8 mins

Brian Lloyd Duckett's 5 top tips for taking great street photographs

Street photographer Brian Lloyd Duckett gives his 5 practical tips for shooting amazing street photos wherever you are

Pointing finger (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

1: Always be ready

Being watched, London (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

When I’m walking the streets with my camera, I’m always looking around me, to the sides, behind me and up to 50m ahead of me. I’m watching what people are doing, observing behaviour and body language, so that I can anticipate a good photo opportunity. 

I pre-set my camera as much as possible, automating the shooting process, so that all I have to think about is getting a strong composition and then pressing the button at the right time. If you spend ages fiddling with settings, there’s a good chance you’ll miss ‘the moment.’ 

You just never know what you’re going to see next, or what you’ll need to react to quickly, so it’s a good idea to keep your camera switched on all the time, though make sure you have plenty of battery power with you. I tend to keep my camera ‘awake’ by gently tapping the shutter release button every few minutes to prevent it going into ‘sleep’ mode. 

The second you see a good shot, grab it. We all miss out on great opportunities by hesitating and my maxim is always ‘shoot first, worry about it later.’


2: Be invisible

Awaiting rescue, Rome (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

When we’re shooting on the streets, we don’t want to be recognised as photographers; once people see that you’re about to take a picture of them, their behaviour will change and the scene you originally saw will not be the scene you photograph. So we need to be ‘invisible’.

The great street photographers are those who blend in, who walk the streets without being noticed and who take pictures quickly, discreetly and unobtrusively.

If your camera has any bleeps or blinking lights that can be turned off, turn them off. Leave your flash at home and your tripod, and take the minimum of kit out with you. I usually leave home with no more than one camera and one lens. 

Walking slowly, wearing dark clothing and avoiding eye contact (sunglasses are a great help here) are other ways that help us to fade into the background.

‘Shooting from the hip’ is a technique often used by street photographers to take pictures covertly. You can get great shots by holding your camera at eye level and pressing the button, even whilst looking in a different direction. 

Cameras that have articulated (flip) LCD screens are great for this, but you can do it with any camera with a bit of practice.

Check out: Photo Gallery - 15 street photos by Brian Lloyd Duckett


3: Seek out good light

Before the crowds arrive, Venice (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

Great light can make an otherwise fairly ordinary scene really stand out. Street photography is no different from other forms of photography in that it pays to find good light. 

I prefer shooting in strong sunlight at any time of the day; I look for shafts of light that contrast against a darker background; get your main subject into one of these shafts and you’re in business. 

Whereas you wouldn’t want to take a portrait with the subject facing directly into strong sunlight, it matters much less in street photography. Your aim is to record reality, not to flatter.

The ‘golden hour’ is also an ideal time for street photography, around an hour after sunrise or before sunset, when the light is soft but the shadows are long and intense. Shadows can really enhance a street photo, whether it’s one person or people or even a more graphical composition involving buildings or abstract shapes.

Talking of weather, don’t let the rain, fog, ice, snow or wind put you off. Some of the most compelling street photos are taken in extremes of weather so be brave, dress appropriately and get out there.


4: Use a wide angle lens

City slicker, London (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

Street photography is all about context. If the image features people, which it often will, it needs to contain enough context information to give the viewer some sense of narrative. The ideal focal length for street photography is somewhere between 28-35mm, which will allow you to record plenty of what’s happening around you.

The other benefit of using a wide angle lens is that it will get you close to the action. When we’re close to the main subject, we get a real sense of drama or emotion from the picture, which could never be achieved by shooting from across the road with a telephoto lens.


5: Look for ‘the unusual in the usual’

Following the sign, London (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

People often ask me what I look out for when I’m shooting on the streets. The humorous side of street photography quite appeals, so I’m often looking out for witty situations, contrasts or juxtaposition. Sometimes, someone doing the most mundane thing, such as sneezing, can look very odd in a photograph.

I call it ‘the unusual in the usual’. So I’m always watching people’s behaviour and I’m very tuned in to what might happen next.

I’m also constantly on the look out for contrasts, opposites that, when put beside each other in a photo, can be really amusing. These juxtapositions have always figured prominently in street photography and they’re not difficult to come across.

Sometimes, you might see a great background for a witty picture, such as a sign in a shop window, and you just need the right person to walk through the shot to turn it into something really funny. In cases like this, I’ll just linger and wait. I’ve been known to wait for hours for all the right elements to come together in a scene.


All photos by Brian Lloyd Duckett. Brian Lloyd Duckett is a professional street photographer, author and lecturer.

His new book, Mastering Street Photography, a practical guide to taking good pictures on the streets, is out now, published by Ammonite Press.

See www.ammonitepress.com/mastering-street-photography for details. 

Brian also runs street photography workshops for individuals and groups around the UK and Europe. See www.streetsnappers.com for details.


Want to sharpen up your photography skills or start a new career as a travel photographer? Wanderlust will be running its highly regarded  Adventure Multimedia Seminars at the Adventure Travel Show at London Olympia on January 21 and 22, with seminars on travel writing, travel photography, adventure filmmaking, blogging, making films on your iPhone and more. 

See www.adventureshow.com/multimedia-seminars for details and tickets. 

Book your place now to avoid disappointment. 


Main image: Pointing finger (Brian Lloyd Duckett)

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