How to Be Mentally Present for Street Photography

Lots of street photographers say they’re in the zone when they’re out shooting. That can be taken a bunch of different ways, but we’ve talked to countless photographers who feel that street photography is therapeutic. The craft forces them to focus on other things mentally and distracts them from what’s going on in their lives. So, how do you put yourself in the right state of mind? We’re going to talk a little bit about it.

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Go to a City; They’re the Best for Street Photography

There’s a reason why some of the world’s most iconic street photography has been done in big cities. And I think the entire staff will agree that cities are the best places for street photography. They’re densely packed with people and there’s a big variety too. Random things happen that you won’t even be aware of minute to minute. So you’re going to have to concentrate. Stressed out about something? Let it go, as you’re going to have to mentally focus to do street photography here.

More importantly, you have to teach yourself to just be open and receptive to your environment. It’s easy to not pay attention to things. But if you look carefully, you can get in tune with your own emotions. If something elicits an emotion out of you, it’s probably worth photographing.

Stand in One Place and Take the City In

Start off by standing in one spot and taking the scene in. One of our favorite photographers is Jonathan Higbee, and in the video above, we show you how he shoots. He will often stand in one spot and take the world in as it passes him by. Observe what’s happening. Think about the lens you’ve got on your camera and how it renders the world. As you look at scenes happening, think of how you’d frame them. Is there something in the scene that’s visually fascinating? Can it be achieved in a single photo? Do you have to slow the shutter speed down? Do you have to be super quick?

Pay Attention to Everything Around You

Start walking around and, depending on how you’re working and the lens you’ve got, you can do different things. I personally like shooting street photography with a prime lens. So with that said, I keep in mind and pay attention to everything happening within a few feet from me. My favorite focal lengths to shoot with are 28mm, 35mm, 55mm, and 85mm.

Autofocus or Manual Focus? Stay Cognescent of the Zone

A while back, we discussed zone focusing on an autofocus lens and a manual focus lens. The video above explains more. But here’s a snippet from that blog post:

“Well, this is a complicated question. With zone focusing, you set how far away you want to focus, stop the lens down to tell the lens how much of the scene you want to focus at that distance, and then simply walk up to that distance and shoot. If you’re on the move, then zone focusing can be superior in many ways. Everything is preset for you, and you just need to move yourself to get the shot. At that point, you’re just pushing a button, providing that you’ve got your settings already.

With autofocus, you stop the lens down and ideally tell the camera to do something like face detection. Then you ask it to continuously track a subject. Providing that you’ve dialed in your settings, you then press the button, let the camera autofocus, and shoot. To each their own. But if you had to ask me, I still think that my own personal abilities as a human being work better depending on the focal length. Am I always consistent? No. Is the camera always consistent? Yes, if I’ve been cleaning the contacts. My personal best street images have always been with a Leica. However, when it comes to autofocus cameras, I make a persuasive argument for APS-C and Four Thirds sensors.”