Where bicycles pedal past boulangeries, buildings exude elegance and your camera will be snap happy all day long.
This month it’s a special ‘Setting the Scene’ post because rather than focusing on a certain environment, I’m sharing tips about street photography from Le Marais in Paris.
Known as a hip, historic and generally laid back quartier of Paris, Le Marais is the perfect place to wander with your camera capturing daily life in this fascinating city.
Street photography has a broad definition but I like to bring it back to something simple, photography in a street. Too simple? Basically any photography taken in a street, of a street, in a city where a street is visible…I consider street photography. It can be of buildings, people, moving scenes, whatever you want!
So let’s get started on some tips for setting the scene to capture street photography with Paris as our example.
Planning the Location + Time
Le Marais is photogenic regardless of the time you visit however to capture a series of unique images it’s best to time your shoot.
I love the mornings, when people are riding their bike to work, picking up a baguette for lunch (a stereotype but oh so true!) and when the glow of gentle sunlight is trickling down between the buildings. The same can also be said for sunset however shadows will be more of an issue in the later hours of the day.
The earlier hours will also mean less tourists or people in general wandering the streets, allowing you to capture alleyways faster and with a beautiful atmosphere.
Place des Vosges is not to be missed, as the oldest planned square in Paris it’s lined with what were once royal residences. Pavillions, arcades and fountains are all features here that you can use to help compose your images. Again it’s beautiful and calm in the mornings but also right in the middle of the day can be a fun time to visit too, you’ll find people out with their lunch enjoying the sunshine during the warmer months.
When shooting street photography I think it’s best to keep it simple. Wandering with a 50mm lens (I use the equivalent 25mm M.Zuiko F.1.8 lens) means you’ve got less to carry, it’s a set focal length so you’ll gradually become aware of where you have to stand to capture shots and again, the main point, it’s so light!
I prefer working with a prime lens because it not only is an ergonomic choice but it’s a challenge. Allowing yourself only one focal length will change the way you capture the scene, it’ll push to you compose with limited options and I find, usually results in much more creative images.
For street photography it’s about capturing the moment quickly and as it happens, so unless you’re shooting long exposures of moving traffic, I’d avoid the hassle of a tripod.
The Best Settings for Street Photography
Of course settings differ on where and what you’re capturing so what I mention below is in relation to Le Marais in Paris but can be applied to most city/street scenes. Because most scenes will have a moving object like a car, bicycle or people, keeping your shutter speed relatively fast will allow you to wander and snap away quickly.
You know how in the movies they depict a ‘typical’ photographer roaming NYC, firing off rapid shots as people walk past…that’s what I like to pretend I’m doing when taking street photos. Even though in reality most shots are taken with at least an ounce of thought, it is true that you need to think on your feet and shoot fast.
F/2.8 (or as low as your lens will allow)
1/4000 – 1/8000sec (fast = capturing the moment as it happens)
The opposite of this is in moments where you know what shot you want and are prepared to wait for it. For example, the shot below I had the frame ready and all I needed was someone on a bicycle to complete the composition. I captured cars, motorbikes and people walking past before the perfect stranger came along to help me create the photograph. The passing subjects prior to the cyclist allowed me to test the settings to get the ideal shutter speed to gently blur and create motion.
Slow Shutter Settings: Blur traffic, people or bicycles with the settings below and adjust as needed.
ISO 64 (or as low as you can)
f/5.6 (not as low as your lens allows but enough to slow down the shutter)
1/40sec – you want to create blur but not a total blur so rather than a long exposure, opt instead for a slowish (technical term) shutter.
When blurring moving objects what you think should be the correct setting will no doubt have to be adjusted depending on the speed the subject is travelling. The shutter speed I used to blur the bicycle would be different to the speed I’d choose for a car travelling faster for example.
Composition Tips for Street Photography
Always help to point the viewer to where you want them to look. Are you focusing on the buildings either side of a street, or do you want the viewer to be looking down the street toward the subject at the end? Using the lines of a street is a great way to give perspective to your work!
Use the locals to create atmosphere:
Whether they are cycling, walking, sitting on a step or chatting at a café, capturing people showcases the lifestyle of an area. When photographing people you do of course have to be wary of cultural issues or just general politeness…I know I hate having my photo taken and I’m sure a lot of people feel this way. To get around this it’s always best to avoid capturing faces, create movement with people so they remain anonymous or capture grander scenes so everyone is relatively small in comparison to the rest of the shot.
When photographing a quartier in Paris there are so many unique features to keep an eye out for. You’ve got the ornate beauty of facades with gargoyles or historic carved cornices. The coloured window shutters, doors and shop fronts. Signage, French wording and street wear and tear…so much beauty!
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. Click here to start exploring popular guides + articles. After four years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides!