Zone Focusing - Street Photography Techniques

Street Photography offers so much in the way of images, all kinds of environments and lighting situations are seen so no one camera setting is going to be good for all of the situations you face on the street. The streets are far to diverse to expect just one camera setting to work for all. Although some settings cover more situations than others you shouldn’t settle for just those settings. It’s about having an arsenal of skills to tackle any situation that comes your way. Here we delve into Zone Focusing and talk about what situations you might want to use it for, how it helps, and how to do it right.

Zone focus is basically manual focus, only pre-thought out. It’s setting your focus to be a certain distance in front of you at all times. Imagine you’re on a busy street, with lots of foot traffic walking towards you. The subjects are moving so fast towards you that AF focus (or manual focus) is just not fast enough, since by the time you see the composition and grab focus the subject has moved forward and is now out of focus, or the composition has changed entirely. These situations call for zone focusing. Turning off AF and setting your focus to a certain distance in front of you allows you to get that shot, without the focus lag that comes with autofocus or your slow manual focus skills (you can pretend all you want).

You will need a basic understanding of depth of field (DOF) and its relation to your aperture of choice to get the most from this technique. Zone focusing on the street with your aperture set to f/1.4 is not going to help you much because your DOF would be shallow and you’d end up with missed shots entirely. This is because your subjects would be in and out of the in-focus depth of field in a split second. Having your aperture set to something like f/8-f11 gives you a larger depth of field.

Now imagine being on that busy street again, with those people walking towards your frame and this time the space from 5ft - 20 ft in front is in focus already, all you have to do is get the exposure correct. The freedom to enjoy the streets is much greater working this way. You’re able to feel the streets and get to know them better and understand them, thats getting in the zone! If you have time to think about the shot you’re going to take, like composition, aperture, you can move a little for a better shot, then you have time to change to a more suitable setting anyway. So anytime you’re walking in busy areas where you might expect reactionary images, you should set up for zone focus. Preset zone focus, all other settings are secondary but not any less valuable or used. It’s just picking the right tool for the job essentially.

I always shoot zone focus at night when using a flash on my camera. I have a 28mm lens on my camera and have it set to f/8. I switch to manual focus and set the focus 5ft in front of me. Having it set at 5ft gives me an area of focus that is roughly 14ft long. From 4 ft to 18 ft, I can get good acceptable focus. Generally, I’m trying to frame the subject 5-8 ft away from me. All I’m doing is waiting for the subject/s to fall into that area.

Dress for Success - Street Photography Techniques

You’ve heard of the saying - dress for success. It seems to be used most commonly in reference to impressing at interviews and successfully getting the job, in part by dressing for success. First impressions matter, generally people look at you before hearing from you. It’s natural to look at somebody and form a basic opinion of that person by looking at them. You can argue the rights and wrongs of this all you want, but at the end of the day it’s human nature to do so. Maybe this is even more true as a street photographer, since we are all keen observers of people. Before we take a photograph of any particular person we are looking at them, judging them and wondering if they would make an interesting subject in a photograph. Is the person open to having their photograph taken if asked, or if it would be better to take a photograph candidly? These are some considerations we take into account before taking a photograph. But what about being behind the camera, how do the clothes we wear affect those around us?

We have a few things to consider but usually the first thing we are trying to do as a street photographer is blend in with the crowd, not so much become invisible as we all know thats a thing left for the super heroes. Fitting in would keep eyes off us for a little longer and allow us the opportunity to get closer to the subject without being easily noticed. Eventually, you will get noticed, no doubt, and perhaps for other reasons beyond how you dress but it does help to fit in especially if you want those closer to the scene images.

The next thing to consider is your safety, and avoiding wandering eyes spotting you as a potential target. Having a camera around your neck doesn’t help matters when you're trying to dress for safety, but wearing your finest Supreme gear and hitting the streets of Tijuana isn’t going help your street photography at all and will draw negative attention. If you dress like those around you, chances are the camera will be pretty unnoticeable when hanging around your neck. What might look normal where you live can make you look very much out of place in a different part of town/country. So, the next time you’re shooting in an affluent part of town you might want to get in your best casuals on before some affluent neighbor calls the cops on the suspicious individual taking pictures of flash cars in driveways. The same can be said for the less affluent streets, that flash Louis Vuitton bag you got on sure looks good to the man in despair with nothing to lose, it tells him you got money! something he might desperately need.

Lastly, shooting for comfort and practicality should be considered. Towards the end of a long street photography session, your body might start to tell you where you screwed up when getting dressed. Nothing like having to walk/hobble across the border after a 5-hour slog on the streets of Tijuana, all due to picking converse as the shoe of choice for the day. Another good one is checking the 85* weather at 3pm, slapping on a t-shirt only to have the t-shirt drenched due to the extreme humidity that you didn’t check. Then surviving the after-dark journey home, in that lovely wet and now freezing cold t-shirt, brilliant.

Those are our tips for dressing for success whilst out doing street photography. Take into consideration those three points and find the most suitable clothing for the job.

Street Photography Camera Settings

Settings for Street Photography

I often get asked what camera settings I use for street photography, so I thought it might be fun to lay out my basic camera settings for my particular style of street photography. I prefer to shoot on clear bright days so these setting reflect that type of shooting environment as well as the final image output which tends to be bright and colorful. These setting are for my digital cameras which tends to be one of these three: Fujifilm X-Pro1 (my favorite) Ricoh GRii (discreet) and occasionally the XT-2 (great for the flip screen). I prefer to use a 28-31mm (18-21mm in APS-C) for the amount of image context you can capture within the frame without getting the distortion often seen in wider focal lengths. Since these cameras are APS-C the focal length written on the lenses is 18mm (x1.5=27mm). I still shoot work that requires a full frame camera, I also shoot film from time to time(35&120), so working out the 35mm focal length is important for consistency throughout.

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Aperture - f/4 & f/8/11

f/4 - Portraits, Candid Portraits, Diminishing Light

f/8/f11 - Larger Scenes, Groups, Urban Landscapes, Fast Moving Busy Scenes

I go back and forth between these two f/stops for the large majority of my photographs taken on the streets, although f/8 is my most popular for street photography. The main reason being is the large depth of field it provides without the camera speed taking too much of a hit from having a smaller (slower) aperture. f/11 is great but I find my speed selection is often compromised with this f/stop. If you ever stop me on the street then chances are my camera will be set to f/8, I will adjust for the scene when needed but always revert back to f/8 in between, ready for any quick photograph that may arise.

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Speed - 1/125 - “1/250” - 1/500

My camera speed is always set to 1/250 and it’s rare that I will change it by more than a stop to either 1/125 or 1/500. For myself 1/250 produces a still (sharp?) image without motion blur being an issue. It can freeze a scene whilst showing movement only for the fastest moving objects which helps create a natural scene for viewing. Some might want more movement in there images but we find this just perfect.

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ISO - AUTO 200 - 1600

ISO is the least important setting out of the main 3, for myself at least, but that doesn't mean it’s not important because it absolutely is. I just think that the camera does a great job of picking a good ISO having picked the speed & f-stop already. A shot with 64000 ISO likely won’t look too good and so we limit the automatic ISO settings. I like to use the brains of the camera here and set it to automatic ISO with a max of 1600/2000. Basically we set our camera to 1/250, our f/stop at f/8 and we have a native ISO setting of 800, but we allow the camera to change the ISO in order to keep our speed at 1/250 & f-stop the same. Auto ISO is set to 200-1600. This represents a 4 stop variance, plenty for most situations that I find myself in.

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Focus point - Center Spot

Metering - Overall

Exposure Compensation - + ⅔ stop

White Balance - Auto

Being in tune with your camera and knowing how to use it for varying conditions in key to becoming a competent street photographer. If you don’t understand your camera settings and how they present situations differently then you are playing a guessing game with your photographs. I haven’t got anything against auto mode, in fact auto mode these days can usually produce better images than a manually controlled camera in the hands of someone that doesn’t understand how to use it. By taking control and understanding how it works for each scene will enable you to create better images, ones that have a personal touch. Taking control of your camera goes hand in hand with pre-visualization. If you can pre-visualize a photograph or an upcoming scene then you really need to know your camera and how to photograph the scene to make that vision a reality.


The Image Guide offers Street Photography Tours for all levels of photographer. So if you’re struggling with your camera and feel you’re not really getting as much as you can from it, don’t invest in more gear but rather invest in education to learn how to master your camera and the scenes that come your way. For more information about our Street Photography Workshops click here

Visiting Tijuana with a Camera

Tijuana is worth visiting. Visiting Tijuana with a camera is most definitely worth it, especially if street photography if your thing. It’s not dangerous in the slightest if you follow these simples rules when visiting then you will be fine and trust us, you will be back for more. Tijuana Street Photography Tours

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Walk over the border into Tijuana

Park in San Ysidro and walk through the border. It saves you time and money, especially on the way back. Driving in Tijuana is an art form itself and can be super crazy, but crossing back to the US can suck the life out of you and it is not at all worth it. Walk, please! Another reason to leave the car is because the police in Tijuana have a habit of pulling people over for fantom traffic violations. They then offer you the chance to pay up with cash instantly the going rate is 20-50 and that California plate won’t bring down the price.

Border line traffic Tijuana-San Diego

Border line traffic Tijuana-San Diego

Don’t solicit for drugs

Even if it's just weed just don't do it. At some point in the day you will get some random person walk past you offering cheap pharma products like viagra+. Just say na gracias. You will likely pay more anyway and get back a mint instead of viagra, and some spinach instead of weed. Even worse you could get robbed down some alley conducting your sketchy business, or you could end up in the slammer…. All for some spinach smh

If you really need Viagra then Tijuana has plenty of legit places to purchase them. No need for street transactions ever!!

If you really need Viagra then Tijuana has plenty of legit places to purchase them. No need for street transactions ever!!

Stay away from Red Light District

This place is grimy and a drug infested trash-hole. Don’t take part and absolutely do not take your camera into the area, it’s a big no no. Unfortunately, most males that go to Tijuana end up here and it shapes their opinion of the place. Tijuana is much better than this dump area. Bad people prey on those drunken fools getting wasted in this district.

Don’t get wasted

Have a few beers by all means, but getting wasted with a camera is surely going to lead you into trouble unless that’s your thing? If you do have a few beers make sure you empty your tank in a public restroom, not the street, you can find them all over and they usually cost 25c if not free for patrons.

Drinks are cheap in Tijuana, but don’t get carried away if you’re here for Photography

Drinks are cheap in Tijuana, but don’t get carried away if you’re here for Photography

Show respect to those that want your business

You will likely get plenty of folks asking you to eat tacos or have a margarita at the best place in Tijuana or to check out the goods in the shop. You don’t need to eat, drink or shop, but you can politely say “no, gracias” and walk on. In general try to smile at people and don’t come across as an arrogant bugger that is expecting to get mugged by anyone that doesn’t fit the mold of an American.

Yes, they have the cheapest Viagra in town, like all the other places also. Be respectful always.

Yes, they have the cheapest Viagra in town, like all the other places also. Be respectful always.

Get back when the sun goes down

Since this guide is for street photographers in Tijuana, you don’t need to stay for the nightlife in TJ. If you do find yourself in the city center at dark then it’s probably best to get a taxi back to the Tijuana/USA border. We have walked back many times in the dark with no trouble at all, but we know these streets well. If it’s your first time in Tijuana, with a camera especially then don’t struggle to find your way back in the dark. Get that golden hour light, then get your walk on!

you can get around town super cheap using a taxi. Most trips around the city center cost $1

you can get around town super cheap using a taxi. Most trips around the city center cost $1

Keep your bearings

New streets can all start to look the same, it’s a good idea to stop and figure out exactly where you’re. Not the best idea to walk aimlessly into the unknown parts of Tijuana.

wander with a purpose and always know your way back

wander with a purpose and always know your way back

Be modest with what you take to Tijuana

No need to walk the streets looking like money Mayweather, head to toes in bling. Be modest and dress the part. Most of the folks you see in Tijuana don’t make that much money, life is a hustle for them. You walking the streets in Louis Vuitton doesn’t look as good as you think it does and it might just make you a target for a thief, just saying. Nobody will even notice your camera around your neck if you dress modestly.

Better to dress modestly in Tijuana as a photographer especially. No need to be flash, it won’t earn you any browny points

Better to dress modestly in Tijuana as a photographer especially. No need to be flash, it won’t earn you any browny points


We won’t ever discourage solo visits to Tijuana. We totally believe in them and the true sense of adventure you get from going solo. But a fast track experience designed for street photographers is a worthwhile experience. We know the streets of Tijuana inside out. We know which streets to go down and which to avoid. We know the best hipster food places in Tijuana and the best local street taco places also. The best points of interest and areas for street photography in Tijuana. Visit our main page for more information on our Tijuana street photography tours