In our combined years of experience out shooting on the streets, the Streethunters.net team have picked up a thing or two. The more you practice your street photography, the more little tips and tricks you learn along the way. Things that might not seem obvious at first (or inversely, are blindingly obvious when you think about it), but that actually make a real improvement to your street photography experience. We’ve pooled our knowledge together to come up with a list for you, so strap yourselves in for the Street Hunters Ultimate Street Photography Hacks!
**Update!: This list has been updated with a couple of new hacks inspired by your suggestions, thank you!!**
The Streethunters.net List of Street Photography Hacks:
If you’ve read our through our tips for street photography in rain and bad weather you’ll know that an umbrella is a useful thing to carry on you as much as possible as it will often allow you to keep shooting and keep your camera dry. Cheaper, smaller umbrellas tend to fold up quite small and fit well into camera bags and jacket pockets.
Plastic Bag (or Shower Cap)
Another more heavy duty way of keeping your camera dry in the rain is to wrap it in a plastic bag, leaving just the end of the lens element exposed. A shower cap can serve a similar purpose too (as Marc Barkowski carries in his camera bag). At a pinch, a shower cap will work as a rudimentary flash diffuser too. A plastic bag can also be useful for putting anything wet in, or for wrapping around your camera bag to keep it dry, or even for putting on a wet bench or chair if you need to sit down and take a break for a minute.
I like to make full use of my weather app to plan ahead as much as possible if the weather looks changeable so I can be prepared. I tend to use a combination of apps to cover all the bases. Dark Sky (available as an app and also a website) offers very detailed predictions about the likelihood of rain in your street photography location.
These are an absolute godsend! Fingerless gloves allow me to easily operate all my camera controls and use my smartphone whilst keeping my hands relatively warm in cold weather. You can pick them up really cheaply online too – I paid about €3 for 3 pairs!
It sounds a little boring and like something your mum would warn you about as a teenager, but good shoes make a hell of difference. If you’ve ever checked your iPhone’s Health app after a day shooting street photography you’ll realise you cover a hell of a lot of ground! Decent shoes stop you getting blisters and bad knees and back. It’s also worth selecting your shoes based on the weather. Those light breathable summer shoes are going to be useless if it’s tipping it down with rain. And having wet feet for hours is miserable. Suit up accordingly!
This is both a mentality and a practical consideration. When I first started shooting street I used to lug the whole kitchen sink around with me. We’re talking DSLR (sometimes even two), wide angle lens, standard zoom, prime, flash, the works. It might not feel too heavy when you first pick the bag up, but after an hour it starts to grate, and after 5 hours you’ll be cursing it. So work on a policy of only bringing the essentials. If you’re not likely to use it, it stays at home. There’s such a thing as too much choice too, and constantly hopping between focal lengths and lenses is distracting. Simplify, and focus on getting really good with one focal length and working on your composition.
Spare batteries (camera & flash)
A basic one, but an important one. When we shot the Street Hunt #22 video of the shootout between the Ricoh GR and the Fujifilm X70 we only had one battery for each camera and it was a constant worry. It’s annoying to have to modify your shooting to preserve battery life, and 3rd party spare batteries are relatively cheap in my experience and perform well. So it’s worth stocking up! Likewise, it’s nice to be rocking some spares for your flash and wireless triggers if you’re using them too.
Snacks & Drink
It’s really useful if you can carry a drink and a snack with you while you’re shooting as it means you don’t need to worry as much about finding somewhere to stop for something. Quite often I’ll carry a bottle of water in my bag and sometimes even bring a sandwich too. That way I can focus totally on my street photography!
Getting a set of business cards made and carrying them with you when you’re out shooting has several benefits. For one thing, it’s a really easy way to network and encourage people to look at your work. I don’t know about you guys, but I often find it hard to remember someone’s name and look them up online after we’ve met – but if they’ve left me a business card I’ve got an easy visual reminder! But business cards can also be useful in diffusing an awkward situation in street photography. If someone is upset with you taking photos and you are able to show them a business card it instantly gives you more legitimacy – you look more like a professional and not just some random weirdo with a camera. You’ve taken their photo, and you’ve been openly honest by telling them your name and your website. If your business card is white you can also tape it to the back of your flash to create a simple bounce card in times of need too.
If it’s a really sunny day sunglasses can be a real help. Provided you can make your sunglasses work with your camera display or viewfinder, they will stop you squinting into the sunlight, give your eyes a bit of respite over a long day, and help to prevent headaches too.
I couldn’t possibly condone drinking beer :P, but if there’s something you can do to loosen up, do it! Personally I find that a couple of beers really helps to take the edge off and make me feel a bit more uninhibited, because let’s face it, street photography does require you to be quite brave and leave your comfort zone. The more relaxed you are, the more calm and confident you will appear to the people around you, which will probably allow you to take more photos without attracting attention or being challenged.
Leave your comfort zone
It’s really important to keep pushing yourself to venture out of your comfort zone in order to improve. If you don’t experiment with different styles, compositions, points and view and focal lengths you probably won’t progress, or figure out the style of street photography you really like. You don’t have to go crazy and throw yourself in at the deep end, but small steps and changes can have a big pay-off in the future.
Shoot in a new city
Changing up your shooting location is a good way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I often find practicing street photography in a new city is easier than in one I’m familiar with. Places seem new and exciting, and I can take advantage of being tourist and be more uninhibited in my shooting. When your chosen city is a tourist hotspot, it’s even easier!
Use your map app
Obviously you don’t need to use a map in your home city, but your smartphone’s map app can be invaluable if you’re out shooting in a strange city. I like to use my map app to get my bearings and plan out interesting routes on the fly to make sure I make the most of my time. It’s also a good way to work out the quickest way to get to a popular spot or attraction. Quite often I’ll drop a pin where I’ve parked my car or started out so I have a quick and easy way of working out how to get back if I’ve taken a labyrinthine route! If you’re shooting street photography in a foreign city abroad without any mobile data you can even download parts of the Google Maps app for offline use, or use a dedicated app like Maps.me.
News app/calendar of events/calendar app
Sometimes you may find it useful to use a news or events app for the city you’re shooting in. If you’re a street photographer who really loves taking photos at events and festivals, using an event calendar is a superb way for you to make sure that you’re in the right place at the right time and are able to use the festival opportunity to its max to nail some great street photos.
Find a local guide
If you’re shooting in a new city, a local guide can be so handy! They can show you all the best spots, and help you with any language barrier issues too. Plus you get to meet another fellow street photographer! Make sure to check out our Street Hunters Local Guides page for our directory.
Bring a Friend
Just like a local guide, bringing a friend with you is really useful in street photography. It’s a great way to divert attention away from yourself, and you can also make use of your friend as a pretend ‘subject’ if need be. There’s plenty of other reasons why it’s better to shoot street photography with a friend too, and they don’t just involve having someone to grab a beer with afterwards!
Share your work online
Deciding to share your street photos online is a very personal decision and one that you have to consider the pros and cons of. The fact of the matter is though that your photos will probably not be doing very much for you sitting on your hard drive. Once your shots are online you can make them work for you, and hopefully get rewarded for some of the work you put into making them. Think how you share them, and use multiple platforms – use good hashtags for Instagram, and join groups and share photos in them on Facebook and Flickr. Don’t forget to submit to contests too!
We’ve covered zone focusing and the hyperfocal distance technique several times, but it is a superb way to speed up your street photography to lighting fast levels. Even better, it doesn’t require a super powerful camera with amazing autofocus – just a lens you can manually focus – you may even be able to adapt an old film lens to fit your digital SLR or mirrorless camera.
Use a Wide Lens
You’re probably aware of several of the pros and cons of using a wide lens for street photography, but a clever hack if you opt for an ultra wide, 28mm or 35mm lens for street photography is that you can shoot a lot closer to your subject without them realising it. With a wide lens you can seemingly set up a landscape shot or appear to be photographing something in the background and actually catch your subject in the frame!
Study other photographers’ work
It has never been easier to get access to great photography. You could spend an evening online, and provided you don’t manage to fall into an internet black hole and end up reading forum threads and arguments about digital vs analogue or black and white vs colour street photography, you can learn a lot about great street photographers and see their work. The Andrew Sweigart’s Under the Influence series is a good place to start! Plus you can watch documentaries about street photographers on YouTube, or even watch them in action there. Photobooks or Zines are a lovely way to immerse yourself in a street photographer’s work too – and you can even source some rarer ones online too.
The most important street photography hack isn’t much of a trick or hack at all as it requires you to really put the hours in – and there’s no shortcut! The more you work and practice at your street photography the more you will improve. It may not feel like it, but when you look back and compare your old photos with your new ones you’re bound to see an improvement. The effort can and will pay off!!
What are your street photography hacks?
Our list of street photography hacks was far from exhaustive, so we’d love to hear from you guys if you’ve got any of your own top street photography tricks that you’ve picked up or perfected over the years. Drop us a comment below and let us know, or get in touch if you’ve put any of our hacks to use and found them to help!