Bad Street Photography Advice

Daniel Canfield
Nov 11, 2017 · 5 min read

Street photography is full of advice for beginners. You must do this, but you can’t do this. Most of the advice, while well intentioned, is just bullshit.

No Telephoto Lenses

“Коллега” (CC BY 2.0) by akk_rus

You must get up close and personal, and you can’t do that with a telephoto lens. At least that is what many street photographers have said. One of the most famous street photography quotes is:

“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” — Robert Capa

You CAN use a telephoto lens to do street photography. I often encourage people who want to begin doing street photography but are nervous about it to start by using telephoto lenses.

Another benefit is that it is often easier to capture a natural image when the subject doesn’t know they are being photographed.

Must Be Black and White

“Street” (CC BY 2.0) by davejdoe

I usually prefer looking at monochrome street photographs but should never feel like you have to shoot monochrome to get your shots. The best method is to shoot color and then convert to monochrome on your computer. This way you can decide on a case by case basis whether the image will work better in color or monochrome.

All Street Photography is Art

“streetsNewYork-171” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by craigCloutier

Yes, many street photographs are artistic, however, just because you shot an image on the street doesn’t always make it a “street photograph.” Some street photographs are just crap. think the difference between a professional wedding photographer capturing a bride and groom vs. the mother of the groom walking up with a point and shoot camera telling them to “smile for the camera.”

Must Shoot Film

“Zürich — Ilford XP2” (CC BY 2.0) by Ric Capucho

Many street photography purists swear that you must shoot on film instead of using digital cameras. It’s not just street photographers though.

Max Pinckers is a great photographer, and he still shoots on film. Pinckers told Time Magazine “You can make all these decisions without the camera. And then take a picture of it and for me that works because I can make my decision and stick with it.”

That’s just some pretentious bullshit. Look, I have no problem with people shooting film, just don’t give me a bullshit reason for doing it. “I like shooting on film.” That’s all people need to hear. You don’t have to make the leap to shooting digital. You also don’t have to leap to driving a car. Go ahead and ride a horse to work, just don’t give bullshit reasons for doing it.

There are benefits to shooting film, but for a person who wants to be shooting street photography, they should never feel like they have to shoot on film to do it properly. Film or digital will work, do whichever interests you and works best for your style.

Must Use a Leica

“Mister Steeldrum” (CC BY 2.0) by Christian Schirrmacher

Leica is the camera brand that is synonymous with street photography. I grew up reading and looking at the street photography books from the 70’s and early 80’s, and it seemed like most of them used Leica. I’ve heard “you should use a Leica if you want to be taken seriously as a street photographer.” I’ve also heard this in regards to Hasselblad.

I’d love to own a Leica Q, but I can’t afford $4,500 for one. The good thing is you can use any camera for street photography. I use a Canon G7x Mark ii. That’s not even a DSLR. Your style of shooting street photography will develop the more you do it. You may learn to love using DLSR’s for street photos, while others prefer a smaller more discreet camera. For street photography, you can use any camera you have access too. Once you begin shooting street, you will learn more about your personal approach to street photography and then have a better understanding of what type of camera will work best for you when you do upgrade.

Street Photography is in the Streets

“antique” (CC BY 2.0) by Nicolas Alejandro Street Photography

You do not have to shoot in the streets. You can shoot people at the airport, the County Fair, the beach, the barber shop, as well as many other places where people are. Street photography is shooting to capture real life, a snapshot in time if you will.

Street Photos Must Be Candid

“Street photography” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Maitham Photography

Street photos are typically taken candidly, but you can also ask people if you can snap their picture and even ask them to pose. Another favorite tactic is to stand with your camera ready to shoot, and then when the subject turns around and sees the camera, you snap the image at just the right time to capture their reaction. Technically not candid, but definitely street photography.

Just Shoot

“Headlines” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Ayertosco

If you are new to street photography then just pick up whatever camera you have and head out. You may only get 1 “keeper” picture for every 100 images you shoot. That’s OK. The point of beginning street photography is to simply have fun doing it and to expand your comfort level. It’ll get you off the couch and interacting with people that you would never have met otherwise. So grab your camera and head out to conquer your fear of shooting in the streets. Who cares how other people define street photography? Just do your own thing and learn from the street photographers you admire.

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