What is the difference between urban and street photography?
As an introduction to urban photography, we must first define it; briefly, it is used to document the urban space.
The more specific definition is that urban photography focuses on the rich characteristics that are found in urban settings. Urban photography has also influenced how people identify themselves through the use of fashion. There are similarities between street and urban photography as they are both shot candidly. However, there is a slight difference, and that is around the story they portray in their art.
Types of urban photography
Many people believe urban photography only has one type of focus, and that is black and white pictures. However, urban photography has many different varieties.
Urban geometry photography
Photographers who are interested in this type of photography will focus on the urban relationships between colour, architecture, and shapes.
Urban portrait photography
Most urban portraits are down in the back streets of bigger cities, such as New York and London. These photoshoots tend to be preplanned, and the main subject will mostly find themselves in front of a bricked building, possibly covered with graffiti. This creates the urban theme as it shows how the people from these areas use the walls as a place to express themselves.
Candid urban photography
This style resembles street photography the most. However, what makes this type of photography different to street photography is what the photographer focuses on. The photographer captures the truth of urban life. The image could be in black and white or colour, no matter what, as long as it shows the life of urban society, presenting it in an honest fashion.
Guide for urban photography
Chose a camera that fits your needs
There are many cameras for a photographer to choose from, and it can be difficult to decide which one to buy, even for a professional. A mirrorless camera is compact and lightweight, yet the battery life might not last for so long.
See below for a run-down of camera suggestions for urban photography.
Use the right lenses
Just like trying to find the correct camera, a photographer needs to use the right lenses for the right time and location. Use a wide-angle lens when shooting the urban landscapes as it will help you capture more of the scenery. However, a standard lens is perfect for those candid urban shots of people and other subjects.
When people think about urban photography, they usually picture black and white photos. However, a photographer doesn’t always follow the expectations of the public. Instead, explore the use of colour that the urban environment holds. Use the different tones of colour that are found on the streets or the buildings and use them to tell a story of urban life.
Use slow shutter speeds to capture motion
Movement is everywhere in the world. Not only are people rushing from one area to another, but time is continuously moving. To show this, a slow shutter speed is an ideal technique to capture the aliveness that lives in the centre of a city. To create the motion blur that many urban photographers create, set the camera to shutter priority mode and choose a slower shutter speed. Experiment to get the right settings to achieve the result you are after.
Change your point of view
Don’t stick to the streets when capturing the urban settings. Seek for a higher vantage point; go onto balconies, tall building rooftops, anything that will give you a different viewpoint of the urban environment. A low vantage point is great, but it is used a lot and often overdone. View the urban life differently and capture it on your camera for other people to see.
Be warm and friendly
If your ideal type of urban photography is a portrait, then being friendly is an important skill to have when asking for permission to photograph a person. If they seem closed and do not want to take part, do not try to force them into being the focus of the photo; this will only make them more uncomfortable. Instead, move on and find another person who will happily be the subject of your image, be welcoming and ease their nerves.
Urban photography tips
Know your area
Being able to capture impressive photos is knowing where to find them. Learn about the different urban areas around you by doing thorough research. Using Google Maps is a great way to understand the different urban places that a photographer might visit. Go on Streetview and see the best settings to capture those impressive photos.
Understand the camera settings
Cameras have many features. One that we have mentioned before is the slow shutter speed. If you want to add a slight blur to an image, this feature needs to be used.
Using the aperture settings will mean that you will have a better chance to capture the right exposure when shooting urban photography.
Remember, when buying a new camera, learn about the features and set them up before doing your urban photography.
Know your lighting
Lighting will be all around the photographer when shooting the urban scenery – use this to your advantage. The bright midday sun can be problematic, if you want to do urban portrait photography during the day, due to the harsh light that it can give out. However, bright light is perfect for geometry and candid photography. Due to the surrounding buildings, the sunlight will create dark shadows as well as highlighting different areas. However, this contrast can be utilised and can be very artistic and creative.
Shoot at night
Don’t always stick to photography during the day; photograph the urban nightlife as well. Nightclubs in urban areas that have neon lighting are fantastic for an evening photoshoot. The bright colours against a subject can create an amazing story through photography.
Best urban photography cameras
To start you on the urban photography path, here are some great cameras to look into that will help you capture those impressive urban photos.
This camera came out in 2020 and has an ultra-fast autofocus system. The pictures captured on this camera are of great quality, and it has an appealing retro design. The only downside of this camera is the big price tag, so it may not be so great as a first camera, but if you’ve been in urban photography for a while and want to step up, then this camera might be the one for you.
Ricoh GR III
This small, light and stealthy camera entered the photography world in March 2019. It has a unique image. However, the lenses are fixed and don’t zoom, which can affect the type of urban photography you would want to capture. Good quality, just as long as you understand its limitations.
First appearing in late 2019, and despite having a complex menu system, this camera does have many positives. The autofocus is lightning fast, with images being crisp due to the great contrast rendering.
If you have never tried your hand at urban photography, then we would encourage you to give it a go! Even if it is not “your type of thing”, there are valuable lessons to be learned and new experiences to be had, which will lend value to your future photographic journey.