5 Tips on Shooting in the Streets

Posted on July 15th, by Danny Santos II in Articles, Tips. 62 comments

5 Tips in Shooting in the Streets by Danny Santos II

I was recently interviewed by SlashMaraud, a blog based in Boston. One of the questions was “What are some unwritten rules of street photography according to Danny Santos?” Well, my answers were really more like tips than rules, and they’re not according to me but more like stuff that you will just learn eventually the longer you shoot. I decided to share my answers here and expand further. There are a lot more useful tips you can find online, but I believe these 5 tips is a good place to start with. So here goes…

#1. Perfect photographic moments in the streets come only once in a blue moon… but when it comes to you, it’s worth the wait. So have the patience of a saint.
I remember one weekend when I was shooting for about 2 hours with no single decent shot. I was tired, demoralized, and about to call it a day when suddenly this blue angel showed up in the middle of the crowd, walking almost aimlessly while texting in her mobile. This one shot made my day. It was enough to quench my photographic thirst for the rest of the week.

Blue Angel photographed by Danny Santos II

There were times where I’d go for 3 to 4 hours with no good shot to show for. I used to get so frustrated about it with fist up in the air, but nowadays I know that’s how it is… sometimes that’s what it takes for you to get that “keeper”.

#2. To capture that truly unexpected moment, sometimes you have to be unexpected yourself. Be discreet by blending in the crowd.
Try not to stick out like a sore thumb by wearing conspicuously bright clothes or constantly having your camera right in your face. Relax, put your camera down, and be an invisible observant by being just one of the casual street walkers. Raise your camera only when you’re a second away from taking that candid shot. Take a few clicks, then put it down again.

Some street shooters push the envelope by being so obvious to their victim subject so as to provoke a reaction towards getting photographed. That’s also a way to get that keeper shot if you’ve got the balls for it. Bruce Gilden is a good example of a photographer with balls of steel.

#3. Don’t hesitate, just shoot… in fact, shoot like crazy.
Great street photographers like Garry Winogrand and Trent Parke were very trigger-happy shooters. Winogrand could finish a roll of 36-exposure film just by walking from one block to another. He was able to publish 6 books in his lifetime. On his untimely death, he left behind 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film, and an additional 6,500 rolls that developed but not yet previewed – over 300,000 photos were undeveloped in total. 3 more books were published after that.

Trent Parke once said “You shoot a lot of shit and you’re bound to come up with a few good ones.” And indeed he shot a whole lot… and got way more than a few keepers.

Learn from them. I remember one night I shot like crazy while walking in the pedestrian lane in Orchard over and over again, trying to capture a good silhouette shot from the headlights of the cars on red. I didn’t care what the other people were thinking of me. Eventually, I got my keeper:

Pedestrian silhouette photographed by Danny Santos II

However, please don’t take this as a recommendation to just recklessly shoot anything that moves with the hopes of getting a few good ones. You have to know what kind of image you want to create first, and determine the circumstances where you can get that image, then intelligently shoot like crazy.

#4. The fear will never go away. Learn to deal with it and shoot through the fear.
I’ve been shooting for about 2 years now and I still get scared shitless most of the time. That feeling is always there that sometimes I would ask myself “why am I doing this to myself again?” The fear and paranoia will not get better… what DOES get better is your ability to consciously decide to shoot anyway despite the possibility of getting slapped in the face by the tough-looking chick you’re about to photograph:

Smoker girl photographed by Danny Santos II

Don’t get too reckless, though. I don’t want you to get slapped and blame me for it.

#5. Relentlessly look for inspiration. The more you immerse yourself with great photos, the higher your expectations of your own photos will be.
I’ve been there… on my first few clicks from my new DSLR, I thought “that’s not bad.. that’s not bad at all.” And a few more clicks and I had the ability to create stories out of my shots to justify its existence. At this point, I can still remember my girlfriend shaking her head saying ‘no.’ Then after a while when I get to see all those other awesome street shots on Flickr, and I get back to my early stuff, I realize how embarrassingly bad I actually was.

One important trait of a photographer is that ability to effectively curate his own work. In order to do this, you need to raise your personal standards. In order to do this, expand your horizons by relentlessly looking for inspiration from the classic masters like Garry Winogrand, William Klein, Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier Bresson, Daido Moriyama, Elliott Erwitt, and Philip-Lorca Dicorcia to name a few. For modern street photography, there’s Trent Parke, Matt Stuart, David Solomons, Nick Turpin, Matt Robinson, Matt Weber, Lukas Vasilikos, Nils Jorgensen and so much more.

The more familiar you are with what a good street shot looks like, the more discerning you will be of your own shots, the better you will be at judging if you’ve got a keeper. This way, you don’t show off your mediocre work.. everyone has a lot of that. Only show the ones that make your heart leap… the ones where you can proudly attach your name to.

62 thoughts on “5 Tips on Shooting in the Streets

  1. Hi Danny, I am so glad I found your blog and your work, I am currently working on a street photography project and this is a huge help.

    Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us!


    Michal Fanta

  2. i love it when you wrote “You have to know what kind of image you want to create first, and determine the circumstances where you can get that image, then intelligently shoot like crazy.” =)

    Thanks for the inspiration Danny! =)
    Cant wait that one day you’ll launch your own book of all these ‘keepers’!

  3. Do not shoot to shoot.
    Do not shoot indiscriminately (you may think it’s free but every shot on your digital goes as another notch in the death count)

    Recognize and experience the scene.
    Only shoot as the action develops.

    Sometimes it means waiting in the same spot for a long time because that’s where the shot will develop.

    Other times you’ll wander all over trying to find the shot.

    And sometimes let your exuberance take over and ask the person to take the shot. It does work.

  4. Gracias por tus comentarios, hay experiencia y mucho trabajo en tus fotos, que bueno que sepas manejar la cámara fotográfica que es escencial en éstos casos, saludos y por aqui seguimos dejando nuestra huella también, gracias.

  5. Nicely done Danny. Great usable tips, and simple to remember concepts. Thanks for the plugs on other artists too, classic and modern. Really needed those!

    Keep it up!

  6. gr8 post

    i know its the fer thatstops me

    and im sure the fear has lost me many gr8 shots!!

    ggrr i need to get over it the worst thing that could happen is i get slapped or they say no

    i have to keep telling myself that.. although it never works


  7. Marvelous! I’ll be testing these tips the next couple of days/weeks/years!! I picked up my amateur camera a couple of times to shoot at daytime Concerts and Happenings, but now I wanna start with the Real S. Thanx for Motivating the Crowd!

  8. Hi, I really like what you do, and I’m “happy” that my fear of shooting strangers and get people mad is not something that only happens to me. In my country you could find pretty angry people if you shoot a photo in their face…You have to find a way to be invisible… Cheers…keep shooting please..

  9. I particularly like the note about overcoming fear.

    Also, it’s not easy to be a photographer but love to relish that moments when you ask yourself “did I get that shot?” and the pause.


  10. Absolutely agree on everything Danny, well written and a pleasure to read as well. Especially tip n.5 is something that may often get overlooked but that- at least for me – has been an invaluable help to my photographic growth… Have a great weekend!!

  11. The one question that keeps cropping up in my mind is this: is it possible to approach people in Singapore to meet them? I mean, can you proposition people this way, or is that considered socially-taboo?

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  13. Thanks a lot Danny for sharing this tips. The first time i did the street photography is the first time i was introduced to you. Immediately after i saw all your works, woah, i was just blown away! You are really a GREAT artist. Keep up the passion and keep shooting and inspiring newbies and pros… God bless you always bro!

  14. Excellent advice, especially #1. “Develop patience” is always my first suggestion whenever anyone asks me how to shoot street photos. There’s just no way to force the world into some kind of photogenic arrangement, so I’ve just had to learn to wait for the right moment. It’s made a huge difference in the rest of my life, too.

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  20. I’ve tried doing this before a couple years ago without ever reading about it first and feeling so nervous too. I gave up doing candid street pics real quickly. This has totally inspired me to try it all over again, thank you so much, great post and reading and tips and photos!!

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  22. Very good summary, nicely written! I always want to do this but I’ve yet to get over that fear. Perhaps your site will inspire me to be braver about it.

  23. What about a model release? What is the norm around that? Do you need one I you publish your work online or art gallery?

    • @Harmeet: From what I know, you won’t need a model release if you use the photos for portfolio or art purposes such as galleries. You will only need it if you intend to use or sell the photos for commercial purposes. Hope this helps :)

  24. Found you on Gplus love the color of your street portraits. I also love the way you capture the feelings of a rainy day. Got my first DSLR & first shoot this weekend. I hope to be as good as you one day. I will watch and learn from you on G+. Are all your street shots hand held? Do you use monopod sometimes? Anyway….. too exciting see you round.

  25. I have one question here. The question is that before you publish a shot of a person or that person’s pet you must get a release form. This is as far as shooin in USA or Canada.
    How do you get them to sign that form without chickening out after you’ve shot their picture?

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