Tips for Improving Your Street Style Photos

Like most other forms of photography, shooting Street Style takes time, practice, and a certain level of technical know-how to get really great looking photos.  Personally, I’m still something of a novice at it myself, but I’ve learned a lot about shooting it in the past few months. Here are some tips to help you improve your Street Style photographs.

 

Shoot Everyday
Or at least as much as you can.  If you really want to improve your Street Style pictures, the most important thing you can do is to actually go out and shoot. See which photos you like or don’t like, learn from them, and apply what you’ve learned the next time you’re out shooting. Street Style is all about practice, practice, practice. The point is that eventually, when you edit your photos, you'll find the ones you do like, get rid of the ones you don't like, and you'll start to train your eye towards developing a personal style within the context of Street Style (which, admittedly, has more limitations inherent to it than just about any other style of photography).

Don’t be Afraid not to Ask
Sometimes the best Street Style photos are the really candid ones–the unasked for ones when you catch a person at their most honest and unguarded. Remember that once you ask someone if you can take their photo, they become self-conscious and will project an appearance of themselves instead of showing you who they really are. It can be tough to put a camera in a person’s face and take their photo without asking, but you’ll eventually  become more comfortable doing it.

On the more technical side…

Choose the Right Tools
Not every lens is right for Street Style. I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from wide angle lenses, i.e. your 16mm, 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm lenses. These lenses can cause distortions and an effect known as keystoning, which causes straight lines in the frame to converge at the top or bottom of it unless your lens is perfectly parallel to your subject. These effects aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t particularly flattering to human subjects (or their clothing).  When I shoot Street Style I usually use a 50mm lens, which is regarded as “normal,” close to the perspective of the human eye, and generally without wonky distortions.

Focus on Your Subject
This seems pretty obvious but let me explain.  As I said I usually shoot with a 50mm lens and set it to at an aperture of f/1.8 to keep the background out of focus and the subject in sharp focus. In order to achieve perfectly crisp focus at that f-stop, I NEVER MANUALLY FOCUS. The reason for that is because DSLRs’ focusing screens are not designed to accurately show focus at such low f-stops and compact cameras’ screens are still fairly inaccurate unless you’re zoomed all the way in, which takes too much time.  What I do is I set my auto-focus point (refer to your camera’s manual for info on this) to the exact center, aim at the subject’s chest area, and voila!  Perfect focus every time.  Don’t leave your camera to its own devices with all of the AF points activated: it will work out an average focus for the scene which is usually not at all what you want.

Hopefully these tips were helpful for you, next step: go out and shoot!

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46 Responses

  1. 2Gitanas

    Good Morning! that was such an interesting post!

    I have only one question though, when you ask a stranger if you could take their picture for your blog, is there any kind of document they should sign establishing that they are agreeing to having their picture taken and used for blog purposes??

    If you are a well known blogger such as The Sartorialist, i assume people would be flattered, but if your still working and still a novice in the blogging world, how do you reccomend to approach this issue?

    Thank you soo much for any advice,
    Farah

    Reply
    • Nando Alvarez-Perez

      Nope, no documents are necessary. Any photos taken on the street, in a public place, can be used for any purposes (with the exception of commercial purposes, e.g. don’t take a photo of someone on the street and then try to use it for a Pepsi billboard) without permission. It might get some people angry that you’re taking their picture without permission, but they have no legal recourse.

      And, to be honest, even if you’re not the Sartorialist most people are pretty flattered when you approach them for street style. Just by asking them if you can take their photo for street style you’re already giving them a compliment. I generally walk up to someone and say something along the lines of “Hello, I shoot street style for some fashion blogs and I was wondering if I could take your picture.” Keep it short and sweet, you don’t want to take too much time out of their day.

      One thing that most definitely helps though is having business cards. I’m a guy and I only shoot women for street style as all the blogs I shoot for are women’s fashion oriented. To be totally frank, the card lets them know that I’m legitimate and not just a pervert who goes out on the street taking photos of well-dressed women.

      Reply
  2. Amanda Machell

    These are great tips! I’ve always wanted to incorporate a street style section into my blog but fashion isn’t exactly a priority in my community so it would be extremely hard to find inspiration.

    Much love,
    -Amanda Machell
    http://pristinemachine.blogspot.com

    Reply
  3. Amanne

    You posts are my favorites! I am working on getting my DSLR but I am already learning so much from all your posts. Please keep them coming 🙂

    Reply
    • Nando Alvarez-Perez

      My pleasure, Amanne! Glad you’re getting something useful out of them, I’m going to keep trying to do at least one photo post per week. Hopefully the camera buying situation is going well for you.

      Reply
  4. Intrinsically Florrie

    Thanks so much from me- portraits are definitely a learning curve. I don’t actually do street style photos on my blog right now but in my Photography exam work at college I did so I’ll be sharing them sometime. I’m trying to get in all the portrait practice I can! Will be playing with F stops for the focus, but I don’t think my dad’s camera goes below 3.5. Ahhh I miss the college camera store, bring on September!

    Florrie x

    Reply
  5. Alaina

    This is a very useful post. Street photography is definitely something to get use to and practice is really the only way to perfect it!

    Are those your photographs used in this post? If so, do you process the images on photoshop? The saturation and sharpness are impressive. What kind of camera are you using?

    Thanks for the great tips! Really Helpful!

    Reply
    • Nando Alvarez-Perez

      Indeed they are my photos, but their sharpness has nothing to do with photoshop. I shoot on a Canon 5DMk2 with an extraordinarily cheap little 50mm lens, which at f/1.8 is pretty soft, but not noticeably so when the images are posted online.

      I process everything in Adobe Lightroom, a program geared much more towards actual photography than Photoshop is, which has become something of a two ton gorilla in the fifteen years since it launched. I do apply some sharpening in Lightroom, but all (I mean very literally, all) digital images require some sharpening in post-production. Because of the limitations of digital sensors’ Bayer Matrix pixel array, their acutance, i.e. the edges where light pixels meet dark pixels, are naturally jagged (consider that pixels are squares and thus a straight line on a Bayer Matrix is actually more like a staircase shape). When you apply sharpening in post-production you’re actually softening that line and making it appear as though it is closer to a straight line, like you would get with silver halide crystals in a film’s emulsion.

      The only things I can think of as to why my photos appear so sharp are 1) a proper use of AF points, as I mentioned and, more importantly, 2) I shoot RAW, not JPEG. When you shoot a JPEG the camera naturally applies a sharpening protocol to the image, which usually greatly oversharpens it and makes the image appear over-contrasty and peculiarly soft. RAW image files have none of these protocols applied and leave it up to the user in post-production.

      With regards to my images’ saturation, I actually don’t apply any additional saturation at all. RAW files are naturally reduced in contrast and reduced in saturation, again leaving it up to the user to mold the image a bit into something they like. What I do in Lightroom is pump up the Fill Light slider (in Photoshop this would be equivalent to creating a Tone Curve mask and raising only the shadow and dark values) and then I pump up the blacks which gives the appearance of greater saturation, but isn’t technically increased saturation per se.

      Hope that helps answer some questions!

      Reply
      • Gigi

        Well-put about the two-ton gorilla! That gave me a good chuckle. When I have a camera again I’m thinking of looking into Lightroom based on your recommendation.

  6. Eliza

    I LOOOVE STREET STYLE PICS!
    I started doing street style pics on my own late may of this yr @ a festival, and it was quiet FUUUN! It was a spontaneous moment, I saw great style, and HAD to take pics! So I went around and asked people to take a pic of their outfits, and everyone said yes! So it was a pleasant experience for doing street style pics for the first time! 😀
    I have a point and shoot camera, kodak easyshare, lol…ugh…yeah…but, the pictures came out decent.
    And I drew out stickers for my blog, so next time I do street style pics, I’ll be handing my blog stickers out to the people, so they won’t think I’m a weirdo or something lol. Also, it’s a way to promote my blog, a little art (my drawn stickers), and a little fashion, my blog! 😀
    Nice article! 😀

    Reply
  7. Joy

    Great post as per usual. You’re absolutely right about not using Manual focus. And the biz cards are my “I’m-not-a-pervert” badge. Softens the approach all the time.
    Joy 🙂

    Reply
  8. Kimberly Gines

    Great fashion!i like the idea making a style on the street photos it’s very fashionable i wanna try this with my friends just for a change,i can’t wait to try this week end, let me all on them and make plan for this.thanks for the idea….i would love to go back here see some tips in street photos.

    Reply
  9. Maddie

    WOW! Thank you so much for posting this.
    I’m just about to start taking street style pictures for my blog and this is a huge help.
    I’ll be saving up for a better camera and this gives me an idea about what to use 🙂
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  10. tiffany

    the stolen shots are the best..and I agree with ‘do not be afraid not to ask’, but is it not rude in our part to shoot without asking?

    Reply
    • Nando Alvarez-Perez

      Nope, not if you ask me. Anytime you go into a public place you’re essentially signing a waiver that says anyone is welcome to take your picture. I’ve been doing this for quite awhile now (not street style, but street photography, which is a totally different game) and I’ve been yelled at by strangers way too many times to count. It doesn’t really get to me; if you think about it rationally it’s tough to find one legitimate issue with having your picture taken by a stranger. It’s one thing if it’s going to be used for something grotesque or perverted, but I never do that, so I don’t feel that it’s rude at all.

      Reply
      • barbra

        It may not be rational to object to having your photo taken by a stranger in the street , but people have the right to be irrational . Tkaing a photo for whatever reason without asking is intrusive , an invasion of privacy , disrespectful and just plain impolite .
        It depends on what country you are in too , you should consider the law, the customs . People in France for example may react strongly , the law will protect them if the photo is published .

  11. Gigi

    Very helpful tips, and lovely photos. I only wish manual focus was easier and more feasible. What are your thoughts on manual focus through the viewfinder?

    Reply
    • Nando Alvarez-Perez

      If you check out the Canon website you can see other focusing screens that they make. The focusing screens that come stock in all of their cameras (and I would assume Nikons too, from what I’ve seen) are literally not made to be used to focus below apertures of f/2.8 (might even be f/4 actually). Even if you have the AF points set to blink/beep to let you know when you’ve achieved focus they’ve often been wrong for me below like f/3.5, even on my super fancy camera. You can purchase special focusing screens that I believe have a more paraboloid glass structure to achieve critical focus for apertures below f/2.8

      The other thing I’ve learned about DSLRs is that they’re really made to be used with partial automation. They really function the best on Aperture Priority, with a careful use of exposure compensation and your AF points. These cameras have too many buttons and dials to be used quickly on Manual mode and then of course the whole issue with Manual Focus that I mentioned. I used to feel sorta bad about not using Manual Focus; on all of my old film cameras that’s like half the point of them, the tactility and streamlined functions that put you so in touch with your tools. With DSLRs that sorta of feeling is pretty impossible to achieve, unfortunately. They’re just not designed to be used that way.

      Reply
  12. Laura Hueto Puig

    I know I’m gonna say just what Amanne did, but anyway: THANK YOU for the photography posts!! They’re super helpful, and even though I haven’t managed to get my hands on a DSLR just yet (I will soon!), I’m learning a lot. So thank you thank you thank you! 🙂

    Reply
  13. iCocco

    i love these tips, they’re so helpful…I usually used my long zooms lens which was such a hassle! 50 mm is less work, and I agree, the photos result in nothing less than stunning…

    Reply
  14. Kate

    Thank you so much for the tips on how to focus and which lens to use. Priceless information! I actually just broke out my camera yesterday after a long, long break…my photos are in the link below if anyone wants to take a look at let me know what I can do better and what I’m doing right 🙂

    Reply
  15. Jolie

    Hi Nando, I have a P&S digital camera. Can I change the aperture and shutter speed or do I need a DSLR for that? I have a Canon A560. I’m trying to experiment more with it and take more photos, but I feel like I don’t know everything that it can do. I may be upgrading soon but I don’t want to buy a new camera if I can make this one work better for me. Also, what’s the best P&S for taking outfit shots in good lighting but also good for darkly lit runway shows? Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Natalie

    Great tips! I’ve wanted to do more street style pics, but I am totally nervous. I might just not even ask! Or snap the picture and then ask!

    Reply
  17. Mai

    Thanks for the tips! Although, I got the Nikkor 50mm lens before they released the one with auto-focus so I don’t have a choice but to manual focus :/ I get a lot of blurry photos but I’ve just learned to shoot as I focus. To me, it feels more satisfying to me to manual focus and get a great picture than to just use auto-focus. Either way, I’m a complete newbie to photography so I can’t say too much I guess.

    Reply
  18. Sylvia

    Great tips! Just wondering, you mention that aperature mode is good to use for DSLRs . So do you use that mode for street photography or manual mode?

    Reply
    • Nando

      I always use aperture priority mode for just about everything. Aperture priority with a careful use of my exposure compensation meter. I almost always have it set to +2/3 of a stop over, unless I’m shooting someone wearing all black in which case I’ll usually set it to 0 or -1/3 of a stop. If you don’t know what exposure compensation is, look it up in your camera’s manual, it’s really helpful when you’re trying to work quickly.

      Reply
  19. Katlynn

    Ahh you just helped me a bunch!! I can’t wait to really working up my blog, and street style is going to be part of it!! Luckily, I am not shy, so I’ll just ask (: also, I live in a state where fashion is taking more interest, so hopefully I can help with that!!(:

    Reply
  20. Rucha

    Then how do you put the RAW images onto Blogger or any other platform? For example how did you put your images in this post? Do you need to convert them to JPG first?

    Reply
  21. Dizzy Dee

    Just a quick question. I’ve got a Canon 500D and the 50mm lens. Everytime I shoot in AV mode on a low F-stop my subject is’nt as sharp as I’d like it to be. Im a newbie at photography, so Im sure Im doing something wrong, can you assist? Am I in the right shooting mode?

    Reply
  22. alavinbomban

    Hi, I started a street style blog for just a couple of weeks ago, and today some friends told me it´s not okey taking pictures without the permission of the person. I really love how natural the pictures get when they don´t know I´m taking them.. but I´ve been searching for info and it seams that it´s ilegal here in Spain. So, I´ve been thinkiing of taking the pic and ask later..hahhaa…
    I´m so confused.

    Reply
  23. Anthony

    Hello guys, may i ask you something? I am looking forward to buy a new lense.i really like the street style type so i want it to buy a lense for this.I searched in a site and i found two 50mm lenses, i found this Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 (150euro) and this CANON EF 50MM F1.4 USM (390euro).I am pretty amatuer to this and i dont know the deference.I wanna have to result as this in your photos, will i have it with the cheap one? If not, could anyone tell me the deferences?
    Thank you very much

    Reply
    • Jennine Jacob

      If you’re just starting, i’d suggest getting the 50mm f/1.8, it’s a lot cheaper and if you’re shooting outdoors, it should be just as good! the f1.4 allows for more lighitng flexibility.

      Reply
      • Anthony

        Do u think that i am gonna have a result as this in the pictures with the lenses that u told me?
        thanks for replying

  24. Justin Gilbert

    Great post! Thank you very much. Simple and not overly complicated instructions. Keep it up!

    Reply