Capturing sharp photographs is by far the toughest technical skill in street photography. People move quickly, you are often moving quickly, the light isn’t usually ideal, and you sometimes have to frame instantly and suddenly.
There are many reasons to shoot with a wide-angle lens, but one of the main reasons is that wide angle perspectives have a larger depth of field. 28mm and 35mm are probably the most common focal lengths for street photography (50mm is used a lot as well, but it’s too much of a telephoto view for my tastes).
Similarly, we generally want to use the smallest aperture possible (small aperture = larger number), for the same reason behind using a wide-angle lens, because there will be more depth of field. Zone focusing is the technique of manually focusing your camera to a specific distance, say 8 feet away, and then photographing people as they enter that range of distance from your camera. This is one of the keys to being successful at street photography because auto-focusing can be a huge hinderance in many situations.
A good exercise for this is to take a tape measure and measure two feet from your lens all the way up to 12 feet and try to memorize those distances away from you. By far my biggest pet peeve of photographers is when they don’t stop their own motion before taking a photo. The stutter step is basically just a way of stopping your motion instantly while in mid stride to take a shot and then continuing that motion right after the shot. During the day I much prefer to get closer to my subjects, but often when out at night I will step back somewhat and get further from my subjects. When you step back, you don’t need to use as fast of a shutter speed to capture moving subjects sharp. When you’re shooting at night, seek out lampposts or artificial light sources and wait there to photograph people as they pass by. Some street photographers prefer to use flash to bring out their subjects and to make them sharp, even during the day. This strategy is a little too intrusive for my tastes out there, but I love the look when other photographers do it.
James Maher authored this 141 page eBook that covers everything about the genre, even down to specific post processing techniques that can bring the best out of street scenes.


These are good general guidelines, but when you say don’t do this, I have to shake my head. I too zone focus with similar settings as you (28mm or 35mm instead of 45mm at F2.) These were general ideas to make it easier for most people to capture technically good shots at night. I probably could have added a section on what you mentioned, but that is a whole article and separate topic in itself. I just picked up a secondhand Nikon 28mm f2.8D AF and your article has given me some inspiration as to how I can use it.
I mostly take photographs in Asia particularly in Bangkok, so there should be plenty of opportunity for me to test out this lens and use the tips from your article. We are always looking for more interesting and insightful photography tips and techniques to share with our readers.
Watch out for Selection and Premium resources, to take full advantage of your subscription! When I take a look at other people’s street work, one of the most common problems I notice is that the photos are not sharp and not in focus.
This means that if you miss your focus somewhat, there will still be a large range of the scene that will be sharp, which will give you some leeway to mess up and still get the shot sharp. If you have the time to autofocus or manual focus through the viewfinder then you should do it, but focusing these ways takes time, which isn’t often ideal for many of those fast moving situations.
What this means is that if someone is walking towards you then you can capture them at 10 feet away sharp and then as they get closer you can move the manual dial to 6 feet without looking to be able to capture them sharp at 6 feet away as well. With more telephoto views with shallower depth of fields, it is much more difficult to guess distances and still get shots perfectly sharp.
When subjects are a small part of a dark scene it generally looks more interesting than when they’re a small part of a scene during the day, and the backgrounds are often much more interesting.
Bruce Gilden is probably the most famous flash street photographers, and Bruce Davidson is another photographer you should take a look at. Looking forward to going out soon to capture street photography with a better mindset of what to do.


However, I wonder when you say 28mm & 35mm in the article, are they based on full frame sensor size or the APS-C? Master of the genre like Robert Frank, Danny Lyon or Gary Winogrand had made plenty of images that were blurred or the focus wa soft and they are absolute master pieces. I always find that night time photographs seem to look the best, but the lighting can be challenging. The trade off is that you have to get closer to your subject than with a telephoto lens, but this usually leads to a better visual look anyway.
Despite what you might have been told, shooting at high ISOs for street photography is often the number one key to creating street photos that have a higher technical quality because of the flexibility it allows for your shutter speed and aperture. It’s a great way to stop quickly and take a shot without drawing too much attention to yourself.
Find the location, wait for the right light, and choose the perfect settings ahead of time.
You can see this in the previous photograph, but getting even closer to the light source and shooting away from it is often a good idea as well. When you are aiming for a sharp photo, of course you want it to be as sharp as possible, however view the finished photograph from a traditional distance that normal viewers will look at it from to truly gauge how the photograph looks.
I feel like you should be encouraging experimentation as opposed to saying no to this and that. You should test out your cameras upper limits for ISO to see the amount of grain that you are comfortable with. It is about a million times easier to get a technically good street photograph this way than by only taking spontaneous shots as you come across them. In those cases, I just pretend to be a dumb tourist (instead of what I really am, which is a dumb photographer).



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