If you’re looking to get started in street photography but are unsure of what settings to use with your camera, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we take a look at the best camera settings for street photography that will have you documenting those unique moments in no time.
Shooting good street photography is challenging. Not only must a photographer remain totally aware of their surroundings and how things are unfolding in front of them. They must also be so comfortable with their camera settings that the machine becomes a literal extension of them. This can take some time to get used to. However, after some consistent practice, one will be able to control their camera without looking.
1. Shutter Speed 1/250
The pace of life in the streets is fast. Everyone is hurrying on their way to be somewhere, with little time to spare. And unless showing this movement is a creative intention, you will want to freeze the action as much as possible.
To achieve this, the slowest shutter speed you should be using is 1/250. Some sources will argue 1/125 is adequate. However, this shutter speed will still show motion blur in some instances. And if you are shooting during the middle of a bright day, a 1/250 shutter speed will still expose an image just fine. Note: if you shoot at night with a flashgun, you will also need to shoot at 1/250 for the flash to align with the shutter.
Scenarios It will be necessary to use a shutter speed of 1/125 or less, will be in poor weather/overcast conditions and when the sun is setting. The aperture range of the lens will also affect what shutter speed you can use. For example, a lens with a high aperture such as f.1.4 will capture more light for the camera to record. On the other hand, a lower f stop of f.4 will mean less light is captured by the lens, thus forcing the shutter to stay open for longer to gather the same amount of light.
2. Shutter Type: Low Continuous
one of the camera settings for street photography that is often overlooked is the continuous shutter. By using a continuous shutter, you can improve the chances of capturing the image you want. While it is not advisable to use the high continuous shutter like you would use to capture wildlife or sports events. Using a low continuous shutter should be perfect for the job. It will also mean you have far fewer photographs to look through when back home doing your digital admin.
A good number of frames to capture per second is around 3. Just enough to increase the likelihood of making a shot while not filling your memory card with the same images.
3. Aperture: f/5.6
Learning how to use the aperture in your camera correctly has the power to alter the messages communicated in your photographs dramatically. For example, a portrait photographer will usually decide to use a very high aperture to create a shallow depth of field and isolate the subject. By doing this, the photographer is making the person alone the subject of the photograph. On the other hand, a landscape photographer will use a low aperture to capture an entire landscape scene in focus.
Aperture in street photography usually falls in between these two opposing sides, somewhere around f.5.6. By shooting at this f stop, a photographer will isolate a subject in a photograph by blurring the background slightly. But not so much the context of the image is lost altogether.
The aperture you decide to use will vary from situation to situation and will depend on the message you want to communicate. As a rule, it is a good idea to leave the aperture setting on f 5.6 as a default. Making sure it is always reset after a shot if altered.
Unfortunately, having the luxury of aperture options isn’t always there. You will be forced to use high f stops in low light situations such as bad weather and dusk. If you must raise your aperture to cope with low light, be sure to choose your points of focus with care and remain conscious of foreground objects.
4. ISO 400
The old rule in all fields of photography used to be that you should aim to keep the ISO of your camera as low as possible at all times to not destroy an image with noise. However, this is no longer the case because many modern-day cameras can increase their ISO without increasing the visible grain in the photograph too noticeably.
Keeping the ISO low is still advisable to gain the sharpest image possible. If it is possible, maintain an ISO setting between 400-800 during the day.
In Low light settings, one will inevitably need to bump up their cameras sensitivity to light by increasing their ISO. After all, it is better to freeze the motion of a subject than it is to have a less grainy motion blur. Post-production tools like lightroom and photoshop are also great post-processing tools that can remove grain from an image.
Some photographers will even choose to shoot at high ISO to achieve the grain in their images as a style choice. Ultimately the decision is entirely yours.
5. White Balance: Auto
Cameras have come such a long way that unless a photographer is making a stylistic choice to alter the hue of a scene in-camera by altering their white balance, there is no other reason why one would choose to tamper with this setting.
This is no less true for street photography. When you are shooting things in motion and have just one chance to get a shot, worrying about altering the while balance of a camera would just get in the way. By letting the camera calculate the settings for you, you have one less thing to think about and instead can focus on what’s important. Capturing that street scene.
6.Continuous Autofocus And Zone Tracking
It is vital to use the continuous autofocus setting whenever you are shooting moving subjects. Using this focus setting will mean the camera will keep altering its focus points when the shutter button is halfway pressed.
Zone tracking should also be enabled to increase camera auto-focusing ability. This will further help the camera track a subject in a shot. Remembering to dial on both of these settings is crucial. You should make it part of a reheard pre-check before you begin a shoot. By doing so, you will negate the chance of returning home to find out that none of your images is in focus.
The autofocus in cameras has improved exponentially in recent years. However, it is still not perfect. Especially when trying to capture very fast-moving subjects. To negate the possibility a moving subject will be blurred, pan with the movement of the target. This means following it with the camera as it moves.
7. Program AE Mode
After you spend some time shooting in the streets, you will discover that timing is everything. Events and people of interest come and go in a split second. Everything that you can do to increase your chances of getting the shot is worth the time to understand and utilise.
Program AE mode is one of the great camera settings for street photography because it leaves most of the calculations to the camera while the photographer looks for and works out scenes in their head. It is a lot like manual mode, where the camera dials in all of the settings for you. However, the program mode gives the photographer more control.
For example, when in full auto mode, the settings the camera suggests are the settings used to take the shot. Whereas in program mode, the camera will figure out these settings for the photographer. But if they are not the optimal settings, they can be changed. All while maintaining the correct exposure.
This setting is perfect for many different scenarios such as sooting candid portraits, where the camera may have dialled in an f-stop not suitable to isolate the subject enough. Vice versa if the aperture is too low to communicate the context of a photograph. furthermore, control over shutter speed will allow the photographer to get those desired freeze frames when the camera suggested shutter speed is too low.
8. Auto ISO
An alternative to program mode is auto ISO mode. In this option, a photographer can dial in the lowest desirable ISO and shutter speed settings. While leaving the entire aperture range open to them (program limits this). Furthermore, the photographer will use exposure compensation to either boost or reduce the exposure of the image.
After the parameters of ISO and shutter speed have been set, the camera will attempt to keep the settings higher than the lowest settings. However, it is not always possible and they will fall below them if necessary. That is why it is a good idea to set several ISO parameters. And alter between them based on varying light conditions.
The mode you choose will come down to your preferences. Both work for different people, and you won’t know yourself until you have tried and tested the two.
This has been a very brief introduction to the best camera settings for street photography. To find out more, take some time to explore the blog, where you will find a range of learning resources that will help you develop your skills as a photographer. And understanding of the subject.
Although, there is no better way to learn than by doing. And you have the essential settings you need now. So dial them in and get out there!
What do you think of this settings list? Are there more settings you use in your own street photography? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!