How to Do Street Photography with a Smartphone

Street photography might be one of the easiest genres of photography to slide into — it’s just you, a camera, and more or less walking around documenting humankind with an artistic flare — yet it can be quite difficult to progress beyond snapshot-looking images. This article will explore tips for improving your street photography using […]

How to Do Street Photography with a Smartphone

Street photography might be one of the easiest genres of photography to slide into — it’s just you, a camera, and more or less walking around documenting humankind with an artistic flare — yet it can be quite difficult to progress beyond snapshot-looking images. This article will explore tips for improving your street photography using nothing more than a smartphone.

To demonstrate, I am using a vivo X60 Pro+ device, which sports an imaging system co-engineered with ZEISS.

Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by vivo.

Why Use a Smartphone?

We’ve all heard the phrase “the best camera is the one you have with you,” which is true, but a similar approach would be that the best camera is the one you are most familiar with. I’m willing to bet most people reading this use their phones far more than any other electronic device in their daily lives. We know how it feels, we know exactly where the buttons are and how to tap around all the functions, and we even use the camera app a ton whether we’re taking “serious” photos or not.

Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.

For street photography, the smartphone blends in better than any dedicated camera could, it’s pocketable, and yes, it’s always with you. All of the above are big bonuses when it comes to the genre grounded in spontaneity and finding genuinely unique moments.

In the case of the vivo X60 Pro+ that I’ll be using throughout this article, it even has four optical focal lengths for immediate lens switching (14mm, 23mm, 50mm, and 125mm), a ZEISS co-engineered camera system, takes high-quality images up to 50 megapixels in standard shooting mode and 100 megapixels in high-resolution mode, and has some of the best low-light capabilities I’ve seen from a smartphone.

Photo was taken with the ultra-wide camera in night mode on the X60 Pro+.
Shot on vivo X60 Pro+ by Alen Palander.

Previsualize Your Shots

Some of the best street photography is from split-second instances that can’t be entirely pre-planned, but that does not mean you can’t be ready for them. One of the best ways to improve street photography today is by breaking down a shot into steps.

Even though you don’t know what exactly will happen within the photo yet, you can still find the right framing before it happens. Within a city, there are countless leading lines from manmade architecture, elongated shadows and light being controlled from standing structures, and new colors on every block.

Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.

By observing these details, you can begin building on them by adding the spontaneous elements that fit into your vision. The leading lines you found can converge on a subject that happens to walk into the frame. The elongated shadows can fill the frame but when someone steps into the light, they strikingly stand out in contrast. The bright yellow wall you found is now the perfect backdrop of color needed to accentuate the red raincoat and umbrella of the person walking in front of it.

You can’t predict the missing details of a street photo, but you can observe your surroundings and come up with a plan for what would work best when it does happen.

Photo was taken with 5x optical zoom on the X60 Pro+.

In the photo above, I had thought about this composition well before there were any people in the frame. I liked the simple, strong graphical elements given to me by using the X60 Pro+ 5x zoom camera, but it was missing a true subject to it all. I waited to see what would unfold if I stood there for a few minutes, and sure enough, I got this. The man is assisting the woman down a large step, but it almost looks like they are dancing too. Either way, it was pleasantly posed for a split second but I was ready for it due to previsualizing the scene and what I wanted out of it.

Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.

Photograph the Story (or Make One Up)

The most important aspect of good street photography is that other people recognize why the photo was taken. It might sound silly, but think of how many photos seem to be snapshots showing something in the frame but don’t actually say or mean anything. Photos need a story just as much as a novel does.

Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.

There’s a difference in story between getting close and photographing a pair of nice heels behind the window display outside a store and photographing them with the reflection of a person glancing at them in the glass. The first photo is lacking a reason to exist, whereas the second one can lead a person to all sorts of imaginative backstories on that person’s life and desires. This is just one cliche example, but the point is that you don’t want to fall into the trap of photographing “things.” Try and find a story about your thing or make one up (that person glancing yearningly over at the shoes was probably just checking that the hat they were wearing wasn’t crooked in the reflection).

Photo was taken with 2x optical zoom on the X60 Pro+.
Photo taken with the ultra-wide gimbal camera on the X60 Pro+.

Take the Shot

Honing in on your intuition is one of the best skills to have as a street photographer. For a genre based in capturing authentic moments in time, being able to take an image before your consciousness has time to reason with why can be an asset. Not to be confused with the “spray and pray” method, what I mean is that the visual world around you feeds you with information that your gut instinct understands before you have time to mentally process it.

Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.

With one glance you can tell when a location is photogenic with symmetry or contrasting colors, and normally you would then take it to the next step of finding a composition that shows it off best, as I discussed earlier. With street photography, it’s good practice to shoot now and afterward work out those ideas more if you need to. More importantly, however, you never want to miss the shot that you instinctively knew was there the moment you saw it.

The yellow taxi parked during a rainy blue day in the city could drive off any second if you put more thought into what you immediately saw as a beautiful frame. Photographing on the streets is ever-changing and never exactly the same twice, so don’t let your mind get in the way of a great photo.

Photo was taken with the ultra-wide gimbal camera on the X60 Pro+.
Photo shot on the X60 Pro+. Photo by Ted Kritsonis.
This 100-megapixel photo was taken in high-resolution mode on the X60 Pro+.

Submit Your Best Work to vivo VISION Plus Photo Awards

Took any street photos you are especially proud of? The vivo VISION+ Mobile PhotoAwards 2021 call for entries is open until September 30th, 2021. The competition features 33 awards in different groups and categories, including Portraits, Night, Sports, Nature, Life, and Places.

To learn more about VISION+ Mobile PhotoAwards 2021 and to participate in the competition, visit the official website here.


Image credits: Photographs by Ryan Mense, unless otherwise noted.

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Seven camping and hiking tips for landscape photographers

Embrace the outdoors—now is the perfect time for landscape photographers to venture out of their comfort zones and share the beauty of our planet. The post Seven camping and hiking tips for landscape photographers appeared first on 500px.

Seven camping and hiking tips for landscape photographers

Last year, as people navigated social distancing regulations and lockdown measures, sales of camping and hiking guides soared. Sales of hiking boots increased by 10%, in what experts have dubbed the “golden age of hiking.” Plus, according to the 2021 Vrbo Trend Report, 61% of families are more likely to visit an outdoorsy destination than an urban one, and lakeside destinations offering camping and hiking opportunities experienced a boom in popularity.

It’s been decades since Galen Rowell famously chased a rainbow while trekking in Tibet, ditching his camera bag in a bush along the way, but photographers continue to push themselves to their limits in search of those sublime moments that can only happen in nature. With interest in the outdoors on the rise, now is the perfect time for landscape photographers to venture out of their comfort zones and share the beauty of our planet. For those just getting started, here are our tips for hiking and camping with your camera.

Start slow

If you’re new to the outdoors, start locally. Search nearby parks for scenic trails; AllTrails and Trail Finder are two popular databases. If you’re interested in camping in the US or parts of Canada, Campspot offers a database of campgrounds, RV parks, cabins, and more. Ask more experienced hikers for recommendations based on your skill level; the outdoor photo community is tight-knit, so feel free to reach out to someone you admire.

Learn the ropes and gain hands-on experience in the field by taking day-hikes before graduating to short overnight trips. Build up slowly, and avoid rushing yourself; train your body by going from beginner trails to moderate ones. Consider bringing a friend, or choose a spot that’s well-traveled in case you have any issues. Finally, learn the rules that govern your location, including any permits you need.

Make a list, and check it twice

Campers and hikers know to pack the ten essentials: navigation (e.g., compass, topo map, GPS, personal locator beacon), light (e.g., a headlamp), sun protection (e.g., sunscreen, glasses), first aid, a camping knife, firestarter (e.g., matches, stove), shelter, plus extra food, water, and clothes. Photographers, of course, have this vital list as well as their gear.

Include only the most essential lenses and accessories in your gear list to save yourself the weight of unnecessary equipment. A single zoom lens can offer more flexibility than multiple primes, but primes are sharper, so tailor your pack to your goals. Remember to bring extra batteries (especially in the cold), memory cards, and any filters you use for landscapes (e.g., ND filters for long exposures or polarizers for bodies of water). You can keep your batteries in your sleeping bag overnight, so they stay nice and warm.

A lightweight but sturdy tripod like the Peak Design Travel Tripod is your best bet for the outdoors; these can be pricey, but many outfitters offer rentals. Novoflex even makes walking sticks that work overtime as monopods. Practice using all your camping and photography gear, from tents and stoves to filters and tripods, before you go so you’re prepared.

Stay organized

When exploring the outdoors, you want to keep your gear safe and easily accessible. If you’re keeping everything in your backpack, you can opt for a camera bag insert, like these made by F-Stop Gear, to stay organized. Pack it last so it’s at the top of your backpack. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a backpack that can hold your camera gear as well as your camping equipment, you might look into something like the Whistler Backpack 450 AW II from Lowepro.

A regular camera strap can cause neck and back pain while hiking, so instead, choose a holster or clip. The Capture Camera Clip by Peak Design, the SpiderX Backpacker Kit, camera harnesses from Cotton Carrier, or the Digital Holster Harness V2.0 from Think Tank, are a few popular options. You might have to experiment with different setups to see what works best for you. Additionally, beware of dust. Avoid changing your lens when you’re out hiking, and carry a blower or microfiber cloth in case.

Know your location

Every spot offers unique challenges, so do your research, consult more experienced hikers, and prepare for any potential safety hazards. Some places are vulnerable to flash flooding, for example, and other spots are home to curious (and hungry) bears. Studying the terrain is essential for safety, and it can also help you capture the landscape at its best.

If, for instance, you plan to hike Kebler Pass in Colorado, you might choose to schedule your trip for the fall to catch the aspen trees at just the right moment. On the other hand, if you’re headed for Point Reyes National Seashore, your best bet would be to go during wildflower season.

Leave no trace

Before you head outside, study up on leave-no-trace principles: make sure you take everything you brought back with you (including food and toiletries), and keep water sources fresh and clear (do your washing away from streams!). If you find garbage left on a trail by someone else, pick it up.

If you must light a fire, do so in established fire rings. Another thing to keep in mind is tagging your exact location; if it’s a vulnerable spot, you might prefer to keep it private, so it’s not overrun with tourists and photographers. It goes without saying, but don’t disturb the wildlife, and never feed wild animals; you’re in their space, and it’s your job to respect that.

Dress in layers

Temperatures can change dramatically overnight, so remember to pack multiple layers, including long underwear, hiking pants, synthetic shirts, a fleece, a light jacket for warmth, and a waterproof jacket and pants. You’ll want to bring socks (liners plus main hiking socks) to wear inside your hiking boots. Hats and gloves are also key; remember to select gloves that won’t hinder your ability to adjust your camera settings. Check the weather forecast to decide what to pack and what you can leave at home.

Make a schedule

When planning your day, give yourself plenty of time to get from camp to your shoot location and back before it gets dark. Be realistic, and if you’re allowed, camp closer to your site of choice so that you don’t have to wake up even earlier to catch the sunrise. As always, the golden hours are usually best for landscapes, so set your schedule according to the natural lighting conditions.

One of my favorite camping anecdotes dates back to 1938, when Ansel Adams took Georgia O’Keeffe, David McAlpin, and Helen and Godfrey S. Rockefeller on a trip to Yosemite. Everything revolved around beautiful light: the group woke up early to have coffee and breakfast before setting out to explore, and dinner was always scheduled for after sunset so that everyone could photograph the scenery at dusk.

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