Photographing a city’s streets is a surefire way to capture its heart and soul. But creating stunning images that evoke the sense of a particular city takes a bit of practice.
Yanan Sui does just that with her photographs of New York, Boston, and beyond, so I reached out for some of her tips and tricks for street photography. Here’s what I learned:
WHERE TO START
For those wondering how to start photographing the streets in their city, Yanan has this piece of advice: start with the tourist spots. These locations are popular for a reason, so play around with composition until you get the hang of it. Yanan points to Acorn Street in Beacon Hill as a great example because it provides the perfect composition. And, as they say, practice makes perfect.
“People only see my final product on Instagram,” Yanan says. “They don’t see the other 300 or so photos I took before I got that one shot I liked.”
Yanan stresses being patient with yourself and your subjects, and to not be afraid to go back to the same spot on multiple occasions until you get the shot you’re hoping for.
TO PLAN, OR NOT TO PLAN
When I see a perfect image of city streets, I always wonder if the photographer planned the image ahead of time, or if they were just in the right place at the right time. Turns out, for Yanan at least, it’s a bit of both.
“I usually plan out a route,” she says, “as my time is usually limited due to my day job. But, after I get to the area, I slow down and look at my surroundings. Patience becomes key.”
You don’t want to miss a perfect moment, so pay attention and heighten your senses. Even if you’re in a familiar area, don’t let yourself become bored. Yanan finds that, even if she’s in a place she knows well, things are always different.
“Everyday moments are never the same,” she says. “The people are always different, the lighting changes … it’s all about capturing moments that catch your eye, because it’s unlikely they will ever happen again.
THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND
Photographic principles and techniques apply to all kinds of photography — especially street photography. This is part of the reason Yanan recommends starting with tourist destinations, as they typically are great for learning about composition and framing. Use the natural lines of buildings and landmarks, and look for ways to frame your subject in your images.
Yanan also uses weather to her advantage. She loves cloudy and rainy days, when the lighting is easiest to manipulate.
“Everything looks completely different in the rain and snow,” she says. “When it rains in the city, the pavement just lights up, and the reflections are crazy.”
She recommends keeping an eye out for her latest obsession: puddles. She often runs into the street to photograph a good puddle (though she doesn’t recommend doing that!).
“But, if there are no clouds and it’s super sunny outside, I like to wait for the Golden Hour,” she says. “One hour before sunset the lighting is much softer and warmer, and you can catch some nice light flares, too.”
HIGHLIGHT WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU
For Yanan, that’s bricks, cobblestones, and historic architecture. To create eye-catching images, Yanan knows how important lighting is.
“Light can be your friend by highlighting your subject or adding a golden glow to your images, but, if not used properly, it can also be your enemy by washing out details and colors.”
Finally, Yanan always recommends having some kind of subject in your street photography to make your shots more memorable. She, for instance, loves capturing people. Most of her photos feature at least one person who was with her in that moment.
“They make the photos come to life,” she says. “Without them, a location is just a place. Anyone can take a photo of a place, but capturing people makes your photos relatable.”