Honing Your Skills w/ Street Photography, Part 2


Being Deliberate w/ Your Shutter Speed…

One of the most essential technical skills in photography is controlling your shutter speed. (To read the previous subjects covered see Part One). By being deliberate with your shutter speed, you have the ability to freeze a moment in time or introduce intentional motion blur. In street photography, you have the opportunity to experiment and have fun by changing up your shutter speed to achieve different effects. When you’re on the streets anything can happen, any image can form and un-form in a fraction of a second. To buy time, we should develop the ability to see them forming ahead of time and be in position to snap it.

By using a fast shutter speed, you can freeze that fleeting moment and capture a sharp image. On the other hand, slowing down your shutter speed and intentionally introducing motion blur can create a sense of movement and add a dynamic element to your photographs. This technique can be particularly useful in capturing the buzzing energy of the streets or to add a sense of drama to your shots. Plus, it can look quite pleasing artistically.

Zoom blast image taken on India photo tour at Holi

You can also try zooming in or out with the shutter open for an entirely different look, as per the above image from Luminous Journeys’ Swarup Chatterjee. Swarup calls the technique, Zoom Blast. It will likely take a lot of practice and bad frames, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.

You have many opportunities to practice and experiment with different shutter speeds in street photography. Whether you’re using a fast or slow shutter speed, being intentional with your choice will give you higher chances of creating the photos you really want. Always give extra consideration to the light when using slow shutter speeds. If there is too much light you will be limited on how long you can leave the shutter open.

Whether freezing action or intentionally introducing motion blur, mastering your shutter speed is an essential skill for street photographers and other genres of photography.

Photographing Candidly

Capturing candid moments of people in public spaces is one of the defining characteristics of street shooting. These candid moments are typically un-posed and unplanned, capturing natural life on the streets. This requires a bit of stealth on your part, but not necessarily hiding. Sometimes if you plant yourself in plain sight in a place that looks promising, people will soon forget you are there, or cease to care. By practicing street photography, you can develop your skills in capturing candid scenes and become more comfortable photographing without disturbing a scene.

Many genres of photography involve creating candid photographs. Many wedding and social event photographers focus on taking posed group portraits, but adding candid shots to the mix can help add interest, dimension and fun. One of the key skills required on the street is the ability to capture fleeting moments that convey emotion and tell a story in the image. There are several things to look for when attempting to capture unique moments.

Expressions & Gestures

Capturing expressions and gestures can make for powerful street photographs. Body language is storytelling. It can covey a range of meanings. Look for gestures grand or subtle, expressions that reveal emotions, and the context surrounding them. If it’s interesting to you and the light is cooperating, release the shutter. This observation trains your eye to recognize and capture unique expressions and gestures that can add character to your photos. By practicing capturing these moments, you’ll hone your skills, develop a keen eye for detail, and be better equipped to take stunning images in other types of photography.


Emotion can bring a street photography to life. Capturing raw moments of emotion can add a layer of depth to an image, making it more memorable and powerful. Street photographers often anticipate and capture fleeting moments of emotion. Below is a candid street portrait by Bennett Stevens of a homeless man raging in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Capturing emotion on the street can be applied to other types of photography, such as portrait photography. By studying how people express themselves on the street, you can apply that knowledge to create authentic and emotive portraits. The street teaches empathy, or should. This empathy can travel with you everywhere and will help create connections with your subjects in any photographic situation.

More with Less Gear

The street begs minimalism with gear. From a smart phone to small camera to a mirrorless, you don’t really need more than that. Oh, a lens or two might come in handy as well! With just a couple tools, street photographers can shine. It ain’t about the gear, it’s about the person behind the gear. Keep it light, keep it agile. If you don’t buy it, try lugging a fat bag and long lenses around just once.

I’d suggest a mirrorless camera with a prime lens is a great combination for street photography. It’s compact, lightweight, and allows you to move around and capture moments quickly and easily. Stick to the bare essentials. It challenges you to find concise ways to capture images without constantly going to the bag. You might even want to leave the bag at home. Then again, if you are using a larger camera and like to shoot longer range to grab candid shots, a bag can conceal your intentions until the last moment. Not an obvious camera bag, something more mundane.

To Wrap

Street photography is a valuable teacher, whether or not you want to be a street photographer. Learn by doing and developing a better understanding of how to capture images that tell a story, however short that story might be. It provides a great opportunity to hone your technical skills with your camera and your ability to compose shots and find various types of light. In addition to technical skills, (I love street photography because it helps me find inspiration and enjoyment), it’s a genre that demands experimentation and creativity if you want to create great street photos.

I think the way street photography makes you think outside the box helps you grow as a photographer. I know that not only has my overall photography improved, but my life is considerably richer for it, and I appreciate the world around me more.

Brandon Ballweg is a street photographer, traveler, and global citizen. His passion is capturing unique moments around the world through photography. As a former student of Global & International Studies at the University of Kansas, he understands how important it is to appreciate the world’s diverse cultures and learn from them. He lives in Kansas City and blogs at ComposeClick. You can find his portfolio at brandonballweg.com.

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