Do you enjoy hitting the city streets with your camera, but struggle to take images with real impact? There are all sorts of things that can spoil your street photography, from background distractions and unwanted blur to your subject simply being too small within the frame.
Gaining the confidence to take photos of strangers is something you’ll have to find within yourself, but in this tutorial you will find the best camera settings to give you every advantage you need when you’re out on the city streets.
Below, the team at Camera Jabber shows you how to set up your camera for street photography so that you can not only avoid those nagging technical issues that can spoil a great shot, but also give yourself the flexibility to respond to fast-moving situations.
#1 Use Program AE mode
Perhaps the fundamental advantage every street photographer needs is speed. You need to be ready to capture your moment when it happens. Because decisive moments are fleeting, you don’t want to waste this time by fiddling with your camera settings.
So we suggest shooting with your camera’s exposure mode set to Program AE. With your Program AE mode you’ll fine a good balance of shutter speed and aperture, and you can make quick and simple adjustments by rotating the main dial.
In Program mode, your camera sets both the shutter speed and aperture values its thinks are best for the scene. It means you can let your camera do the maths here and allow yourself to focus solely on composition and finding the right moment.
Many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras support something called Program Shift, which gives you a little control in these situations. This lets you override the camera’s suggested settings, usually by turning a dial and selecting different shutter speed or aperture. As you adjust one parameter, the other changes automatically. You might use this, for instance, if shooting a candid street portrait and want a slightly faster shutter speed to ensure you freeze any movement.
#2 Continuous AF
Very few subjects on the street are perfectly static, so unless you’re very lucky or have lightning-quick reflexes, you’re probably going to have to focus and re-compose your subjects several times.
Setting your camera to its continuous focusing mode will allow you to capture moving subjects more quickly.
Likewise, if your camera has a multi-point AF setting, this will also save time and make you less noticeable.
#3 Use a shutter speed 1/125sec or faster
Unless you are doing something creative like blurring the movement of a crowd, in most instances you’ll probably want to freeze motion in your street photography.
To this end, you probably want a minimum shutter speed of 1/125sec to ensure that your images are crisp and as sharp as possible.
However, as we all know it’s not always possible to get the minimum shutter speed you want. So in these situations…
#4 Don’t be afraid to use a high ISO
In the early days of digital photography you wouldn’t want to shoot beyond a sensitivity setting of around ISO 800 – ISO 640, even, on some cameras – for fear of image noise or smudging of colours spoiling an image. But it was probably from around the Nikon D3 that this all started to change.
Cameras these days are now amazingly good at controlling noise at higher sensitivity settings, even those with smaller sensors.
If it’s a dull day and you’re struggling to get a shutter speed fast enough to shoot your scene, a higher ISO might be just what you need to get that extra bit of speed to ensure a crisp image with having to dial in a larger aperture. A word of caution, however, we’d recommend staying within your camera’s standard sensitivity range and not going into the upper expansion range.
#5 Use an aperture of around f/5.6
Portrait photographers often shoot at large apertures of f/2.8 in order to blur the background and create a shallow depth of field that isolates focus on their subject.
With street photography, though, it’s a bit trickier. While you want to emphasise your subject within the scene, you also want to retain enough of that scene in focus to give context. You want to tell a story with your street photography, and a background that is completely blurred will detract from that.
So using an aperture of around f/5.6 will soften your background enough to draw our attention to your subject, but still leave signs and shapes recognisable to let us know where this is all taking place.
#6 Use Auto White Balance
Like sensitivity settings, white balance is another feature that has only got better over time, and the Auto White Balance setting on modern cameras does a fantastic job at ascertaining the conditions and delivering the correct tones.
Let it do its job! Street photography requires careful attention to everything going on around you. Allowing your AWB to do its job enables you to do yours.
May 2017’s Digital Splash Awards Photography Competition theme is Street – Find out what you could win and how to enter on the Digital Splash website or by clicking here.
Please note: The Digital Splash Awards run from February until October every year with a different theme each month. This year’s Sport theme runs from May 1st 2017 until May 31st 2017.
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Looking to take your street photography even further? Why not consider one of Wilkinson Camera’s Shoot the City Photowalks with David Newton. Find out more by clicking here.