Tutorial: Street photography

Get started with street photography with these handy tips and techniques from Documentary Wedding Photographer Kevin Mullins

Today I’m going to take you through some of the advice given to me by UK wedding photographer Kevin Mullins. Kevin’s approach to candid wedding photography translates precisely into his street photography style. 

What makes a good “street” shot?

The three key factors that make a good street image are;

  • good light
  • good composition
  • interesting subject

Get all three and you have a great shot. Two of them can result in a good shot. If you can only have one, make sure it’s the interesting subject

Assignment 1 – Shoot with a theme

Start by simply shooting how you want, but with a theme. Try the theme “angles”. When I took this shot below, it was a nice sunny-but-cool day in Cambridge so there were plenty of things to choose from. Look for good light, some sort of interesting subject, and carefully consider the complete composition.

The bright sun meant that to me, the ‘angles’ would need to come from shadows. This guy caught my eye because he was using his phone one last time before getting on his bike. I wondered who he was contacting, or whether he was just checking a map. About 20 mins later we saw a cyclist nearly get taken out by a car so I wonder now if he was sending a ritual “goodbye, just in case” message. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/640 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

Assignment 2 – Frame your subject

Try to use people to frame shots of other people. Pair up with another photographer and go hunting interesting shots together. Use your partner to help provide a frame for the shot. The theme of “angles” was dropped but otherwise everything applied; light, composition, something of interest that tells a story.

Although personally I find the arm in the foreground a bit distracting, it does give a bit more depth to the image and the bright blue of this guy’s jacket and the sign pull your attention away from the frame . X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
I like this one because the conversation is framed by the arm on the left, and also the stranger on the right. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
This last one failed the assignment in that it wasn’t framed by a person in the foreground. However, I like it because of the way the light fell on the faces of the people having the conversation. Nice light and begins to tell a story about a meeting in public. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

Assignment 3 – Spot Metering

The next thing to try is pre-focusing and spot metering. Put your cameras into spot metering and manual focus mode and stand facing a place where people would “break the light”. In other words, pedestrians and cyclists would travel from the bright sunshine, into the shade, or vice-versa. Use the “AF-L” button to pre-focus on the ground where we wanted them to be when we shot and then simply time them right to shoot them just as they cross from the light into the shadow. The camera will adjust for the exposure according to light on the subject, rather than the total light in the scene.

On the X100T, X-T1, X-T10 and X-Pro2 there is a setting that allows you to link the spot metering with the AF box. Activating this allows you to choose the point in your composition to expose for. On cameras without this function the spot metering will only occur in the middle of the frame so you may be slightly limited in your composition.

This shot was actually taken by Kevin himself using his X100T; 1/320 sec; f/16; ISO 640

Assignment 4 – Zone focusing

Get close to your ‘subjects’. Getting close obviously means more chance of affecting the resulting image so it’s key to try to appear like you are not taking photographs. The main reason people need to really see what they are shooting is to make sure you are focusing on the right thing.

Guy working on a market stall. Bikes were everywhere in Cambridge. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/90 sec; f/11; ISO 400

Keep your camera in Manual Focus mode, select a nice small (big number) aperture value and then used the focus distance indicator on the screen of the camera to understand where the range of acceptable focus would be.

Focus on the ground a few metres in front of you. Your next challenge is to get in close to people and inconspicuously shoot them getting on with their life. Continuous shooting is also very handy here as it allows you to shoot a few frames, especially good if your subject is moving through your zone focus area.

Assignment 5 – Turn invisible

There is now no need to hold the camera up to your eye so all of your shooting can be at waist level, looking down onto the tilting LCD screen (if your camera has one) to check the overall composition. After a while you will be able to simply look around and be confident that you’re going to capture the interesting subject without them knowing, therefore not influencing or changing the subject, but merely documenting what is going on around you.

Not many people “at work” seemed to really be working. Zone focused and shot from the hip with X-T1; XF18-55mm @ 35mm; 1/64 sec; f/13; ISO 1000
One of my last images as we were about to lose the sun completely. This is one of the few guys who looked like they were actually working, although I question his choice of office. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/125 sec; f/16; ISO 1250


  • The three keys to a good street image are; good light, good composition, interesting subject. All three of these results in a great shot. Two of them can result in a good shot. If you can only have one, it has to be the interesting subject
  • Shoot with a theme. This will make you consider your shot more carefully and not just fill your card.
  • Try to frame your subjects with parts of the background, or even make your own frame by using other photographers
  • Setting your camera on full auto with Spot metering allows you to ignore the exposure settings and let you worry about looking for a good shot
  • Zone focusing allows you to not worry about accurate focus, but rather understand that if a subject is within a certain “zone” in front of your lens, it’ll be sharp and in focus
  • Tiltable LCD screens allow you to shoot at waist level and still see the frame. The camera remote app takes this one step further and you look like you are just using your phone while actually shooting people with the camera hanging around your neck.

Keep practicing, hope for something interesting to unfold in front of your eyes and be ready with your camera when it does. Hopefully these techniques will help you get a great shot without anyone even knowing you were there!

6 thoughts on “Tutorial: Street photography”

  1. “For now I’ll just keep practicing and hope for something interesting to unfold in front of my eyes. Hopefully these techniques will help me get a great shot without anyone even knowing I was there!”

    …………………let me know when you get one.

  2. Marc:

    I don’t do much street photography, but I might work up to it one of these days. I did find the article interesting and always learn from comments about why a photo works or doesn’t work. I just want to talk about the one photo with the fellow in the NY Yankee baseball jacket. You indicated that you didn’t think it worked, but I give you more credit for that shot.

    Doesn’t the bicycle complete the “circle of interest” and lead the viewer back into the group of three men? It seems to me that it is framed by that juxtaposition. I wonder if it would even be a bit better if a small crop on the bottom was made; just my opinion. Thank you for sharing your insights with the photographic community.

    [ J. Ross ]

  3. autonomousphysiotherapist – Hello and thank you for visiting my site. I am qualified physiotherapist and have worked in private practice, and in the NHS in England. Having worked in a variety of roles, including management clinical specialist roles and as a senior lecturer in physiotherapy, I have enjoyed various levels of autonomy. I have been fortunate enough to be able to discuss this is with many of my undergraduate and post-graduate students over the past eleven years. The point of course is to make clinically and practically relevant, not just some nice to talk about topic. It is, in fact, a political topic with real-world relevance to our clinical roles, patient care and the future of our therapy professions. After completing my Masters in physiotherapy I studied philosophy and did an MA in social and political philosophy. Philosophy is an activity, really and it is one of my hobbies. However there are also some normal leisure pursuits that I enjoy as well, such as photography, art, music, and being with our ever expanding family. Cycling is my main fitness activity but my wife Glynis and I have been very busy planning our first trip to the local gym. (Truth be told, we prefer the outdoors). I really hope you enjoy my blogs and if you don't enjoy them I hope you will find them interesting with some food for thought and action in them. I certainly look forward to hearing your comments and viewpoints.
    autonomousphysiotherapist says:

    Thank you Kevin, really good blog and tips. It seems that there is always something new to learn. Can’t wait and put your tips into practice. many thanks Ed.

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