USE a FIXED lens
Ideally you will have a prime lens (fixed lens) with a focal length between 24-50mm already. Luckily, it doesn’t cost a lot to get ahold of a decent prime lens for street photography, they’re generally much cheaper than zoom lenses, so if you’re without one I would highly suggest looking into a 35mm prime. You will most likely want to shoot with a lens that shows gives you a natural look/frame much like how you see with the naked eye. 28/35/50mm focal lengths are considered natural eye lenses. Personally, I like to shoot with a 28mm (18mm APSC) but I did spend a long period of time shooting street photography with a 50mm, followed by the 35mm. 28mm might be a little too wide if you’re just starting out and 50mm might be a little too tight which makes the 35mm the perfect lens for starting with street photography. Once you have your prime lens use it and master it. The longer you use a singular focal length for, the more in tune with it you will become and the better you will become at seeing frames and composition before raising your camera to your eye. Zoom negatively impacts that tuning in period. You want to be able to see in the focal length. A good practice is guessing your framing which is essentially estimating where your frame lines will be before looking through the viewfinder to check. Before long you will know exactly where your frame will be, how close you need to be to get the particular frame and perspective. All this turns you into a much more discreet and fast working street photographer. Another great thing about prime lenses is that they’re much smaller and less obvious to the average passer by. There is a saying the bigger the lens the creepier you look when doing street photography.
BE THE LONE WOLF
Shooting with others is fun and it has plenty of benefits as you can share ideas and learn from one and other. But ultimately when shooting with others you are tied to the group mentality with negatively impacts your own approach to street photography. You will end up paying less attention to your surroundings and what’s goings on around you. You will be less likely to stop and wait for a scene to emerge just as you will be less likely to venture into somewhere new. Generally, when I shoot with others I end up drinking way to much coffee and talking too much before even getting to walking the streets. When we do finally walk the streets it’s for much less time than when shooting solo. By the end of the session I’m left thinking that I missed an opportunity. The truth is you’re never really in the zone when casually walking with others. In order to thrive and get into the zone it’s best to shoot solo. Shooting solo means I am free to walk when and where I please, at the drop of a hat I can change direction and walk without having to explain anything to anyone. I can follow my gut instincts or stop on a corner and observe for 15 mins waiting for a scene to emerge without having to think of others and how I’m holding them up. I’m more aware of my mistakes and more willing to spend time fixing them. All in all I’m much more aware of everything when shooting solo. It makes me a much better observer of my surroundings and greatly improves my final image output. Don’t neglect shooting with others completely though. Learning from others is key to improving your street photography. I generally shoot ¼ of my time with the company of others and the remaining ¾ I will shoot solo.
GIVE IT TIME
Personally, I usually aim for 6 hours of street photography once or twice a week in the winter and more during the summer daylight months. Even that feels like it’s not enough time spent on the street sometimes. The longer you spend doing anything the better you will become at it, street photography is no different here. If you really want to get to know the streets and improve your street photography then you have to put the time in. Time spent actively searching for scenes, discovering moments and practicing your skills with the camera will all in turn help you to become a better street photographer. The more time you spend on the streets the faster you will start to develop your personal style of street photography, patterns will emerge with your photography and before long you will have a body of work that looks like yours and yours only. From then on you will further define it and improve upon it constantly, but only if you put the time in on the streets.
Work on PROJECTS
This goes hand in hand with putting the time in. Having a project or at least a basic outline of what you want to capture will help bring focus to your street photography sessions and give you the necessary drive to continue for the long haul. Your eyes will starts to see things differently and naturally put aside scenes that are not in line with your project or images that begin looking cliché. The longer you spend on a single project the narrower the scope of images you take will become and the more your style will be defined by it. Don’t box yourself in when conceiving a project, start with a wide scoping one and refine it over time.
TAKE ONLY THE ESSENTIALS WITH YOU
Take only the essential gear out with you, so a camera and a lens, along a memory card and a few batteries. You don’t need extra lenses or a spare body. Chances are you will want to go home and cry if your camera breaks anyway. So take the one camera with one lens attached to it, and stash a few spare batteries in your pocket and you’re good to go for a solid day of street photography. A long day of street photography whilst being weighed down by your heavy camera bag is not a nice experience in itself. Also the chances are that if you bring that extra prime lens than you will spend a lot of time swapping lenses rather than thinking about the singular focal length and how to create images with it. You will roam the streets looking in two focal lengths rather than one. You’re going to look like a photographer and draw unwanted attention to yourself. Same with flash, unless it’s part of a project or you use one with each shot you will want to leave it at home. You definitely don’t need to bring your cleaning kit, or ipad for some on the fly instant editing. Make it all about focused street photography and less about gear and you will improve your street photography.