The best settings for street photography depend on factors such as lighting, subject movement, the type of scene you are photographing, or even your personal style.
There are some generic approaches to different situations. So let’s look into these and try to understand which setting we should use based on our subject and situation.
Best aperture settings for your camera
Unless you are photographing a street portrait or low light scene, a general rule of thumb for street photography would be using a large depth of field. And the reason for that is that we want to have all the elements , both near or far in focus.
Therefore, the working aperture for street photography on an APC sensor camera would be around F11 to F13. While on a Full-Frame sensor camera, to compensate for the depth of field, aperture settings will go slightly higher F13 to F16.
Example of a high aperture shot: Also called layers. You can see that the people close to the frame and the ones far behind are all in focus.
Shutter speed settings for street photography
The shutter speed really depends on what we are trying to accomplish or what our creative idea is.
If we photograph just people walking on the street a superspeed value of 1/250s to 1/320s should be sufficient to capture sharp images.
Shutter speed settings for dynamic scene
Let’s say we photograph something that involves traffic, people on bicycles, scooters, or a passing car.
Then we should aim higher for cyclists 1/500s to 1/640s, for scooters or a car, 1/640s to 1/2000s It all depends on the speed of the object, the higher the speed, the higher the shutter speed value.
To capture the guy on the bicycle sharply, I’ve used 1/800s
Shutter speed settings for static scene
For a static street scene, where there isn’t much movement and all is quiet, we can shoot in the range of 1/60s to 1/125s.
Actually, that part depends a lot on you and the camera you are using. If your camera has IBIS (in-body image stabilization) you can go even lower to 1/25s, but if you have something like the famous Fujifilm x100v, you should just try and be very stable.
The girl is just sitting, the monk is just standing, and both are static. The shutter speed used in this photograph is 1/150s
Creative settings – Using a slow shutter speed
Sometimes we intentionally want to slow down our shutter speed. We do that to achieve various motion blurs. This can create a sense of movement and energy and be effective for capturing cars, bicycles, or people walking.
To do that we will slow our shutter speed below 1/60s, and you’ll need to move the camera in the same direction as the subject while taking the photo. This technique is called panning and is widely used in street photography. You will need some steady hands, and some trial and error until you nail it. However, after that, it can be a great tool for creativity in your arsenal of knowledge.
Example of introducing motion blur in street photography: The shutter speed setting I’ve used in this image is 1/8s
Another way to use a slow shutter speed in street photography is by including motion in the moving parts of the scenewhile keeping the rest sharp and in focus. The technique is easier than panning. You don’t need to follow your main subject with the camera.
You just need to reduce the shutter speed to 1/15 to 1/30s, focus on your main static subject and try to be as steady as possible.
The photo above and that one, were taken in the exact same location, with the exact same settings but they feel differently.
Lighting conditions have a major impact on your decision process while setting up your camera on the streets. It is all good when the sun shines and we can use high apertures, high shutter speeds, and low ISO. But what happens when it’s overcast, or when we shoot closer to evening time?
Well, this is the time when you start compromising. You will have to compromise on one setting, to maintain another one.
When low light conditions occur, I gradually raise ISO while maintaining a shutter speed of 1/250 and an aperture of F11. It is better to have grainy images than blurry ones.
After reaching ISO 3200, I reduce my shutter speed to 1/125. If that is not enough, I will reduce the aperture.
It is important to understand and accept that with current technology, you can’t have it all. You will have to compromise and adjust your shooting style in the absence of light.
Low light shutter speed settings example: Fujifilm X100F F2.0, 1/60s, ISO 1600.
What is the best focal length?
This is more of a personal choice than a set rule. It is more related to your shooting style and character. While the majority of street photographers would recommend you using something between 24mm and 50mm full-frame sensor equivalent.
Others will still tell you that a telephoto is also fine. I have seen and taken beautiful street photographs with telephoto lenses as well.
My personal preference is 28mm, or 35mm focal lengths (which are also the most popular choices for street photography)
With that said sometimes I use a telephoto, especially when I want to photograph details, or simply can’t reach the scene with a wide lens.
Example of a street photograph shot with a 200mm telephoto lens
Street photography focusing setting
Focusing is another setting to consider I have written an article that targets the focusing settings in particular. You can look for it there
In the end, it is a lot about personal style and creative vision. Experiment with different settings and techniques to find what works best for you!
Don’t forget that story and composition are more important than than settings.