I am sometimes asked, what are the best street photography camera settings? Well the truth appears to be that there is no single ideal setting.
Modern cameras are equipped with lots of modes, settings, and adjustment dials. So just what are the best street photography camera settings? Once you know the pro’s and con’s to the various controls and built-in modes on your camera, it’s not that difficult to select the best ones for you. The key to street photography is about being ready to take that photograph at a moments notice, because that’s how fast things can happen!
“You must be comfortable with your camera, and confident the settings you have chosen will capture the moment as it happens, in the way you want to portray it.”
Ready To Shoot
If you are comfortable shooting in user friendly “Automatic” mode, then don’t be afraid of using it! Modern cameras are extremely clever devices, able to recognise and adapt to different lighting situations. Shooting in Auto mode will more than often give you crisp vibrant images, and above all else, you can be assured your camera will be “ready to shoot” when needed.
“One of the keys to success in street photography is being ready to take that shot. You never know when your next best photo will come along!”
If you are pensive about using manual controls, then stick the camera into “Auto” Mode or perhaps “Aperture” Mode and set it to F8. You need your camera out “ready” to capture whatever falls before you, so don’t be afraid to use one of the automatic modes on your camera. The best street photography camera settings are the ones you can shoot with confidently!
- Camera mode: Manual
- ISO: 160
- Shutter speed: 1/125
- Aperture: F6.4
Whilst Automatic and Aperture are very reliable modes to shoot in, you may want a little more control over your exposure settings. A change in lighting conditions, weather, or the movement of a subject can change a lot faster than an automatic exposure can keep up with. Or, the camera may not capture the image in the way you want to portray it.
For example! You want to photograph a subject who’s stood outside. It’s a bright day, but they’re stood in a shaded corner. You want to keep the “dark moody” shadows over the subject to retain the feel of the moment, but just think for a second about what your camera wants to do.
Your camera sees a rather dark looking image, and thinks “Ok I see what you’re doing. You want this image bright enough to see everything in view!?” which is what you’ll get in an Automatic mode! You camera will assume the frame is too dark, and over-expose everything to bring out the subject and everything around them. Now granted, you will have a cracking photo of someone stood in a corner on a bright sunny day, but it won’t represent the mood you wanted to capture!
If you’re using a DSLR camera or a camera with manual controls, you can take greater control of the composition by manipulating shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity.
“I usually operate in Manual Mode, or Aperture Mode if the lighting conditions are favourable.”
Even though Aperture Priority is adequate for most instances where I let the camera dictate the shutter speed, it can be limiting when photographing scenes with a lot of movement involved, or where you want to control the amount of light in the exposure without affecting depth of field.
For example! You’re in a crowded metro station and want to capture the commuters under the low light conditions. The camera will stubbornly insist on letting enough light in to make a “bright enough” scene, but the slower shutter speed required for this would make the subjects in the frame blurred. So, by flicking to Manual Mode and selecting a faster shutter speed and bumping up the ISO, I would be better suited to capture the commuters in focus!
Shoot. Check. Adjust.
When shooting manual, you constantly have to check your shots. This is important!
“The best street photography camera settings, change with the landscape and clientele in the scene. There is no one golden set of street photography camera settings.”
Lighting and weather conditions change quickly as you move around the city. A subject photographed in bright sunlight may require a high shutter speed of 1/400s. However if the same subject moves into a shaded corner, 1/400s may not let enough light in so the picture will look too dark. You’ll have to slow the shutter speed to maybe 1/125s? It’s all about gauging the light conditions, and making a quick change. There is no perfect set of street photography camera settings.
“Have a base setting, but be prepared to open your shutter to let more light in if required, or close it down to reduce the light coming into the camera.”
Use A Base ISO
I usually work between 100 – 400 ISO. A range that gives enough light sensitivity, with minimal visible image noise. You could turn your ISO sensitivity up to 1600 or beyond in low light conditions, which will allow you to continue with a higher shutter speed when required. The downfall of this might be your image may appear more “grainy”. However “grain” on a street photo can sometimes add a nice touch of “urban grit” to it 😉 Don’t be afraid to bump the ISO to a higher setting! Tip: Turning your ISO up high can work very well with Aperture Priority. The high sensitivity will mean the shutter speed remains fast and responsive in low light.
Use A Base Aperture
You might be tempted to have your lens wide open for example F2 to aid shutter speeds and nice bokeh effects, but when shooting street photos I find it best to have a larger length of focus. Why? Well there is so much “movement” on the streets! A shallow depth of field of say F2 will give you very little margin for error in capturing the subject in focus. I usually keep my aperture around F8 which is plenty of focal length to work with.
Base Street Photography Camera Settings
Camera Mode: Manual
ISO: 100 to 400
Shutter Speed: 1/125 to 1/400
Aperture: F5 to 8
These are usually the settings I “hover around” for street photography. Unless the light drops dramatically, I usually only adjust my shutter speed.
- Camera mode: Manual
- ISO: 1600
- Shutter speed: 1/15
- Aperture: F5
For the above photo, I stood in the same place on a very cold night in Lincoln, waiting for a suitable subject to walk through. I took several test shots to get comfortable keeping the camera still at this slow shutter speed. It was a case of “shoot, check, adjust.”
Thank you for reading this post about the best street photography camera settings! Just remember this is a guide, and every photographer is different. My settings… may not be “your settings”. Please share this page, and leave a comment below!