Top tips for shooting unique street photography

Street photography has evolved in recent decades – today, it's more experimental, taking inspiration from other genres, says Andres McNeill.
Shot from behind, a figure walks across a long suspension bridge towards a row of tall buildings. Taken by street photographer Andres McNeill.

Street photography has been around for as long as cameras have been portable enough to carry easily. It's a genre that includes a broad range of styles, but it's loosely defined as non-staged images shot in public. Most people think of the New York style from the 1960s to 1980s as the quintessential street photography – fast-paced shots, sometimes taken right in people's faces. However, like all types of photography, it has evolved.

In an era when everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, serious street photographers differentiate themselves by the quality of their camera-shot images and their creativity. They may stick to the style above, but they do street photography in their own way.

Take Andres McNeill. Based in Glasgow in the UK, he has gained a substantial social following for his dramatic, architecture-led shots of the Scottish city. For Andres, buildings come first, then the people.

Here he shares his tips for shooting in the street.

1. Observe the world around you

Two figures holding umbrellas walk in front of a large, imposing building. Taken by street photographer Andres McNeill.

While Andres is inspired by architecture, he also likes to include people in his urban photography, to add movement and personality and to bring a shot to life. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens at 200mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO 400. © Andres McNeill

An elderly man walking along the pavement with a stick is dwarfed by the red brick walls of a high-rise building. Taken by street photographer Andres McNeill.

The road markings and the metalwork on the exterior of this building help to draw the viewer's eyes towards the elderly figure walking with his cane alongside the imposing red-brick walls. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/800 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

When Andres goes out on a day's shoot, he deliberately avoids overthinking where he's going, instead responding to what he sees. That said, he has a sense of what he's looking for. "​​I would say that I'm a little bit different from a lot of street photographers, because I take urban architecture into account," he explains. "I'm interested in showing scale. I like to have a massive building and then people in the foreground to create contrast."

Andres will wander around until he finds a location that he thinks will make a powerful composition and then he readies his camera and waits. "I find a nice building as my background and the person crossing in front is almost secondary," he says. What makes the ideal subject is often based on a visual repetition or coincidence – "a person wearing a green top standing next to a billboard with a picture of a person wearing a green top, things like that".

When photographing people in a scene, it’s important to have a focal point in mind – whether that's the eyes of the main subject, the face of a central person in a crowd, or someone hurrying along the street.

2. Find a style that inspires you

Two ornate buildings in shadow frame a third building bathed in sunlight in this street photograph taken from below.

An advantage of using tall buildings as a frame within a frame is that you can shoot at any time. "It doesn't matter if you shoot at midday, which is usually a photographer's nightmare as the sun tends to be at its harshest, because you can still find a nice contrast between light and shadow," says Andres. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 200. © Andres McNeill

A person watches and waits on a platform as a train speeds past. The person is completely in focus while the train carriage is blurred.

The reason that Andres likes to make images that look like film stills is because it creates a "nostalgic look, almost like the Glasgow of my childhood," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 1/6 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

Cinema is an important touchpoint for Andres, who composes an image "almost like an establishing shot in a film".

He stresses that there is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to street photography today. The things that catch Andres' eye most are the shapes and patterns of buildings, whether that's 19th-century Victorian edifices or the occasional Brutalist structures you find in Glasgow's streets. He says, "I'm a big fan of using leading lines, where the lines of a building lead you to a subject. Sometimes I'll shoot with a building on either side of the frame and then in the middle a person or maybe a taxi coming towards me.

"There are just so many ways to approach it," Andres adds. "The old way was always using 35mm, sometimes shooting from the hip, up close, whereas now we use such a variety of focal lengths. If you're feeling more introverted, you could use an 85mm or a 200mm and shoot from across the street and capture a moment that you might miss at 35mm."

3. Embrace creative perspectives

Shot by street photographer Andres McNeill from underneath a bridge, a building and trees are reflected in a large puddle of water in the road.

Andres has made an otherwise unremarkable scene interesting by using the ground and the underside of the bridge as natural frames and ensuring that the building and trees are reflected in the large puddle in the road. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

A cobbled and winding Glaswegian street taken from above. Colourful bunting is strung between the buildings on either side. Taken by street photographer Andres McNeill.

Add variety to your urban photography by shooting down on a street scene, or from the ground looking upwards. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/160 sec, f/5 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

To create distinctive images, try shooting from an unusual angle or unconventional viewpoint. One of the things Andres loves about Glasgow is the different perspectives and layers he can bring in frame because it's so hilly. The elevation is also great for capturing sunsets.

Another useful technique is looking for reflections in windows or other shiny surfaces. As well as windows, you could also try experimenting with puddles and rivers to create interesting compositions.

If you're shooting street images, consider what's unique about your own city and use that to make your images interesting and individual.

4. Use the weather to your advantage

A person dressed in a smart black suit and holding a large black umbrella walks with their back to the camera through a rainy city street. Taken by Andres McNeill.

Canon's weather sealing has never failed Andres, but sometimes he packs an additional rain cover for his camera in case the drizzle turns torrential. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens at 165mm, 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

A narrow cobbled street at dusk, the bulb lights strung between the buildings reflected in the puddles of water on the road. Taken by Andres McNeill.

Often, getting 'the shot' is a waiting game. Andres might stay for half an hour in the same spot without getting the image he wants, such as someone walking into the frame. But having identified an interesting location you can always return there another day. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 3200. © Andres McNeill

It may have a beautiful built environment, but Glasgow is also one of the UK's wettest cities. Andres doesn't mind. In fact, he checks the forecast hoping for rain. "My friends and family hate me for it," he laughs.

"Working with EOS R System cameras, because the resolution is so high, I can see every droplet of rain," he adds. "The rain just gives images a totally different look to what you would take on a summer's day. It's more of a moody look." Also, umbrellas are great props.

5. Be respectful

In a street photograph by Andres McNeill, a cyclist rides a bike down a cobbled street in front of a magnificent stone building.

When he first started, Andres would try to emulate street photographers of the past, who would get as near to subjects as possible. "I don't really like invading people's space," he has since concluded. "That's not really my style." Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

It's always advisable to check the legalities of street photography where you plan to shoot – but, generally, most countries permit photography in public places unless otherwise specified. That includes photography of pedestrians on the street and people in public places such as parks.

All the same, photographing strangers can be daunting. "Just be honest about what you're doing and let your passion shine through," advises Andres, who normally takes the shot and then, where possible, goes and talks to the subject and shows it to them on the back of his camera. You could also offer to share the images, or give the subject your social details so they can view the images online.

Most people understand, but Andres will happily delete the image if they ask.

6. Perfect your street photography kitbag

A pair of hands holding a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens attached.

Capturing spontaneous moments and quirky scenes is one of the great joys of street photography, so having a camera with a fast burst mode is ideal. The EOS R8 is able to shoot at up to 40fps with its electronic shutter and also has a 30fps RAW Burst mode with pre-capture, which enables you to start capturing RAW files with a half-press of the shutter.

The compact size and low-light performance of Canon's mirrorless EOS R System cameras, from the full-frame EOS R8 and EOS R6 Mark II to the APS-C EOS R10 and EOS R50, make them a great choice for street photography.

Andres usually shoots at high shutter speeds in continuous burst mode. "I want to freeze the action and I don't want to miss the shot," he explains.

Traditionally, street photographers used 35mm or 50mm lenses, because that's closest to the way the human eye sees the world and therefore gives a natural perspective. The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM and RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM both give beautifully smooth bokeh and their wide apertures also help to create a cinematic effect, isolating the subject while keeping the background blurred.

If, however, your backdrop is as important as your subject, a wide-angle lens might be a better option. The super-compact Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM has both a versatile focal length and a fast aperture for experimenting with background blur, making it an ideal lens for street photography. The all-purpose Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM features optical IS to minimise camera shake and also gives you the versatility to capture both wide-angle urban scenes and more intimate street portraits. "Sometimes I like to be able to zoom in and create different perspectives," Andres says.

Shooting with a telephoto lens means you can keep some distance between yourself and the subject, so you don't have to invade their privacy. The Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM is a hugely versatile 10x zoom lens, which is ideal if you want one lens with a focal length for every scenario

Street photography is the most accessible type of photography. You don't need a complicated, expensive setup to get started. You don't need to travel overseas, trek up mountains or sit for weeks in a hide until a rare creature appears. All you need to do is grab your kitbag, head out into the streets near where you live and get shooting. And it's a skill that gets better with practice. "Until you've trained your eyes, you don't realise that incredible moments happen all the time," says Andres. "It's just about being patient."

Fascinating subjects are right there on your doorstep. So get out there, be ready and hit the shutter.

Written by Rachel Segal Hamilton

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