In street photography, fast-paced action is the norm. You might not be dodging literal bullets like some others, but excellent awareness and reaction speeds are still critical.
In order to turn out great shots, you need to be able to adapt. You need to have an intuitive grasp of which kind of setup works well in what kind of environment.
Learning that intuition can be tricky, but it’s definitely not impossible. All the great masters of street photography started out somewhere, after all!
The basis for any practical intuition is theoretical understanding. That theory of street photography will be today’s topic.
In the following guide, we are going to introduce you to the technical background you need to master this genre.
We will look at all the skills and practical knowledge you need in order to succeed in street photography, including the most important camera settings for common shooting situations.
Read on for the whole take!
The Exposure Triangle for Street Photographers
Let’s start with the basics. No matter your gear, level of expertise, or discipline, all photographers have to deal with the three elements of the exposure triangle to be able to turn out good shots.
For street photography, it’s no different. Before you head on to more arcane details like depth-of-field calculations, program automation, and advanced focus techniques (all of which we are going to cover, no worries), you do need to be familiar with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings.
Aperture Settings for Street Photography
First, the aperture decreases or increases the amount of light let in at the moment of exposure. Large apertures are commonly used in low-light photography for that reason. “Stopping down” by selecting a smaller lens opening is equally useful when you are shooting in a brightly-lit environment.
Using Aperture to Change Depth of Field
The aperture setting also has a second function: it determines the depth of field of your shot.
Depth of field is an often-used buzzword, but a poorly understood concept among many. This even includes street photographers whose work greatly relies on mastering it.
So, what is the depth of field (DOF)? In simple words, imagine your focus point not as a literal, single coordinate but rather as a field , like an imaginary cloud within which all subjects are in focus.
DOF describes the size or extent of this field.
A high depth of field means a large portion of your shot is in focus. In some particular cases, the depth of field can be infinite, so everything is in focus!
Conversely, a small DOF means that only some elements of your shot will look sharp.
This might sound counterintuitive at first, but know that a large aperture like f/2 has a much smaller depth of field than a small aperture like f/22. Within street photography, a large DOF has long been the majority’s preference.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t shoot on larger apertures in the street – sometimes, it might be the best option for the moment.
Nevertheless, a large DOF brings with it a degree of flexibility that can make or break some heat-of-the-moment shots. We will further explore why this is later on when we talk about focus. But for now, note down that smaller apertures are generally preferable in street photography contexts.