The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street Art

In this article on The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street Art, we will give you several pointers on how to achieve the best results in your street art photography project.

Street art is a colourful and highly expressive art form that paints a picture of the state of mind of a city’s current political, social and environmental, state of affairs through a collective consciousness of its resident artists. 

Street art remains to be a highly controversial and polarising topic. Most individuals will find themselves in the for or against camps, with very few taking moderate opinions on the matter. 

As a photographer documenting this genre of art is crucial to make the distinction between art and vandalism. It is your job to help others see past those who use paint to deface public property and highlight the work of those who use it to communicate collective expression from the forefronts of consciousness. 

The way you choose to document and curate your images has the power to push others who find it challenging to make this distinction away from the art form. Be careful and use your instincts wisely. 

This article has been written to help guide you on your street art photography project and leave you with compelling images to further the strength of your own portfolio and help highlight the value of real street art.

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

1. Do Your Research

Whenever embarking on any photography project, it is always important to do the necessary research before you start. Doing so will ultimately save you time in the field and improve the quality of your work. Make sure you don’t overlook this crucial step in your street art photography process. 

Fortunately, if you are reading this, it means you have been sensible enough to engage in this step, so congratulations. 

What this stage looks like for a street art project revolves around the 10 most significant factors to consider:

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

1.1. Location

Discover and prioritise locations based on where you are shooting. Fortunately, photographers and content creators have been documenting street art vigorously for decades now. Meaning a quick google search and review of one or two well-written articles should provide you with enough information to plan your shoot. 

Search online for the location you are in or will be visiting, and if you have a limited amount of time, prioritise them in order, starting with what you would like to see first. 

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

1.2. Gear

What gear will you need for the shoot? Ultimately this list will be different for different photographers and vary depending on the resources at hand. For some, the only tool they may have is a smartphone, whereas another may have access to an entire photography arsenal. Whatever you end up using, it is possible to capture impressive results. 

Furthermore, when shooting street art, you can expect to spend a lot of time on your feet, Meaning that some may wish to sacrifice gear to reduce the weight they carry. 

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

1.3. Composition Techniques

Knowing how to compose your shots is crucial if you want to finish the project with a quality album. Make sure you look at the work of other photographers that have documented street art. 

Not only will it help you understand how to compose your shots, but it may also increase the variety of shots you capture. Which will help viewers remain interested in your work when viewing. 

Head over to Pinterest and create a board, especially for this project. Spend some time compiling this with as many images you can find that you think work and you would like to replicate on your shoot. 

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

2. Create A Plan Of Action

How much time do you have to shoot at the location? If it is your home town/city and you have no timescale, fantastic. On the other hand, if you are visiting and have a limited time, this will complicate things. First and foremost, be clear on the length of time you have to shoot at a location.

After researching and understanding which locations are the most important to shoot, you can plan your routes and estimate the length of time it will take you.

If you are shooting over multiple days, it may be a good idea to use a paper map and cross out areas you have already covered.

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

3. Use The Strava App

Although the Strava app is aimed primarily at people wishing to record their sporting activities, it is also useful when on a street art photography shoot. That is if you are exploring every nook and cranny in the streets to seek out those hidden and unique gems. 

It is so handy because it tracks your movement and creates a trail over the path you have taken. Meaning you are less likely to cover the same routes you have taken before. Furthermore, you can always share the distance you have travelled with your friends and family at the end of the day. 

strava

4. Weather

If you have the luxury of unlimited time, you may wish to plan your shoot around the weather. Dawn, dusk, and overcast days are typically the best conditions to shoot in as there are no hard shadows, minimal glare, and your camera will have an easier time achieving a balanced exposure. 

Shooting in different weather conditions can also yield different results. So don’t shoot in one condition only. For example, shooting shortly after rainfall can leave puddles to make interesting reflection shots. Rain can also wash away the dust covering work and help reveal its vibrant colours.

Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street
Graffiti / Street Art - The Best Way To Photograph / Document Street

5. Avoid Hard Light

If possible, try and avoid hard light in your compositions. Firstly when shooting, it makes it difficult for a camera to achieve a correct exposure balance as it struggles to set its exposure meter to compensate for the high and low levels of light in the frame.

Secondly, having shot poorly exposed images will make it challenging to edit to a high standard in post-production, leaving you with photographs that may not be useable. When shooting in RAW, it always helps to underexpose your images as it is easier to lift shadows than reclaiming blown-out highlights.

If you must shoot a scene, wall or door with shadows cast over it, use the HDR function on your camera. This mode will help achieve a better exposure balance and dynamic range in your image. However, this mode is not suitable to capture moving subjects.

Graffiti / Street Art
Graffiti / Street Art
Graffiti / Street Art
Graffiti / Street Art
Graffiti / Street Art
Graffiti / Street Art

6. Use A Wide-Angle Lens

If you have a wide-angle lens, it will undoubtedly be the most effective lens you can use. Because when you shoot street art, it is critical to capture large portions of walls and the open spaces that the art decorates. 

In some instances, you may find yourself in tight spaces and narrow streets where a wide-angle lens is the only way you can capture a complete piece. 

Narrower focal lengths can work, especially if you are willing to spend the time in post-production stitching your images together. But using a wide-angle lens will save a lot of time. 

7. Be Mindful Of Your Lines

When shooting buildings and architecture, it is easy to distort straight lines. This distortion is known as the keystone effect. In some cases, this effect is desirable and can lead to stylised compositions. On the other hand, it can also lead to some jarring results. 

When shooting things like walls and doors head on it helps to be mindful of this as achieving straight lines will lead to better results. There are two steps to take for straight lines in your compositions. 

1) Shoot with your camera parallel to the ground, not pointing up or down but head-on. 

2) Use a straight line in the composition with the straight line at the side of the frame. Once these align, pan your camera sideways until you achieve the desired shot. 

If you have distorted your lines or were unable to fit the entire composition in the frame, then it is possible to an extent to rectify this in post-production. 

When rectifying the keystone effect in post-production, the image will crop. So if you do shoot a composition with the intent to straighten the lines later, make sure you capture enough space surrounding the subject for this. 

8. Incorporate Other Elements Into Your Frame

When photographing street art, try to incorporate other elements into the frame, such as people or the objects surrounding the artwork. This method will help make the photographs more engaging and set more context information for the viewer to help them understand the type of area the work exists in. 

Things to include can be people, vehicles, debris, and anything else that adds contextual information. 

9. Use The HDR Function

As previously mentioned using the HDR technique is a great way to balance an exposure that has shadows cast in it. However, it is also a great way to increase the dynamic range of the colour in an image. And because street art is typically very colourful, this mode will help the artwork pop.

HDR mode is also perfect for scenes that contain the sky because it helps achieve a balanced exposure between high contrast between this and a building or wall. 

However, this mode is unsuitable for shots containing moving elements as the process stitches several photographs together. In addition, a tripod is helpful to get the best results, although not necessary. 

10. Create Panoramas In Post-Production

Sometimes it is impossible to fit an entire scene into a composition, even with a wide-angle lens. This scenario is when image stitching becomes useful. It works by using several photographs of different parts of a scene or object and stitching them together in post-production software to create a single image. 

When shooting to stitch your images together, make sure to photograph the overlapping parts of a frame. The more photographs you can capture, the more information the software will have to compose your image. 

Furthermore, it is helpful to note that maintaining a levelled white balance while taking multiple exposures will help achieve a balanced end image.

11. Edit Your Images In Post-Production

Once you have built a collection of images in the field, it is time to take them back to the lab to edit in post-production. If you are serious about photography, this step is unavoidable. Learning how to edit your images is necessary. 

Note that it is not vital to have the latest and greatest paid software such and adobe photoshop and lightroom to achieve great results. 

If you are just getting started in photography or don’t have the budget to splash out on editing software, don’t worry, there are plenty of free tools out there that will leave you with stunning results. 

How you edit your images is entirely up to you and the style and effect you want to achieve with the collection. However, try to avoid over-editing your photographs as it can leave them with a radioactive vibe. 

Increasing the contrast and saturation while lifting the shadows and dropping the highlights may be all a photograph needs.

 

12. Conclusion

Now you have gained a little more insight into how to shoot a street art project, next comes the necessary research. After this, it will be time to hit the streets and document. 

If this is your first time shooting street art during these initial shoots, it is crucial to experiment and make mistakes. Don’t be scared to produce bad work as a beginner because this is how you learn. Even if you are a seasoned veteran, it is still vital to break your habits and routes and step outside of your comfort zone from time to time and try new things. 

Please let us know what you think of the list in the comments section below. Plus, contact us on Instagram with examples of your street art photography for a chance to be featured on our feed. 

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David Davis
David Davishttps://shuttergang.com
Hi, My name is Dave, and I am passionate about photography. I am currently travelling to document the world's most interesting people and places. I have started this blog to share these incredible sights and experiences with you, including all the knowledge I gain as a photographer/videographer along the way. If you share a passion for street, documentary, and travel photography, join the mailing list and stay up to date with the latest posts and resources direct from the field.

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