9 Tips for Creating Great Street Portraits

I love taking street portraits. Whether the people you are photographing are posing or just going about their day-to-day life, humans are the most captivating, strange and interesting of subjects.

Most of my portraits taken out on the street are shot with the permission of the subject. That’s my style. I love looking for people who intrigue me. I often signal them with a smile and gesture of my camera, then watch for their reaction. But I also shoot unposed portraits and life on the street, whatever catches my eye.

I know from my workshops that a lot of people find photographing strangers difficult and even, sometimes, terrifying. What is important to remember though, is that most people like to be noticed. It’s a compliment to be seen and thought of as interesting. But if they don’t like it, then the worst that can happen is that you have to delete the photo. Simple. Plus the more you do this, the easier it gets.

Break the world down into elements

You can simplify the purpose of composition into the idea that you are simply breaking down the world into elements and organizing them in an interesting way.

I find it really helpful to look at composition with this in mind – that all you are doing is organizing the world’s elements. It helps because our eyes make things very complicated for us photographically as we see everything in 3D. Not only do we see and sense hundreds of thousands of pieces of visual information every minute from all around us, but our senses can pick up on things happening behind us as well.

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To break this visual overload created by your eyes when you are bringing the world into your frame, start by breaking down what you see around you into elements – an interesting mural, strong lines on the road, beautiful shadows, etc. Then build your composition up from there. You only need one or two interesting elements to make a photo. Ones that work together and say something through their balance, shape, or placement.

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