

  41. pam Sep 07 2012 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Great article! Love these tips and your city!

  42. Jennette Brauch Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thanks, However I am having troubles with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it. Is there anyone else having the same RSS issues? Anybody who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  43. Darlene Jan 24 2013 at 10:54 am - Reply

    I love this post – I am in NYC all the time – I live on Long Island.
    love the way you capture the city.

  44. Samantha Jun 21 2013 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Hi Stacey!
    I just wanted to thank you for this inspiring article and congratulate you on your brilliant work!! I am a 23 yr old, currently living and working in Madrid and I often get made fun of for my snapping habits and then even more so for touching up some of the shots later. But then these same critics rave about these same shots later which often leaves me with torn emotions and wondering if I might just be a little “too” addicted to the treasure hunt. Anyway, thank you for letting me know someone else has faced a similar struggle. I wish you the best and thank you again for the article!! It was wonderful!

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