• Jan Hunter

Street & Candid Photography

Image: Sara Wendel Melhuish (first posted in the Going Digital Facebook student group)

Street photography has a  long tradition and was made famous by practitioners like – Cartier Bresson (France),  Robert Frank (America), Alfred Stieglitz (America), Brassai (France) and Weegee (America).  Their shots were candid, unposed, frequently shot at night while using quite large and cumbersome equipment.  The advent of digital photography has allowed us the luxury and ease of small cameras, light weight, speed of shooting and an immediacy of viewing never dreamed of in the past.

Some tips on equipment/techniques:

Any interchangeable lens camera will capture great candid shots, but you'll need a fairly wide-angle lens so that you can get reasonably close to your subject (I know it's tempting to use a longer zoom lens, but you'll often find people walking between you and your subject).

Try not to ‘look’ like a photographer, leave tripods and camera bags in the car.  Pre-set your aperture to around f5.6 or f8 and depending upon available light, you should get reasonably fast shutter speeds. To freeze people when they walk past, depending upon their speed you’ll need to be shooting at least 1/125th second.  If on the other hand you want some blur in the shot, drop down to 1/30th or 1/60th.  Adjust your ISO to give you the desired speed.Try not to look at your subject too much, they will get suspicious.  Look at the buildings or the trees above them and when you look back down, sneak a glance their way, wait for the pose that suits your needs and shoot! 

Image: Helen Etchells (first posted in the Going Digital Facebook student group)

A useful technique : Given that candid and street photography calls for the subjects to be unwitting participants who do not realise they have been photographed, some subtlety and preparation is required in setting up the shots.   It’s important that you don’t spend too much time looking through the viewfinder with the camera pointed at your subject.  I usually pre-focus the camera on something that lies the same distance away from me as my subject and for this, the camera must be set to 1-area focusing or you can use manual focus.   Alternatively, you could try face detection mode but it may not always pick out the right face in a crowd.

The technique:

Once a suitable subject has been identified, set the lens to a suitably wide angle, usually around 20–30mm.

Look around for another person or static point the same distance away from you and half press the shutter release to set focus. Once the camera has focused, do not release the shutter button.

Take the camera away from your eye and rest the lens in the crook of your arm.

When the subject is unwittingly posed to your satisfaction, fire the shutter.

Some practice and experimentation will be needed to ensure that the subject is framed into your shot – practice on the family! Try different focal lengths until you find one where you can be sure to frame subjects without having to look in the viewfinder. If your camera has a tilting live view screen, it's even easier, just hang your camera around your neck with the screen tilted so that you can see it clearly and no-one will even know you're taking a shot!

How to find Subjects:

Walk through parks and look out for people sitting on benches. Midday is a good time to hunt and the public make great targets as they read papers, sleep and eat food

In the city, look out for human statues/street performers, they make for interesting shots and it does no harm to drop some cash into their collection tins by way of a thank you

Be a little wary of down an outs, they can be quite touchy and unless you’re willing to strike up a conversation and buy them a coffee, you may a) not get a shot, b) suffer some abuse or c) discover just how fast you can run while carrying a large camera bag.

Look for interesting backgrounds and just wait for the right subject to pass in front of it

If you’re spotted, give the subject one of your cards, show them your shot and if they like it - offer to send them a (small) .jpeg of the image.

It’s almost inevitable that at some stage, you will be shouted at – keep your calm, offer to delete the shots and it’s often a good idea to hand over one of your business cards to show your ‘professional intent’. You will quickly develop the necessarily thick skin.


Photographers are often worried about the legality of candid/street photography, so let's look at some facts:   

  • Taking a picture in a public place is generally legal, but do take steps to ensure that you are in fact ‘in a public place’.  Increasingly – areas are becoming ‘privatised’ (e.g. shopping centres, sports areas etc.) where security staff can ask you to stop taking photographs, although they have no right to seize your camera or memory cards.

  • Even in public places, a degree of common sense must be applied.  For example, if there is some sort of civil disturbance or emergency and the police / emergency services are operating – you may be asked to move on.  In the worst case, you may be arrested if you don’t.

  • You must also bear in mind that even if street photography is legal, individuals’ attitudes to it may range from mildly curious to absolutely furious.  To that end, you might practice your running skills when carrying a large camera bag

  • For my own part, I find that simply asking permission usually does the trick and the worst that can happen is that your potential subject will say NO!!Be careful of taking any shots where there are children – it’s a sad world . . . but parents can be very suspicious of strangers taking photos of their kids.  Especially if you’re male.

  • If you are not using the picture for commercial use or promotion, then you can use / publish it without having the subject’s permission or signature on a model release form.  Note! the term publish includes web usage.  However, if the image depicts the person in an unsavoury or embarrassing light, then they may have a case to sue you for libel – especially if tag lines or captions imply anything that may cause them embarrassment or offence.

  • As you’d expect care must be taken when shooting images near military installations or Government buildings – the current Anti Terrorism laws are quite stringent

Clearly, the above pointers apply to the UK.  However, laws (and attitudes) may well be different in other countries.  Laws are constantly tweaked or changed, so if you plan to make street photography your business or hobby, keep up to date and check the web for info.

Rod Corston

Going Digital tutor

If this is a genre that you're keen to try, our Travel and Street Photography workshops and photo walks are a perfect opportunity for you develop your travel and street photography skills and techniques.

37 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

©2019 by Going Digital Photography Courses