10 Practical Mobile Street Photography Tips

Recently Ethan Chiang, a street photographer and a long time reader, contacted by me about publishing an article on tips for shooting in the streets. He’s been taking street photography with his iPhone for about 2 years now. Ethan’s techniques have certainly paid dividends as his work is filled with characters, storytelling, and  magical moments that couldn’t happen anywhere else but the streets. 

10 Practical Mobile Street Photography Tips
by Ethan Chiang

1. Be ready
I always have my iPhone set to camera mode. Whenever I unlock the phone screen, it’s ready to take photos, which allows me to react fast and almost never miss the shots on the streets.

2. Steady
It sounds quite obvious, but it’s really easy to get blurry shots when taking photos with a mobile phone, so try to hold your phone as steady as possible when taking photos.

3. Earphone
Volume buttons on iPhone earphone also work as remote camera shutter, sometimes you can pretend that you’re listening to music or on a phone call when taking photos. It also gives you a steady shot while pressing the shutter button without shaking your phone.

4. Lock the exposure
By locking the exposure, it is easier to manage the random light sources on the streets, such as under a bright sunny day or a cloudy weather so your picture won’t get overexposed or become too dark. Beside, by locking your exposure, you’ll get a chance to experience different atmospheres of the photos under the same light source.

5. Just do it
Never hesitate, those candid moments on the streets never come twice. You can delete the photos later if you don’t like it, but you can never make those street moment happen again. So if your gut tells you to take the shot, take the shot. Just do it.

6. Anticipate
You never know what’s going to happen on the streets, but you can sometimes see signs of those dramatic moments. For instance, a woman wearing high heels might going to break the heels while running across the street, a couple might going to kiss at the subway station, an old lady holding an umbrella under a windy day might get her umbrella upside down. What I often do is to observe those possible next moments and get my camera ready, sometimes I do get lucky on those next moments and catch the dramatic moments. Just try to observe while walking on the street even if you’re not taking photos, you’ll see what I mean.

7. Battery
I always carry a spare portable battery with me when shooting on the streets, one of iPhone’s biggest shortcomings is the notorious battery life, make sure you have your battered charged  for your mobile phone before shooting.

8. Shoot in landscape

People tend to shoot in portrait mode with their iPhones, I didn’t know that until one day I found a huge amount of my photos are in portrait mode, which is because it’s easier to hold and click the shutter button that way when shooting with a mobile phone, but don’t let it limit your imaginations, try shoot in landscape mode next time.

9. It’s all about lights
Not sure about other places, but in Taipei and Seoul, hours between 09:00 to 11:30 in the morning and 15:00 to 17:30 in the afternoon are the best time to shoot, the lights are very dynamic, you’ll see a lot of interesting shadows between buildings, it gives you more opportunities to find great stories.


10. Be patient
Sometimes you have to “Create Stories” on the streets, if you find an interesting poster, wait for someone to walk by, if you see a great light, wait there, you might get something very dramatic. Street photography is not all about luck and randomness, sometimes you just have to be patient.

Passion is not enough in Street Photography

You are passionate about Street Photography, you are energetic on the streets and always looking for those special interaction between people and things on the streets such as juxtaposition, candid portraits, funny moments, special characters, some of your shared photos  might get a lot of “likes” on Facebook and comments like “great shot!”, “amazing photo” on Flickr, but soon you’ll get tired, your appetite will get bigger and bigger, you won’t be satisfied by those “comments” and “likes”,  and if you don’t see anything that are more interesting than the photos you took before, you’ll start losing motivation to even pull out your phone from your pocket.
It’s normal. I’ve been there. As a matter of fact, I believe most Street Photographers have been there at least once.

Try to set goals in mind when out there shooting, which will boost your motivation and lets you practice your observation.

1. Shoot against the sun light all day
2. Look for smokers on the streets
3. People with umbrellas in a sunny day
4. People without umbrella in a rainy day
5. Shoot from the hip (without looking at your screen) all day
6. Look for people playing mobile phones while walking
7. Men in suits
8. People walking around with their helmet on (happens in Taipei a lot)
9. People eating while they’re walking
10. Things that reflect, mirrors, shop windows, water fountains
11. Looking for shadows
12. Look for silhouette
13. Spaced out faces
14. Shoot from dogs eye view
15. Only shoot when you have eye contacts with your subjects

The list can go on and on, set one yourself and share it in the comment box :-) Happy shooting!


12 responses to “10 Practical Mobile Street Photography Tips

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