How To Do Street Photography With A Smartphone?

Smartphone street photography? Yes. In fact, we think your smartphone camera may well be the perfect tool to get you into street photography without any major outlay on camera gear, whatosever.

Street photographers often look to ensure that they get the perfect street photo by being as unobtrusive as possible. And what could be more anonymous in modern life than smartphone street photography? Everyone has a smartphone in their hands, you simply won’t stand out from the crowd at all.


Why Smartphone Street Photography?

There is a mantra in street photography that goes something like this, “the best camera is always the one that you have with you.”

And this is absolutely true. Many photographers, of all stripes, find that they don’t get the shots that they want because their nice big, expensive camera is too much to carry around with them and thus, they leave it at home.

Whereas if you skip the dedicated camera and opt for the camera app on your smartphone to capture your next street photo? Well, you’ll be taking pictures all the time and this will lead to good street photography because it’s practice that makes perfect, not the best camera.

Some of the best street photography taken today is taken with modern smartphones, the smartphone’s camera is capable of delivering excellent picture quality and great photos and there are plenty of tools to let you develop your own style using the phone’s camera too.


Choose The Right Smartphone

When it comes to choosing a mobile phone to take high-quality images, the only real specifications that matter are those related to the camera in the phone, the brand of the smartphone doesn’t matter very much at all.

Things to consider are the sensor size, whether there’s a night mode (for improved low light shooting), different lenses (a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens can be very handy, indeed).

Smartphone Photography

You may also be able to find a mobile phone with a dedicated shutter button (such as the ones in the Sony Xperia range) and other functions such as exposure lock.

And if you want to try and avoid a blurry photo, you might find your candid shots benefit from the application of image stabilization too.

Most of the time, you won’t need to buy a new phone to start shooting in the street, the one you have will do just fine to get started.


Fully Auto Or Manual?

If your camera allows for it, you might also want to play about with using manual mode rather than full auto.

This is good training if you ever decide that you want to buy a fully-featured camera for street photography but to be fair, it’s not essential.

Today’s smartphones are amazing at getting exposure exactly right and if you shoot in automatic, your attention can focus on details of the shot such as leading lines rather than being distracted with details of how to manage the camera.


Learn To Hold Your Phone

When taking photos, it’s a good idea to decide on the orientation you want to shoot in.

Street photography is the art of capturing everyday lives in action. Shooting in portrait mode makes it easy to get a person in shot and focus on them, but often a great shot requires more detail of the place and time of the capture, and for that, you need landscape mode.

Most importantly though, whichever mode you shoot in – you need to keep the phone still while you take your photos. Otherwise, you’re going to find most smartphones render a blurry, unusable image, so practice at this and consider setting a button on the frame of the phone as your shutter trigger, rather than pushing the screen to take a shot.


Find The Right Lens

It would be hard to find a smartphone without at least two lenses now and many have 3 or more.

Traditionally, street photographing requires the use of wide-angles, and the photographers must get up close and personal with the subject to ensure that the person is the subject in a broader scene.

Smartphone Lens

However, to begin with, you may be more comfortable working with a telephoto whose settings allow you to create an image of the location and subject without being on top of them.

Then as your confidence increases, you could switch to the “standard lens” which gives a bit more flexibility in where you position yourself than a wide, before finally switching to wide.

There are, of course, times when the shot you want fixes the kind of lens to use. So, it’s worth practicing with all your lenses even if you shoot wide most of the time.


Think About Support For Your Smartphone

You may also consider using a tripod or monopod for your smartphone.

This tool is for the photographer that needs a little more help with keeping their shots stable.

You can use a phone tripod on location with ease and there are a huge number of different sized options and styles for improving your pictures while remaining in the background as you shoot.

If you have friends with tripods/monopods see you can borrow them and test them out before you buy, we all prefer different tools to get our shot and it’s worth finding out what works best for you before spending a fortune on something you don’t like.


Learn To Pre-Visualize Street Photos

If you want your subject and background to align perfectly, you need to watch the world in front of your eyes and learn to “pre-visualize” what might happen.

You don’t need to be psychic but learning to find a frame and then waiting for a person to enter than frame for you to capture it can make street photographing so much easier.

Have a vision and then learn to add details to that vision. Most people struggle on the streets because they don’t have the ideas that they need to create strong images.


The Key To Being A Street Photographer: Telling A Story

What keeps people’s attention on a shot once it is shared, is the story that it tells.

When capturing images on the street, you’re looking to ensure your picture tells a story that holds the viewer’s attention, and that story can be one that already exists or you can make one up to fit your vision.


Capture The “Decisive Moment”

The famous street photographer, Henri-Cartier Bresson coined the phrase “the decisive moment” and what he meant by it was you need to learn to wait for the moment when the subject and background are at their most interesting before depressing the shutter.

Decisive Moment

The good news is that with a camera phone, you have an unlimited amount of “film” available to you because a smartphone has tons of digital storage – so you can shoot the same scene multiple times rather than trying to get everything exactly right in your mind before you focus on taking the shot.


Don’t Be Scared Of Post-Processing

When you shoot street work, you’re not a journalist, you’re an artist.

And while there’s often a lot of debate around using editing tools – there shouldn’t be.

If you want your images to look amazing then your use of light is important and your use of post-processing is even more so.

Some of our favorite tools for this include Lightroom CC (which comes free with an Adobe subscription), Google Snapseed (which has a basic free version), and VSCO. There are many more, find one that works for you and learn to get the most out of it. Your images will sing for it.


If All Else Fails – Get Closer

Robert Capa famously said, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

He was right. Settings, light, focus, etc. are important but the most important thing of all is getting close to your subject and this is particularly true in street photography.

Otherwise, the subject gets lost in the details of the street scene and all you have is a picture of a city street rather than the masterpiece that you had hoped for.

Summon up your courage and get closer.


Boosting Battery Life

Using your phone’s camera to shoot on the street means watching the battery constantly drain out of it.

Turn down the screen brightness (though not so much you can’t see what’s going on), switch off the Wi-Fi, and carry a spare battery or two – this will let you shoot for as long as there is light to shoot in.


A Note On Model Releases

Unless you use your images for advertising campaigns, you do not need a model release for street work, and contrary to popular belief you can share your images on social media, etc. without any fear of being sued.


Final Thoughts On Street Shooting With A Smartphone

Everyone can do street photography for a reasonable price using their camera app on their phone.

Street photography is easy and fun to do like this and with the tips above, you should soon be making the kind of images that would make Cartier-Bresson proud.

You may also find that our guide to street photography in general, these awesome street photography blogs, and our history of street photography give you some interesting ideas to incorporate in your own photography.

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