When it comes to settings, street photography is pretty straightforward. All you need to know is that light might chance quickly depending on where you enter or how you move.
But beyond that, the light will be abundant in the outsides and sort of reduced when walking under the shadows. Let’s talk about some of the most useful approaches when it comes to settings in street photography.
This isn’t a rigid rule and must be seen as a starting point instead. The sunny sixteen rules help us to quickly understand the relationship between the amount of light surrounding us, and the amount of light we want the camera to receive.
In other words, thanks to this intuitive guide, you’ll easily set your aperture in correspondence to the light surrounding you.
The rule is simple and takes “sunny and bright days” as a baseline, therefore you shall use:
– f/16 for sunny and bright days with strong shadows
– f/11 for hazy sunny days with noticeable shadows but with smooth edges
– f/8 for bright yet cloudy days with barely visible shadows
– f/5.6 for overcast days with no visible shadows at all or when shooting under the shade
– f/4 during sunsets or late afternoon in the cities when the shadows get infinitely longer shooting on the snow or in the sand, use the small value of f/22. This will guarantee you texture in both sand or snow.
These all use ISO 100 and 1/125 shutter speed to compensate. If you wish to use higher ISO values, follow this guide:
– For ISO 200 use 1/250 Shutter Speed
– ISO 400 use 1/500 Shutter Speed
– For ISO 800 use 1/1000 Shutter Speed
This is just a baseline, of course, and its legacy traces back to the days of film photography. Nowadays is easier to fine tweak exposure with digital cameras, but sunny 16 is a good place to start while shooting on the streets. Use it as a baseline, and then compensate as you please in order to get the shots that you want to achieve.
2. The Manual Approach
The sunny 16 rule is a nice baseline, but it was designed for average sunlight, and depending on your place of living this might not be as the theory says. The best thing to do is to decide your ISO as a first step depending on the type of light surrounding you. We highly recommend that you read our Photography 101 Guide for a better understanding of exposure.
After deciding your ISO, you’ll be dealing with a very limited scope of shutter speeds that ranges from 1/60 to 1/250. That is the average range of shutter speeds that one usually uses on the streets depending on the shifts of light thanks to shadows and clouds.
Therefore, you’ll be only compensating with aperture, and the range that you’ll use will scope between f/4 up to f/11 or even f/16 in some cases. This isn’t an exact recipe of course, and only practice will make your eye acute for understanding light.
3. Aperture Priority Mode
If you are a swift walker, or if you are in a very chaotic city or street, then this mode might help you out. Street photography happens extremely fast sometimes, and capturing the shot is way better than nailing a manual exposure.
Aperture priority mode lets you decide the ISO value (depending on the type of light around you of course), and the desired aperture value. The camera will decide the best shutter speed, which usually runs between 1/60 to 1/250 of a second as well. This is wonderful for capturing everything in a sharp way, and we’ll talk more about that in the further section.
4. Get Some Motion
Not everything has to be perfectly still and sharp on the streets, and if you want to capture some motion, then you should use a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second. And don’t forget to compensate for that setting too.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to have a steady hand while shooting, and you can, of course, lower than shutter speed up to 1/4 of a second if you wish, but be careful. The trick is to maintain the shape of the figure in motion, rather than just blurring it out completely.
5. Shooting Nocturnal Street Photography
Camera manufacturers have been recently developing some impressive sensors that can shoot at ISO 1600 or even ISO 3200 with barely noticeable noise. This is a delight, especially for street photography during the night.
A great starting point would be ISO 1600, and the aperture value of f/2.8 (for those nice lenses that can jug a lot of light) and a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. If your camera allows you to shoot at ISO 3200 without nasty noise, go for it.
Turn off your camera with specific settings selected, that way you’ll gain time when turning it on. I always have my camera ready in ISO 200, Shutter Speed 1/125 and an aperture value of f/5.6.
Keep in mind that these devices are based on average lighting behavior and conditions. Some places will have higher amounts of brightness, and some others will have shadier ambiances. Be aware that ISO produces noise as you push it further, but as long as the noise level pleases you, you can shoot with it. The trick is to find the sweet spot that your taste will be able to handle.
Street photography is perhaps the most demanding genre when it comes to practice. Daily practice will be mandatorily needed for becoming better, and having a camera with you at all times will also be useful.
Dedicated cameras tend to make us feel guilty for not using them while walking on the streets, a power that smartphones simply don’t have. You’ll never know when the image of your life while surprise you while walking or even commuting, and the best thing is to be prepared at all times
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