How to Shoot Outstanding Smartphone Street Photography

Smartphone Street Photography

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April 24, 2019

Venturing out by taking smartphone street photography can be a frightening experience. You may be feeling nervous thinking that you might get caught. If you get caught you can just tell them what you are doing and why. Most people will be kind and respectful.

When going to take pictures it is easy to have a lot of anxiety about taking pictures of strangers. It can be unclear how to start and to know what rights you have as a photographer. We will discuss how to take fantastic street photography with a phone and the rules to follow.

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Phone Street Photography Tutorial

Top 10 Amazing Smartphone Street Photography Tips

Holding Your Smartphone

How you hold your phone will make a big difference in how well your street photos turn out. When taking a picture it is important to learn how to shoot with one hand. Two hands may be better at times for stability but you will look more obvious that you are taking a photograph. The idea is to be invisible when you take the photo, so the shot can be candid.

Holding the phone in one hand then using the other hand to snap the shot shows you are taking the photo. Not to mention that the second tap may shake the phone and create a blurry photo.

Holding the smartphone with one hand allows you to be able to take the picture by tapping with your thumb. One important thing to note is that the shot is taken when you release your finger from the shutter button. Then you’ll be able to take outstanding smartphone street photography.

Shoot From Your Hip

With the purpose of shooting people discretely shoot from the hip. You might find your self needing to do some practice to get great photos. It can be challenging to hold the smartphone at the hip and take street photography.

  • Pro Tip: pretend your texting or playing a game then take the shot.

Street Photography Tip

AE/AF Lock

When taking smartphone street photography focus is vital. Knowing what to focus on and how to lock the exposure will improve your photos. AE/AF lock stands for auto exposure and focus. The auto exposure adjusts the brightness of the image. The auto-focus adjusts the sharpness of a photo. Locking the focus means that you are setting the focus and exposure to a specific point. Enhance your smartphone street photography by capturing the shot in the exact moment. You won’t have to risk missing out on the shot because you were figuring out where to focus.

Take note of the conditions when subjects are still. The picture may be blurry and affected by changing conditions in light or activity. AE/AF lock is important if you are taking images in low light or there is high contrast in light conditions. When you have locked the focus you shouldn’t change the distance between the subject and the camera. Then your image will be blurry.

When planning, look for a location with excellent light and a great story. You may need to wait for someone to walk by to get that great shot. Lock the focus in the right spot where you want the subject to be. Then wait for the passer-by to come and take the photo in that split second. With the AE/AF lock you will have composed your shot and will have a clean and focused shot.

How to Use AE/AF Lock?

  1. Open up the camera from the camera app
  2. Tap the screen to focus and expose your image
  3. Hold on your focal point until you see an AE/AF Lock banner on the screen, to lock exposure and focus.
  4. Press the shutter button to take a photo
  5. To unlock, tap anywhere on the screen

Street Photography

Build a Story

Creating a story includes the ability to capture an engaging photo. A photo story includes structure and depth. To Find your story look around to see details that might not be obvious at first sight. You can also call the story as photojournalism. Think of the images you see when you hear of a big news event. The images are dynamic and show real experiences.

With this in mind think of how to write a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Use color and light to tell the story. If you want to create a somber photo wait till it is dark or take the photo in the shade. Also, position the subject so that your eye can understand the whole story.

When creating a story you can choose to take one photo or a series of photos. If you are shooting a story of a ballet performance. You may want to capture a ballerina slippers in the bag from above. Next, take a picture of the ballerina putting the shoes on. Lastly the ballerina in a beautiful move. Then you have completed the shot.

Kyoto Street Photography

Capture Emotion, Humanity, and Spirit

Candid emotion of people in everyday lives relates to our hearts and can bring deep emotions. Take a moment to stop and wait till you can capture the magic in the eyes. Document the situation and create meaning in your shot. This part is hard to capture and will take time to perfect. You may shoot many times and get people too far away or a lack of emotion from the shot. Notice your surroundings and then stop and take the shot.

When trying to capture emotion ask if you can take someone’s photo. Approaching someone to take a photo may make your nervous. Remember, to be confident and respectful. Introduce yourself and act friendly and explain directly what you are doing and why. If they say yes then you could offer to send or print them the photo after you take the shot.

Cell Phone Street Photography Tips

Go into Stealth Mode with Shutter Release Button

If you want to not be seen doing smartphone street photography use a shutter release button. This way you can take stunning candid shots without anyone noticing. (Just remember to turn off the shutter button).

I have found that it is much easier to take pictures with a Bluetooth remote because my hands are too shaky. With Joby Impulse Bluetooth Remote you can take photos from a distance. This remote is small so it fits in a pocket and is easy to set up with Bluetooth. Also, once it is set up you do not need to pair it again.


Have a Theme

Smartphone street photography has so many possibilities to improve your creativity. Decide on a specific theme to shoot to create a photo story or project. Build a series of photos to challenge and test skills you are trying to develop. What about trying these ideas below?

  • Capture a city or street- Do you live in a small town or metropolitan area? What are the iconic locations that people go to hang out? This may be a local dinner if you live in a small town or a mall. Try your cell phone photo skills by capturing the people and the essence of the environment.
  • Beach- If you leave in a place that is by the sea or next to a lake you can capture some candid shots near a lake. The beach is a great place to capture solitary people walking, or people playing on the beach.
  • Bus Stops- These are great places to capture people from all walks of life because they tend to gather waiting for the bus stop. You can see people and what they take on and off buses. Busses provide interesting background and interesting subjects.
  • Parks- Parks gathering places for people to play and to enjoy all sorts of fun. People may be gathered to take have lunch, ride a bike or to play sports. Parks in the spring and summer are often busy and filled with life. In the winter they can be lonely places with a single jogger This place can be a great place simple shots.Spring Street Photography Tips

Urban Landscapes

Have you heard of the term urban landscape? This is a shot of the view of the landscape of a city. This can be a streetside or a shot from high up of a city. You can take a shot of the highest location to show expansive the view of skyscrapers.

Capture the details of signs in the city. This can be patterns of tile in a building or cobblestone path leading up a street. Remember, to take the photo from different angles for a thought-provoking thought.

Pack an Extra Battery

Taking pictures on your phone takes up more battery than normal use. Street photography takes time and patience to get the right shot. This means that your phone will use up battery quickly. It is disappointing to wait to get the perfect candid. Then to realize that your phone is out of batteries. Then you may miss the great light and have to start over again. Attaching your phone to a simple portable battery pack is an easy tip.

There are many types of battery packs. I recommend the Lander Cascade power bank 7800. This is because of the versatility, auto-off saving mode, and the number of charges. The number of times you can charge your phone with the power bank before recharging. The Lander power bank is built for durability and adventure. The grip makes it so you can balance it off in the distance without holding it. I keep one of these with me whenever I am taking pictures in case I need more battery power when I am on the go.


What is Allowed in the US

There are some rules that you need to know when taking pictures in public of people. Remember to respect the person in the photo. Take photos that will represent that person with esteem. When going international find the rules for street photography for different countries. Here are the rules of what is allowed in the US.

What’s Allowed:

  • Photographing on public property or at a tourist attraction unless specified by law
  • If your shooting on the public ground you can shoot subjects on private property in public view. This could be from the window of a restaurant.
  • Sharing your photos on social media
  • Printing photos for an artistic book to show the photographers art

What’s NOT Allowed

  • Shooting images of people on private property
  • Using the image of people as advertising for a specific product.
  • Damage the reputation or to misrepresent the person in the image
  • Creating memorabilia for commercial profit.

Cell Phone Street Photography Tips


The last tip for becoming a street photographer is to observe your surroundings. What does the background look like, where is the light, who are the people in the image? Now is the time to go outside and try these tips. Enhance your technique by the way you hold your phone, then press down to lock the focus with AE/AF lock. Now build your image by creating a story, capture emotion, humanity, and soul. Take pictures of the scene to create an urban landscape. Lastly, remember to look at what countries allow street photography.

Want more inspiration? Here are some additional resources that can help you:

How to Take The Best Selfie? 10 Tips for Photos With your Phone

15 Flower Photography Tips: How to Take Photos with a Phone

How to Take Instagram Photos Like a Pro With a Phone

Give those tips a read and you’ll be ready with new hacks and tips to help you make the most of your phone’s camera. See our photos on Instagram at @picxtrix.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael

    Thank you very much for your tips .will come in useful as I knew none of this:) thanks . streetphotography


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