Once you’re feeling comfortable and confident with your camera, creative street photography is an awesome subject to delve into – particularly if it’s in a community you’re familiar with.
You never quite know what you’re going to get when photographing candid street scenes. I love the buzz of capturing unintended magical moments. This buzz, and sharing the stories I photograph with others, is what keeps me motivated.
You don’t need to be too hung up about the weather or gear – check out these creative street photography tips and ideas, grab a camera and I’ll see you out there!
1. Be Brave, Bold, and Friendly
Creative street photography is about confidence, and if you don’t feel it, then it’s ok to fake it! There have been times when I’ve needed to explain to a stranger that the reason I’m standing so close to their car is that I’m taking a photo of a scene . . . and right next to their car provides the best viewpoint.
I’m frequently asked ‘what are you doing?’ by curious strangers, especially if I’m just sitting still for 10 minutes, staring into the distance holding my camera halfway up to my face.
The difference between an OK photo and a fantastic photo might just mean asking a builder if you can go onto a building site, or talking to a parent about including their child in the frame.
Be ready for conversations and be confident with your street photography ideas and agenda. A smile and explanation goes a long way.
2. Creative Street Photography From Inside
As an avid coffee-fan, this tip is important for me. Rest your weary legs by heading inside, ordering a hot beverage, and sitting by the window.
What do you see outside?
This approach provides a very different perspective for creative street photography. Passers-by are often oblivious to cafe windows. If you feel uncomfortable about photographing people’s faces, be creative with your framing.
Photograph people walking away, groups of people, or use a low aperture to capture details on the window with people in the background blurred.
3. Be Creative With Only One Lens
Good creative street photography does not necessarily equate to a varied and fancy array of lenses. Get disciplined with your craft by only packing one lens for the day. My favourite for this is a 50mm prime lens because it’s compact, unobtrusive, light, and provides great sharp photos.
Only using one lens forces you to think carefully about composition, and what to exclude from your frame. It also means less weight to carry around (and fewer lens caps to lose which seems to be a hobby of mine!)
4. Shoot Into the Light
When you’re responding quickly to events unfolding, it’s not always practical to move to where the light is in the right place. Creative things happen on the street at all times of the day – not just the ‘golden hour‘ when the light is perfect.
Windows reflect glaring sunlight and bright shop windows throw light onto the footpath, and it’s sometimes necessary to point the camera towards this light. Learn how to photograph ‘contre-jour’ (‘against daylight’) and practice adjusting any haze and highlights in post-production.
This creative photography technique can really help tell a story and add a unique quality to your street photos.
5. Look For Relationships and Connections
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re constantly connecting with buildings, objects, other humans, and nature. Explore how the shapes of people on the street relate to curves of trees and architecture, or how people interact with traffic and intersections.
The proximity of people to each other can often tell an interesting story, and I’m always on the look-out for eye contact between strangers.
CHUZKOS artists installing a photographic street art exhibition.
6. Animals and Creative Street Photography
Get some critters into your frame! Think about the insects, domestic pets or wild animals in your community – they tell a lot about your environment and provide loads of opportunities for creative photography.
Animals provide an interesting contrast between highly controlled architecture and society, and uninhibited nature. Photographing fast or unpredictable animals is also great practice in adjusting settings fast!
7. Seek Out the Unusual
The longer you spend photographing the streets and people, the more likely you are to develop the photographers’ intuition. You’ll sense when something unusual is about to happen which translates as ‘extremely photogenic’ in creative street photography terms!
Keep your street photography composition and settings simple and clear, and let the subject’s creativity speak in your photo. Look for flash mobs, buskers, parades, artwork, an out-of-context object on the footpath, or a shop mannequin in a rubbish bin.
Things that are different draw the viewer in and encourage us to ask questions about the scene.
Photographer’s reflection in ‘Reflective Lullaby (John)’ sculpture by Gregor Kregar.
8. Photo Ideas for Smoke And Mirrors
Photographing smoke (or steam) and reflections is a great way to enhance your creative street photography.
Cigarette smoke and vehicle exhausts may not be nice to smell, but they provide an interesting layer of haze to scenes, particularly in cold weather. Steam rising from frosty surfaces in the sun or subway ventilation vents (if you have an underground transport system in your city), also has a similar effect.
If the air is clear and the sun is bright, try capturing repeating lines and shapes by turning your lens towards window reflections or puddles. Photographing a reflection on an angle to the surface reflecting will keep you out of the frame (unless you want to be there as part of your story!)
9. Use Your Phone
Feeling a bit shy about pointing a camera around the streets? Try using the camera on your phone to practice composition and build confidence. We’re now more accustomed to seeing people take photos with their phones than SLR and DSLR cameras, so you won’t look out of place.
You’ll quickly learn how to respond to the movements around you and how to experiment creatively with angles and framing, but without having to worry about getting odd looks from people passing by.
10. Go High And Low
Changing your angles is a simple and effective way to achieve more creative street photography. It’s also a great way to ease yourself into taking photographs in a public space.
Try sitting on the footpath and photograph what’s happening at ground level – feet walking, weeds creeping, bicycle wheels whizzing, strollers and wheelchairs rolling. Alternatively, you could stand on a staircase and get a great birds-eye view of what’s happening below.
There are times to be in the middle of the action, and others when you can capture a powerful photograph by standing apart from a different viewpoint.
11. Find the Funny
Witty street scenes catch our eye and make us smile. I usually need to feel relaxed and well-caffeinated to spot these moments, and often they’re at locations that I’ve walked past numerous times but hadn’t paid close attention to before.
Photograph people who are interacting with signage or street art, or capture a person’s laugh for a beautifully human photograph. Look for ironic and clever placement of street features to tell the story.
12. Use Negative Space
Living in an earthquake-devastated city, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to photograph negative space.
Letting the eye ‘rest’ by including big skies or plain walls in your photographs is a creative way to incorporate some emotion into your street photography too, as it can often evoke feelings of desolation, calm, or unease.
If you’re in a busy area, try tilting your camera upwards. Use your composition to include a third of the chaotic street scene, and two thirds big sky or plain buildings.
This might also be the moment you snap that bird flying past at the critical moment!
A city worker walks past an empty building site.
13. Fill the Frame
In complete contrast to the previous photography tip, try filling your frame with LOTS of things. I can sense my early photography tutors shuddering!
I love using this technique because it provides so much complex information for viewers to explore and interpret. One image can narrate multiple stories, and document the moment in time in rich detail.
It’s also an easy and creative way to convey a sense of chaos, panic, or excitement.
An adoring crowd with their winning rugby team.
14. Creative Rubbish
Be inspired by ordinary and unsightly objects such as rubbish bins, grafitti, and old buildings. Keep your composition simple then experiment in Lightroom with adjusting colours and tones.
Think about how you felt about the environment when you clicked the shutter, and let that feeling direct which post-production techniques you use.
I’ve mentioned empathy last, but it’s the most important to me. So much about street photography is about being sensitive to other people’s emotions, cultures, and privacy. My agenda is always to depict life that is quirky, beautiful, and says something honest and meaningful about the subject.
There are plenty of moments when I’ve put my camera down during a street photography shoot because clicking the shutter was not appropriate.
Be clear about where your boundaries lie (and the reasons for them), and the ethics of photographing strangers.
This will define your style and help you explain your processes to the people you photograph.
Photographing the streets and people around you is a fantastic way to hone your observational skills and document the heritage and atmosphere of a city or town.
By incorporating some creative street photography techniques and ideas, you can make truly original photographs that grab peoples’ attention and are authentic to your street photography experiences.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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