Here’s my latest article on everything you could ever want to know about street photography.

Street photography is about candidly photographing life and human nature. It is a way for us to show our surroundings and how as photographers we relate to it through various images. Within street photography there any many sub-genres: candid, reflections, panning and intentional camera movement (ICM), just to name a few. 

Intentional camera Movement (ICM) at Pitt Street Mall in Sydney

People don’t need to be present in a street photograph, nor does it need to be taken in a city. It can be taken anywhere, and it can portray nearly anything – but remember street photography isn’t posed or manipulated. Street photography is about candidly photographing life and human nature. It is a way for us to show our surroundings and how we as photographers relate to it.

COVID-19 lockdown protest in Auckland.

Is street photography legal?

Street photography is intrusive – in the NZ, Australia, US and the UK, there is no right to privacy in public. This means that you can legally take photographs of anyone in a public place. Note that the definition of “public place” may vary from one country to the next, but it generally include parks, footpaths, roads, and outdoor common areas of office buildings.

Most indoor locations, on the other hand, would be considered private places, such as shops, churches, schools, and office buildings. Photographing people going about private activities in places deemed private is not legal.  I also would very rarely photograph children without parent’s permission, and as I’m wanting candid images, I typically don’t have children on their own in my images.

Again, in NZ, Australia, US and the UK, you can use photographs taken in public places for artistic purposes without the need for a model release. This means you can sell street shots as fine art prints or as illustrations for books or cards. However, you cannot use these images for commercial or advertising purposes without a model release from every person in the scene. You cannot use the images to promote a product, and you cannot use them in a way that may insinuate something false about the subject.

In this image, permission was given by the all the subjects to photograph inside.

How to get over your fear of photographing people

Fear is one of the toughest obstacles to overcome for street photographers. Beginners often think, “What if my subject sees me? How will they feel? Will they be mad? How will they react?”

Keep in mind that, when you do street photography right, most people won’t notice.  

When someone asks you what you are doing, be confident and comfortable. I say that I am a carrying out a project capturing the culture and people. Only once have I ever had to delete a photograph because someone didn’t want their image to be captured.

By the way, if someone talks to you don’t be combative even if it is in your legal right to photograph on the street. You don’t need to argue at all. And no matter what, keep a smile on your face.

The more obvious you look, the less people will think that you could possibly be doing something wrong. 

Finally, consider starting somewhere busy, such as a fair or a market. It’s a great way to get over the initial hump because you’ll be less noticeable – and as you improve, you can move on to different places.

Your local market makes a great place to capture images, this image from Auckland’s Otara Market.

Find a good spot and wait

This is the best street photography tip I can give you is “Look for a good location. And when you find one, just wait!”

If you only shoot while walking, you will come across many wonderful locations – but you’ll only give yourself a brief moment to capture the right image. Instead, find a nice location…and then wait for the perfect moment. By hanging out in one area, you’ll be able to focus your attention on the scene, plus you’ll be ready with your camera.

Also, if you lie in wait, people will enter your personal space, not the other way around. That way, you can feel more comfortable shooting.

Our group sat for a while waiting for interesting activity and after 15 minutes this group of women gathered around this table who then started recording a TikTok.

After shooting, keep the camera up. Most photographers the moment they’ve captured an image, will drop their arm down and let their camera dangle which is what tips people off as it clearly indicates that you have taken their photo.

After you capture an image, don’t drop your arm. Instead, hold the camera in place until the subject leaves the scene. That way, your subject will think you were just photographing the background and that they were in the way.

Choose the right gear

Since you’ll be carrying your equipment around town, travel as light as possible as your goal is to capture candid scenes and you’ll want to pass as unnoticed as possible – check out my go-to street photography camera.

The best street photography camera settings

Choosing the best street photography settings doesn’t need to be tricky,  these are my recommendations which you’ll tweak depending on the specific situation.

  • Camera mode: Aperture Priority or Manual – I prefer Manual
  • Aperture: f/8 and narrower
  • Shutter speed: Above 1/125s
  • ISO: 200 and higher 
  • Focus mode: Manual (zone focusing)
  • White balance: Auto

Read more about settings here.

Want to grow your street photography skills, come join one of my Street Photography workshops, click here to see what there is.

About Lesley Whyte

Lesley is a member of Australian Association of Street Photographers Incorporated and Australasia’s only woman street photography mentor offering a variety of street photography workshops in New Zealand and Australia; beginners, abstract, advanced two day and Henri Cartier-Bresson methodology.