Work with less
If there’s one thing that will really help with improving your street photography it is learning to work with less. I love gear and gadgets but when it comes to walking the streets, the key is to not draw attention to yourself and to be able to move quickly. I use a small kit and leave my tripod behind. Keep your kit simple and get to know your equipment intimately so that camera operation becomes second nature. My preferred kit for the streets is a full frame body with a fixed 35mm lens or a mirrorless with a 35mm equivalent lens.
Commit to a fixed focal length
Becoming proficient in a fixed focal length can help a budding street photographer learn to compose on the fly. Prime lenses generally are smaller and provide superior image quality while performing better in low light situations. If you own a zoom lens and you’re not sure which focal length is best for you then practice restricting your focal length to a full frame equivalent of a 35mm or 50mm.
Compose like film but shoot like digital
Remember, you’re never going to get better at shooting if you don’t try. Our goal in the field is to compose like we’re shooting with film but never forgo an image because it’s not perfect. Improving your street photography takes time and a lot of practice.
If you’re not nervous then hang it up!
Whether you’re a pro or an amateur the day you’re not nervous about taking a photos on the street is the day you probably should hang it up. Nerves are an indication of drive, passion, and excitement. Nerves or butterflies in your stomach are just energy that needs direction. Practice will help provide that direction, but without energy your photos will lack that special something. Everytime I grab my camera I get nervous, seriously!
The golden rule applies: Mind your personal space
There are all sorts of street photographers out there with different goals, but being a paparazzi is not what I aspire to be. The best way to get a person to allow you to take their portrait on the street is by asking permission. Permission can be as simple as a non-verbal cue or motion that indicates your desire to take a photograph and their giving a non-verbal back that shows they accept. You can look at them, hold your camera up to show your intention, and wait for a head nod in return. Remember the saying that 95% of communication is non-verbal, so use your body language to show respect and to communicate with people. Honoring personal space and being rewarded with “the ok to photograph” is what builds moral character and confidence.
Know your rights!
I know some people are frightened and maybe being scared adds to their nervous energy (repeat after me…it’s ok to be nervous) but, knowing your rights as a photographer will help you push through that apprehensive feeling and get the shot. In the United States we take our First Amendment rights very seriously and that’s good news for you as a photographer. Watch the video by PPD Online: “A Photographer's Guide to the First Amendment (and what to do if you get arrested)”