Street Photography is all about being ready. You don’t have time to check settings, check focus or, even second guess yourself. No time to chimp. Its go go go. As such, its important to use the right settings for the given conditions. So, what settings are we talking about?
First is dealing with exposure based on given lighting conditions. If its day time with mid-level light set your ISO settings to Auto with a range of 200 to 800 ISO. Set your Aperture around f/5.6 for a wide-angle lens or f/7.2 for a standard lens on Aperture Priority. This will automate the process of keeping your shutter speeds as high as possible. If your camera allows it, set a minimum shutter speed of 1/60th sec. or 1/125th sec if shooting with a standard or zoom lens. At these apertures the DOF should be adequate to make sure your subject matter is in focus. If you have enough light, you can probably bump up to f/7.2 and f/8.0 respectively.
As you get to darker evenings or gray wintery days you may want to change the ISO settings to a range of 400 to 3200 ISO depending on how good your camera handles low light and digital noise. Some very good high-end cameras are very acceptable at 6400 ISO or even higher. Test your camera in low light to see what works for you and at what ISO settings your images start falling apart due to lots of noise. This is something you should always know anyways for Low-Light Photography, Night Photography and High-Speed (4000th or 8000th Sec.) photography.
Once you are on location, set your camera to the proper settings (or better yet, use your custom Presets or Quick Menus) and take a few test shots. What Shutter Speeds and ISOs is your camera getting images with? Remember, you need decent speeds, or you will blur your images. But, not at the cost of having a lot of digital noise caused by high-ISO’s.
If the lighting is getting bad, you can always drop your Aperture settings to f/3.5 or f/4.0. Remember that focusing will be more critical at these Apertures and you will also have shallower DOF so less will be in focus in front and back of your focus point.
Recommended Exposure Settings for beginners:
- ISO Auto
- ISO Range Normal Light – 200 – 3200 ISO
- ISO Range Low Light – 400 – 12800 ISO
- ISO Range Night – 800 – 12800 ISO
- Aperture Priority
- Aperture setting for Wide Angle lens f/5.6 (plus or minus depending on light levels)
- Aperture setting for Standard (50mm) lens f/7.2 (plus or minus depending on light levels)
- Minimum Shutter Speed if you can set it (1/60th of a sec. with experience or 1/125th to start)
Keep in mind that you will still need to manually deal with Back Lighting Issues. Use Exposure Compensation for those conditions. An available Quick/Custom Menu option on a Button or Dial is great for this purpose. It allows you to have a Preset +1.5 (or your preferred setting) Exposure on an easily accessible Button or Dial that you can quickly switch to without even looking.
After your first outing have a look at all your images. Are many blurry? Was it because the Shutter Speeds are below 1/125th second? If the speeds are decent but still blurry, was it because you were moving or walking when you took shots? Or, were they relatively (90%) all good? How was the Exposures. All good? Were the Back Lit images all too dark? Time to address these issues and make some setting and shooting adjustments.
Over time and with practice you will be able to change your Aperture to f/2.8 to f/4 and will be able to use even use slower shutter speeds. As a beginner, your friend is high ISO’s, but you will eventually want to keep the ISO settings down to control noise later on.
Lastly is the Focus Settings. I would recommend you try your hand at seeing what gives you the best results. Manual focus is a great tool but you need an understanding of how to use it effectively (in a future post). If you use Auto Focus, set your camera to a Servo Mode designed for sports. The Camera will continuously track and focus and will work well for when people are approaching you. Now is the time to learn about these modes and about which modes will work best for the type and style of Street Photography you do.
So, many Street Photographers do not Focus at all. Or rather, do not focus each shot. You may have heard they use Manual Focus but even that is not quite right. What the do is ‘Pre-Focus’, or ‘Zone-Focus’ as its really called. Here are your options:
Auto Focus – Very few cameras have focusing systems that are up to the task of Street Photography. The amount of time a Camera Takes to focus is often more than enough to miss the shot. Some cameras like the Leica M series or the Fuji X-Pro2 can focus extremely fast, with the right lens. Some lenses are slower than others. Fuji for example makes a great Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R lens. Its faster and has nicer bokeh than the Fujinon XF23mmF2 R WR lens (it’s also more expensive), but it’s slower to focus. It’s also larger. A draw back. Auto Focus also doesn’t work well in very low light or at night. On the plus side, Auto Focus will always result in a properly focused image. Try Auto focus if you like but I would suggest turning to Pre-Focus. For Pre-Focus, the Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R lens has DOF Scales or Distance Scales which the Fujinon XF23mmF2 R WR does not have, and for Zone-Focus, Auto-Focus speeds are not relevant. They are still fast, just not as fast as the F2.
Tip: If your camera has a setting that lets you release the shutter even if the Auto Focus is not in focus, you can try turning this on. The camera will partly focus but you will get the shot at the right time. If your camera doesn’t let you take the shot because it is still trying to focus, you will miss a lot of shots. Not all cameras have these settings.
Manual Focus – So Manual Focus is just you, doing what your camera will do for you, faster than you can do it. This is why I say Street Shooters don’t use Manual Focus.
Zone-Focus – Remember I mentioned using a Standard Fixed Lens, a Prime Lens as they are called? With all their benefits like being sharper, more contrast, smaller and less expensive. And I suggested you get used to one lens at a fixed focal length like 35mm (or 50mm)? I suggested you would get used to knowing how close you need to be to get a full body shot. And that over time this would become second nature. Well, think about it, the distance for a full body shot will never change will it?
So, if you determine that a full body shot can be taken with a Fuji X-Pro2 and a 23mm Lens at say 5 feet, then a Pre-Focus set to 5 feet with an Aperture of say f/5.6 will always be in focus from 4 feet to 7 feet. So even if you move in a hair closer or further, you will still get the shot. You can do the same with head shots. Know what distance to focus at and you’re done.
How do you determine these numbers? Figure it out by taking a shot of a friend full length with your camera and lens you will use. Measure the distance from camera body to your friend’s eyes (where you want focus to be sharp). Then on a tablet, download a DOF Calculator or head over to DOFMaster and plug in the numbers. Note that they are dependent on the crop factor of your camera and lens used. Note also the results give you a range where the far ends of the range start getting fuzzy. In the example above the real numbers were 3.78 feet to 7.36 feet.
If you are doing Street Portraiture, then Auto Focus will be easier and better. But, for any shoot and go situations, shooting from the hip, or ‘extended arm’ shooting, learning Pre-Focus techniques is necessary.
Complications arise out of the fact that most new cameras are missing 2 key features. The lenses often do not have a built-in distance scale of the lens. Another, key missing feature is that the calculations above used to be done on the lens using the ‘DOF Scales’ or the ‘Focus Scales’. All old DSLR lenses used to have these. Many modern-day Street Photographers choose Manual Focus lenses that have these markings. You can still do it without, but it is much easier with the markings.Drive Modes – Some photographers swear by single shot modes when they can take one shot to get the image. Others use and love high speed drive or burst modes where they can hold the Shutter Release down and fire off 3 to 7 or more shots to get the image. This is mostly about preferences. Using a single shot forces you to practice more and get better at timing your shots. Yes you can increase your chances of getting the shot in Burst Mode but then you will have a ton of extra images to sort through later.
Recommended Focus & Drive Settings for beginners:
- Auto Focus – Learn about your different Auto Focus Modes like an Servo Mode that may work well for you – or –
- Zone Focus – Learn how to Zone Focus without DOF Scales or get a lens with DOF Scales
- Drive Mode – Set to Single or High Speed Multi depending on your preferences.
So whatever camera and lens you use, think about your exposures and the shutter speeds as they are so important. Then work on your focusing techniques in different situations and remember to practice, practice, practice. I would recommend using Single Shot Drive Modes with Zone Focus, but, there is no wrong or right way, do what you must to get the shot. See you on the streets!
Next up, Shooting Techniques!