As a street photographer, the street becomes your studio. Whether you’re documenting culture, public events, architecture, or just people going about their everyday life, street photography is nuanced and varies widely in style, tone, and approach.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to play by any rules in street photography. Your only mission is to capture moments, people, and places in their most natural and undisturbed state. In other words, as a street photographer, you should essentially remain invisible. Or, at the very least, non-intrusive.
So how do you set up photoshoots or brainstorm street photography ideas if you’re not able to take control of your work and you’re only able to capture things as they happen?
Good question, and today we’re going to get you inspired with some street photography ideas that should get your creative juices flowing and your camera snapping.
If you’re in need of more inspiration, don’t forget to check out this lineup of best street photography portfolios, as well as this grouping of street photography examples that are bound to spark some ideas in your near future.
Table of Contents
As a street photographer, you’ll often find that your work revolves less around setting up a dedicated photoshoot, and is more so concerned with ideas that act as a jumping-off point to set you up for a great photo.
In some cases, your ideas might fail, but as a street photographer, more than any other photography niche, it’s important that you experiment and try different ideas. Doing so could help you capture something truly special.
Not every photo you capture has to be detailed and vibrant. You can also choose to cloud your work in mystery by playing with silhouettes and shadows. Perhaps you’re shooting at night or right before the sunset. Or maybe you’re shooting during the day but you’re in a dark alley that helps to create a certain mood.
In this photo by Raghav Goswam, he uses shadow and light to bring texture and visual interest to a seemingly simple scene (i.e. the space between two aluminum buildings).
As much as you can’t necessarily control the events or people in the images you shoot, you do have full control over the environment.
If you’re struggling with street photography ideas, start by simply finding environments that interest you. Maybe it’s a particular alleyway that is covered in vibrant murals or maybe it’s an industrial building that has a lot of unique texture. You could even focus exclusively on the environment itself as seen in this photo series by Debbie Naylor that features industrial interiors in the workplace.
Oftentimes, juxtaposition is a stylistic choice that makes the biggest impact in a photo.
Juxtaposition can be embraced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps the environment and the subject are juxtaposed, maybe the emotion and the scene are juxtaposed, or maybe it’s something as simple as a juxtaposition between the weather and the subject matter.
We see juxtaposition play out in this photo where a mountain and a group of humans are juxtaposed against one another, making the group of humans look even smaller than they would if there was no mountain.
In street photography, in some cases, it’s totally fine if your subject knows you are there and looks directly at the camera. In other cases, if you’re looking to try something different, you might want to practice capturing genuine moments. In other words, candid moments.
A laugh, frustration, sadness, and even anger, are all emotions that can make for photos that are thought-provoking and touching, as seen here in this candid photo.
As we already referred to above, street photography often relies on the photographer not disturbing the scene. This includes not influencing the ways in which two subjects interact.
We can see this idea come across in this photo by Ebti Nabag, where the children play casually in the background of the photo and a boy and woman interact naturally without any direction from the photographer.
If you’ve ever spent any time in a big city, you’ve probably come across a scene or two that caused you to take pause. These scenes can make for great photography opportunities.
You can snap a photo of a scene like this when you happen to come across it (simply wandering around a big city like NYC is often enough to come across a scene or two like this as demonstrated in this photo), but you can seek these moments out by looking up local events where people might be gathering, or finding locations where peculiar things tend to happen.
If you’re stuck for street photography ideas, you don’t necessarily have to come up with an entirely new idea of what to shoot. Instead, you can start playing with the effects you use in your photography.
For example, using motion blur tends to be a very popular choice amongst street photographers because it clearly indicates movement in your photo while adding something a little different to the piece. For instance, we see the use of motion in this photo.
When we think of street photography, we tend to think of full scenes. Either large buildings, dramatic scenes, or people in their natural environment. Having said that, street photography doesn’t always have to be so expansive. You can also cover micro-moments and scenes by getting up close and personal with a subject, object, or environment.
For instance, we see a more up-close approach to photography in this photo.
While street photography tends to rely on spontaneity and capturing undisturbed candid moments, street photoshoots tend to have more carefully planned details, or at the very least, a stronger vision for the photo. Having said that, at its core, a street photoshoot should still feel natural and embrace the environment with relatively little intervention.
If you want to set up a street photoshoot, here are some ideas:
As a street photographer, you’ll likely come across a variety of different scenarios, people, and architecture that are worth photographing. However, if you can take a series of pictures that help to convey a story or a message, your work has the potential to feel much more powerful and impactful.
For instance, in this series of photos from Jacques Nkinzingabo called “Country in Progress”, the photos tell a story of Rwanda, documenting the people’s resilience, diverse culture, and the nuance that is present throughout the country.
While fashion tends to be its own style of photography in and of itself, if you want to combine your love of fashion with your love for photography, photographing street style tends to be a good mix of the two.
This style of photoshoot relies on you picking out styles and fashion that are worthy of photographing. Street style tends to be raw, avant-garde, colorful, chic, bold, or all of the above.
Esther Sweeny demonstrates this perfectly with her street-style photography.
Here’s another instance where you can combine two different photography styles together: street photography and portraiture.
In this photoshoot idea, it’s less about picking a model based on certain aesthetic features, and more so about seeking out everyday people who have interesting faces and making them the star of your photoshoot.
For example, we see this in the work of Emile Holba where the portraits aren’t necessarily glamorous, but they convey real feelings and emotions.
When you think about setting up a street photoshoot, naturally you think of shooting on the street, but don’t forget that street photography can also include shooting indoors.
Generally, the only requirement is that it be some sort of public space like a museum, mall, or even on public transportation.
If your photoshoots are feeling stale, try switching up the environment and shooting indoors as shown in this photo.
When you’re setting up a photoshoot, you likely have an idea in mind of what you want to capture. Oftentimes, this includes a certain kind of person, environment, and/or mood. Not too surprisingly, because of this, street photoshoots tend to place a lot of emphasis on their subject, but have you ever thought about changing your focus from wide and expansive to more narrow and close-up?
We mentioned getting up close and personal earlier, but with this idea, we want to challenge you to get even more personal. For example, in this series by Polly Rusyn, where all the photos focus on close-up shots of different body parts.
Hands and feet also tend to be a particular favorite with street photographers since so much can be conveyed with photos of feet and hands.
One of the nicest things about street photography is the authentic emotion you’re often able to capture. However, sometimes when you’re working in more of a photoshoot setting, your subjects can become shy in front of the camera. This is where working with pairs can come in handy, because the models often feed off each other and help to ease any tension or awkwardness.
Also, when you work with a group, even if part of the group is feeling camera-shy, you can still capture your image as shown in this photo by KC Nwakalor.
When doing a photoshoot, you might be tempted to control the scene, or your intuition might be to just let your models do whatever, and then you’ll capture things as they happen.
Both approaches can work but don’t forget you also have the option to have a hybrid approach in a street photoshoot. For example, you can pose your models, but you can also have them pick positions that feel natural and comfortable for them. In addition, part of the group might look at the camera and others might be preoccupied with something else. This photo by Gregory Bojorquez exemplifies this idea perfectly.
As mentioned above, telling a story with your street photoshoot can be extremely beneficial when trying to make your photos feel more impactful.
One way you can help tell this story and make your photoshoot more impactful is by capturing the details. These details might not make for the most glamorous photo itself, but when shown in relation to the other photos in the series, they add a great deal of context and impact.
This photo by Mano Svanidze might feel random on its own, but in the context of the series, this detail shot makes a big impact.
Sometimes, when you’re struggling with a street photography idea, all you really need to get your creative juices flowing is a theme. From there, once you know what you’re looking for, you can get out there and start shooting.
You don’t have to overthink the theme too much, and you shouldn’t be too rigid about it. In most cases, street photography is all about embracing spontaneity and letting life unfold naturally. Having said that, having a theme in mind won’t hurt.
Street photography has a tendency to rely on heavy emotions and challenging subjects; however, this doesn’t always have to be the case.
If you want to lighten things up, you can look for humor in your street photography. It sometimes takes a bit of time to find these humorous moments, since you want them to be natural, but when you are lucky enough to stumble upon them, they can be golden.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can also use struggle as your theme.
These photos can sometimes be disturbing or difficult to look at, but because of this, they also often tend to be the most impactful.
Struggle can include everything from war to famine, to drug abuse, to homelessness.
Two people laughing, a couple sharing a tender moment, a child giggling, or a new parent looking down at their child, capturing moments that express joy can be hugely rewarding as a photographer.
Keep in mind, if you really want to capture authentic joy, you will want to practice your skills of being discrete. There’s a big difference between an image that captures “posed” joy and true, authentic joy that you just happened to stumble upon.
You don’t have to be a food photographer to capture images of food. Street photographers can also capture food. Whether it be the food being eaten by the couple at the restaurant, the discarded food in the back alley of NYC, or the food markets you come across in your travels abroad, food photography used in street photography often has a secondary meaning that helps tell a story or represent an overarching idea.
Children can be wonderful to photograph, especially as a street photographer, because children are often uninhabited and act the same whether the camera is present or not.
You can capture children in all states: happy, sad, mad, scared. You can also experiment with groups of children or a child by himself/herself. Either way, this is a theme that is popular for a good reason.
While there’s a whole photography niche dedicated to animals (i.e. wildlife photography), this theme focus on animals found on the “street”. Maybe it’s a cat in the window of a home
or a stray dog in the city. In more rural settings, it could be a goat strolling down the sidewalk, or might even be a whole set of farm animals.
Animals can be great to photography because as long as you’re not disturbing them, they will generally act the same whether you were there or not.
We often think of street photography as having a very specific subject or a unique environment, but we don’t often think about the weather/nature as it relates to street photography.
If you want to dive deeper into this theme idea, you could take images of people’s reactions to different weather (i.e. the panic when it starts to pour, or the joy the sun can provide). In this photo, you see a man on a motorbike during a rainstorm. Nature can also include images of mountains, landscapes, and bodies of water.
Heavy and often quite dark, this might not be everyone’s favorite theme idea, but there’s no denying that it can create quite the impact.
With this theme idea, you can focus on the after-effects of death (i.e. families grieving), or you can photograph the elderly who are near death. However you choose to utilize this theme in your street photography, just be sure that you’re being respectful to those involved since death can be such a personal and difficult subject to deal with.
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