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Mastering the Art of Street Photography on Film

Updated: Jan 19

So, you think you're built for the streets?

In street photography, the focus lies on capturing spontaneous moments in public spaces, finding beauty in the ordinary. It's about observing, reacting, and preserving these fleeting moments through the lens of your camera.

While digital photography has become the norm, shooting street photography on film offers a timeless aesthetic and a nostalgic charm that is hard to resist. If, like me, you also find its allure irresistible, you might find these tips useful to ace your next trip out on the streets.

Ready your camera

Blink once and you might miss it!

The streets are filled with these fleeting moments that unfold in the blink of an eye. If you don't want to miss out on these, it is crucial to have your camera ready for action at all times. This means having your camera within arm's reach, with pre-focused lens if possible to minimize the time needed to compose and capture the shot.

Out of focus photo of a priest walking in Rome
Lesson #1. Have your camera ready with pre-focused lens if possible, to avoid these out-of-focus circumstances

Don't be afraid to take multiple shots!

There are no retakes in street photography. Even when shooting digitally there might not be enough time for you to keep checking the photos you've taken, and it's simply impossible to do when shooting film. So don't be afraid to take multiple shots. This way at least if one of the photos turns out to be out of focus or blurry you can still put your money on the other shots you've taken to turn out better.

Find a good location

When it comes to street photography, finding the right location can make all the difference in the world. A good location sets the stage for compelling stories to unfold before your lens.

To find your "hunting ground", you may want to look for areas that are bustling with activity, where people and the urban environment get tangled up in interesting ways. Think of farmer's markets, busy street corners, or vibrant neighborhoods with unique architectural elements.

However, this is not to say that you should steer clear from quieter locations either. There, you will probably find less moments to capture as there aren't as many people and actions happening around you, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the individual moments you capture are worth less. Shooting in places that are less busy also means that your subjects tend to hang around longer and be more relaxed, giving you more time and opportunities to capture them going about their day.

Remember that the streets are ever-changing, so don't be afraid to wander around.

Black and white film photo from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy
A good location might be one that is bustling with activity, like this area in Venice, Italy

Stick with high-speed film stocks

Another crucial factor that can significantly impact your shots in film street photography is the choice of film speed. To capture the fast-paced nature of the streets, using a 400-ISO speed film stock is typically a good idea. This film speed can help you hit that sweet spot between having fine grain and also the ability to capture photos in various lighting conditions as you might encounter in urban environments, whether you're shooting in bright sunlight or navigating the dimly lit alleys.

With its ability to handle both low-light situations and maintain fine grain, this film speed ensures you can confidently capture those candid moments without compromising on image quality.

Choose the right film camera

Selecting the right camera is essential for street photography on film. While there are numerous options available, you'd be wise to go for a compact, lightweight camera, not only because it would be easier for you to carry around, but also so that you can blend into your surroundings a bit better with the inconspicuous nature of your gear. Most rangefinders would give you the advantage of being able to quickly take your shots as you would not need to set a focus beforehand. On the other hand, a small SLR camera would give you rather better image quality, although you would need to set the lens focus beforehand, which would require more of your time before taking your shots.

Ditch your fear

A photo of a tractor driver in Valletta, Malta
Not my best photo, but it IS one of the first times I managed to ask a stranger for permission to take a photo of them.

I fully get it, taking photos of strangers can be intimidating and scary. Speaking from my own experience, quite a few photo-worthy moments have passed me by simply because I could not gather the courage to stop and ask for permission to take a photo. BUT, I am slowly mustering up the courage to do so, and so can you!

Just be respectful and courteous when you ask someone for permission to take their pictures. And if you have a Instagram handle where you normally publish your work you could even share it with them. Not only would they be able to see the photos you took of them, you might also gain a new follower.

Now that you're equipped with the top tips of taking street photography on film, all that is left for you to do is to hit the streets and put your knowledge into practice. Practice makes perfect, so frequent the streets and I'm sure your skills will level up in no time. At the end of the day, the most important thing is for you to have fun and enjoy your time out there!

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