Street Photography Camera Settings

After sharing my general approach to street photography last time, I thought it might also be useful to share a few of the camera settings that I use too, and why. 

Before I get to the settings that I use, one alternative and common approach amongst street photographers is to use zone focusing. That is, to use manual focusing and set the aperture and focus distance to give you the zone that you want to be in focus. You then photograph subjects within that area of distance away from you. I can see why this approach is popular. In reasonable light you can use a narrow aperture to give you a deep depth of field and worry about re-focusing, only whether your subject is within your pre-determined zone. Without the need to focus you can react very quickly. The problem for me is that I don't want to always shoot people or action at a set distance or depth of field. I might want to blur the background to emphasize one particular subject, or shoot something across the street when there isn't time to move closer. 

Of course I still want to be able to respond quickly, but I also want flexibility so I do use some of the camera's automation to help achieve what I want.  This is what I use most of the time: 

  • Aperture priority
  • Centre point autofocus (manual if necessary)
  • Auto ISO up to 1600
  • Single shot
  • RAW

Which is actually very similar to the settings that I use for outdoor portraits.

I will switch to manual exposure in low light to maintain a fast enough shutter. Otherwise I'll vary the exposure compensation to give the exposure I want.

I'll also switch to manual focus if the autofocus is struggling, such as in darker conditions or shooting through a window with reflections. I might experiment more with automatic zone focusing now that the Fujifilm autofocus system has improved, but I'd rather be in control of the focus point so I don't expect to use it regularly.

I don't think I've ever used continuous shooting for street photography either. One reason is that I don't enjoy it. For me it feels like guesswork; letting the camera produce a number of shots rather than timing the moment I want. I can see the need if you're shooting sports or wildlife, but not usually for the streets. So single shots it is, and I find that I can usually anticipate and timing of the stride of a person walking or a moment of gesture.

Is it necessary to shoot in RAW format? Probably not for most street photography, but I just like having the additional information in the file in case I need it.

Flushing, Queens, NYC. January 2016.

Flushing, Queens, NYC. January 2016.