Title- How To Capture Great Street Photography With A Smartphone

How To Capture Great Street Photography With A Smartphone

Street photography is candid and unobtrusive photography that captures a moment in time in human life.

It is an informal documenting of humanity as it is more geared towards people, their interactions with each other and the spaces they occupy versus taking pictures of flowers and trees in nature.

That being said, you don’t necessarily have to have a people in the picture. It can even just be shots of, well… streets and everything else in them.

Because street photography is inconspicuous in nature, I find that smartphones are the perfect tool for it. They’re light and simple to use, so you’ll always be ready to take a snap.

If you’re starting out as a street photographer, using a smartphone is also a great way to get the hang of it before moving on to using a larger, dedicated camera.

So, how do you capture great street shots with your phone? The first thing is to…

Use the right smartphone

The brand of smartphone you use doesn’t really matter. What matters most are the specs of the camera, and I’m not only talking about the megapixels. There’s actually more hype about megapixels than what really matters.

Sure, a smartphone camera with a high number of megapixels means your pictures will have greater resolution, but other things to look at are the sensor and pixel sizes which have a direct impact on picture quality.

The bigger the sensor, the more light it receives, which is great especially in low light conditions. Bigger pixels are ideal because they’re less likely to carry bad light data in the form of digital noise compared to pixels of a smaller size.

If your camera doesn't take great photos in low lighting, it could also be because of one of these reasons.

Other things to consider are aperture, OIS, and HDR capabilities. A smartphone camera that can shoot RAW images is an added bonus.

To learn more about the difference between a good phone camera and a bad one, click here.


Switch between Auto and Manual modes

I’m a big fan of taking photos using the Manual mode on my camera app because of the amount of control it gives me over settings like ISO and shutter speed.

These two settings (along with aperture) are part of the all-important Exposure Triangle.  I say all-important because being able to adjust these settings can change the look of your photos dramatically for the better, and I love it. I suggest you learn more about it here.

That being said, however, street photography can be quite unpredictable. Things happen quickly and beautiful moments to capture can be over in just seconds.

By the time you’re done fiddling with the settings to get the look you want, the shot is gone. For this reason, shooting on Auto works just well.

That’s not to say that you can’t ever shoot on Manual when doing street photography with your mobile phone.

If you’re shooting in an area with consistent lighting, you can adjust your settings to give you a consistent look for that location.

Also, if you’re anticipating some action, you can use the time before it happens to adjust your settings to what looks good and works well for the shot. It’s definitely worth switching between the two modes.

The standard camera app that comes with most smartphones is generally decent enough to use for street photography.

However, there are third-party camera apps that can take full advantage of the functionality of your smartphone’s camera and take your photography to another level.


Support your phone

Keeping your smartphone steady is one of many ways to make sure that your photos look good. An unsteady camera may result in blurry photos.

As steady as your hands might be, sometimes it’s not enough to avoid shaky shots. To get the best results, you’ll need to use a tripod or monopod.

Tripods are the most stable form of support available for your smartphone. They’re basically a stand with three legs for support which frees you from holding the phone so you can even be in the shot yourself.

Tripods for smartphones are available in various sizes but can all fold down to a small, easy to carry size. If you don't already own one, I highly recommend you do. Just make sure you consider these important points first before you invest in one.

However, since smartphone street photography requires you to always be ready and mobile, having to rig and de-rig a tripod might take up time and you might lose the shot you wanted.

On the other hand, if you’ve been in one spot waiting to take a shot of action you’ve been anticipating, then a tripod could help you get that shot set up and ready to be captured the moment the action happens.

Monopods offer stability and ease of mobility because they’re basically a pole that holds your phone. Because monopods have no legs for support, you have to hold them in place constantly.

It’s a bit of a downside since it can’t stand on its own but holding the monopod frees you from holding the phone which in turn helps to keep your shots steady.

A good thing about monopods is that they’re easy to move around which is perfect for street photography. And if you raise it above your head, you can get some really cool shots from a different perspective.

The choice between using a tripod or monopod is really a personal one and also depends on what you want to achieve when you’re out taking street shots. But if you’re the undecided type, there are options available that combine a tripod and a monopod in one.

Whatever you choose to go with, make sure you get a reliable, good-quality smartphone mount to use with it.


Hold your phone the right way

How you hold your phone is a matter of personal preference. Typically, when taking portrait photos, the phone is held vertically. When taking pictures of landscapes, it’s best to hold the phone horizontally. Hence the names portrait mode and landscape mode.

Holding the phone vertically in smartphone street photography has the added benefit of looking even more inconspicuous because that’s how a phone is held when in general use.

However, the advantage of shooting horizontally is that you get to capture more of the scenery.

If, for example, you’re shooting at a fish market and want to take a photo that captures the bustling nature of the place, you will shoot with your camera held horizontally.

On the other hand, if you want to focus just on one person, holding the phone vertically is a reasonable option.

No matter how you choose to hold your phone, it is important that you keep it steady to avoid blurry photos.

You may consider assigning one of the buttons on the side of your smartphone as the shutter button to avoid tapping the screen which may lead to camera shake.

Switch between lenses

If you want your subject to fill a large portion of the frame of your shot when using a smartphone, then you need to get really close to the subject.

This can be quite uncomfortable for both you, the photographer and the subject. Also, you might get noticed and lose the moment you wanted to capture discretely.

Smartphones have two or more cameras these days. In a lot of cases, these cameras have lenses with different focal lengths which means that each one can give you a different size image.

To capture an image from a bit further away, you’ll need to switch to a lens that can allow you to do that.

The main camera on smartphones usually has a wide-angle lens which gives you a pretty sizeable field-of-view. This is perfect for capturing wide shots of street action.

Other cameras may feature an ultra-wide-angle lens for an even wider field-of-view than that of the main camera lens.

Also included on the rear of a phone may be a camera with a telephoto lens, which has a much narrower field-of-view than the others. This magnifies the subject, thus making it ideal for portraits.

Depending on the type of shot you want to capture, you can switch between these different lenses if your phone allows it.

If your phone doesn’t have multiple cameras, there’s a solution that can work for you-- attachable lenses. These have been around for quite a while and offer the same benefits as mentioned above.

The only downside is the time it takes to remove one lens and replace it with another. Otherwise, good quality attachable lenses work really well even on some phones that have multiple cameras.

Let your subject, location and background tell a story

Finding the right subject is one of those important things that make a photo look good. It is key to capturing an awesome photograph. If the subject is not interesting enough, then the photo not look that great.

What makes a subject interesting could be anything such as the lighting, action/activity, facial expressions, shock value, simplicity, or whatever else catches your eye.


The location you choose for street photography is also important and so is the background in your shots because this is what provides the setting of your photos and provides context. It can even create a juxtaposition with your subject that makes your photos stand out.

The perfect background for your shots will depend heavily on your theme and your subject.

For example, if your theme is “the rat race in a concrete jungle” then your backgrounds would mostly consist of concrete structures, brick walls or busy city streets on the backdrop of tall buildings.

The key is to find a background that speaks to the story you’re trying to tell.

A smartphone is not going to outperform a DSLR from a technical point of view but if street photography is about taking candid shots of people being themselves in public with drawing attention to yourself, then your smartphone is a good starting point.

Add a couple of key accessories and use these tips for better smartphone photos, then you’re good to go. You could end up with amazing photos that can be printed and displayed in your home or sent to loved ones as gifts.

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