The Complete Guide to Mobile Phone Street Photography
Street photography may sound like something that’s only possible with an expensive DSLR camera, but it’s actually possible to take incredible photos with just your mobile phone. In fact, mobile phone street photography may just be easier, and it’s definitely worth getting into.
With the right equipment and techniques, your smartphone is more than capable of taking the same types of street photographs you see all over social media. Sure, a DSLR will offer you more settings to adjust, but as smartphone technology improves, more and more street photographers are turning to their mobile phones. In fact, you’d be surprised to know just how many of them are using their smartphone.
The best part of doing street photography with your smartphone is that you don’t need to carry any bulky equipment around. You probably already have your phone in your pocket or bag, and clipping a lens bag to your belt loop isn’t too much hassle.
Why is Mobile Phone Street Photography So Appealing?
Street photography is obviously a popular niche within photography. So, what’s the benefit of doing it on a smartphone? Well, there are a few. They include:
- Smartphones are more socially acceptable – When you’re shooting in a public place, people are wary of having their picture taken. When you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless people are on high alert, but when you’re shooting with a smartphone people tend to be much more relaxed. Do note that you should still ask people before taking their photo.
- Smartphone accessories are easier to manage – Seriously, unscrewing a Moment Wide and replacing it with a Fish-Eye is so much easier than replacing DSLR lenses. And we haven’t even talked about lugging all that DSLR gear around! When you’re in the hustle and bustle of a busy city and shots are slipping by you don’t want to be fiddling with bulky and cumbersome DLSR gear.
- Smartphone camera’s low-light capability is drastically improving – With the introduction of features like Night Sight and Night Mode in 2020s flagship smartphones shooting in low-light has never been easier. The thing about street photography is that it does tend to take place in low-light scenarios – dark alleys, at night, and with the shadows of the city. There was a time when a smartphone wasn’t ideal for these scenarios, but that time was 2017.
The Necessary Equipment for Street Photography with a Smartphone
Street photography doesn’t typically require much equipment. You’ll likely find yourself walking around quite a bit in search of the perfect shot, so you don’t want to carry a lot of heavy gear around. Here’s what you should consider bringing along.
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a Smartphone Camera Lens
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Our Choice for Street Photography – Moment 14mm Fisheye Lens
You may want to consider investing in detachable lenses for your smartphone. Most newer smartphones already come with great lens options, but detachable lenses give you a bit more flexibility with your street photography.
As far as which type of lens you should get, a fish-eye is a great option for street photography because of its unique effect (as seen above). Street photography is all about getting interesting vantage points, geometric angles, and action in your shots. Adding a fish-eye lens to all that excitement is just a recipe for good things.
If you have an iPhone and want to consider options other than fish-eye, here are ten of the best lenses. You might also want to consider clip-on lenses, which are easy to use no matter what type of phone you have. Here are some of our favorites.
a Smartphone Tripod or Gimbal
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Our Choice for Street Photography – DJI Osmo Mobile 3
If you want to do any sort of video you’ll need something to keep your phone camera steady. Truth be told, even if you just want to take professional-grade smartphone photos you’ll need some help.
The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 will give you the option to create any kind of content that you want at a reasonable price. Have we mentioned that it’s pretty small too? If you need a handheld option that you can toss into a small backpack with the rest of your gear and still know that it’ll perform when called upon, then this is the one for you. If you need more convincing about the need for a smartphone gimbal, then watch this.
a Smartphone Microphone
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Our Choice for Street Photography – Deity V-Mic D3 Pro
If you want to create street content then you’re going to need some extra gear. The gimbal will ensure your video is crisp, but if you want to capture audio your phone alone is going to struggle. As a result, you’re going to want to add a smartphone microphone.
The Deity V-Mic D3 Pro is a great smartphone microphone for a number of reasons. It’s the perfect combination of performance and cost as well as being compatible with anything with a 3.5mm jack. If you’re looking to capture professional-quality audio, then the Deity V-Mic D3 Pro is for you.
an External Flash
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Our Choice for Street Photography – Aputure AL-M9
You shouldn’t be using your phone’s native flash – it’s harsh and without variation among other things. Adding an external flash allows you to shoot with quality lighting no matter the time of day. Obviously you know that shooting during the blue or golden hours is ideal, but sometimes that’s not possible. For these cases, you’ll need a smartphone lighting accessory for street photography.
The Aputure AL-M9 is going to help your lighting without breaking the bank. You’ll get nine variable settings, which will totally change the way you approach street photography. There are certainly cheaper options out there, but they will not compete with the AL-M9 in terms of performance.
an External Battery Source
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Our Choice for Street Photography – 20000mAh High-Capacity Rechargeable External Battery Pack
If you plan on spending a lot of time on the streets or are worried about your phone running out of juice, you may want to bring along a portable charger. You don’t want to be forced to stop shooting to hang out in a coffee shop while your phone charges. Unless you really like coffee.
A light, compact charger such as the one above is perfect for street photography. It’s small but powerful and doesn’t take up much space in your bag or pockets. Depending on the type of smartphone you have, you may be able to charge it two or three times before needing to charge the battery pack.
a Phone Camera Lens Bag
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Our Choice for Street Photography – Brevite Jumper Backpack
So, for street photography you’re going to want a lens bag that is portable. While there are certainly smaller options than the Brevite Jumper Backpack, what you get for the cost makes this product ideal for street photography.
You’ll get a sturdy weather-resistant backpack with photography dedicated storage for the cost of a traditional option. In addition to easily being able to store all of your smartphone photography gear, the Jumper Backpack can also handle all your extras. Stay on the streets for days shooting because you’ve got everything you could possibly need slung across your back.
a Comfortable Pair of Shoes
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Our Choice for Street Photography – Skechers Men’s Elite Flex Hartnell Loafer
Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes! With street photography, you may find yourself walking around a city for hours. Even the best photos aren’t worth sore feet, so make sure you’re dressed comfortably.
Any Sketchers shoe is guaranteed to be two things: comfortable and cost-effective. While looking cool may seem important, you’d much rather wear these and be comfortable than wear combat boots and end up with bloody feet. It’s also worth noting, that the Skechers Men’s Elite Flex Hartnell Loafer isn’t an eye-sore in the typical Sketcher’s fashion.
Mobile Phone Street Photography Tips and Techniques
Street photography is more than just snapping photos in public places. It’s about telling a story and capturing the everyday lives of people around you.
Cell Phone Street Photography Tip #1 – Compelling Composition is Key
The main aspect you want to focus on to take compelling street photographs is your composition. Pay attention to the background of your photo as well as your subject. You don’t want your perfect photo to be ruined by a distracting backdrop.
You also want to keep track of the lighting in your photos. Shooting in public places means you have a lot to keep track of, so as you scan your backdrop for distractions, keep an eye out for shadows or bright lights.
Cell Phone Street Photography Tip #2 – Don’t Use Manual Mode
While full control of your settings may be beneficial for DSLRs, you don’t actually need that much control for street photography. If you’re spending a ton of time adjusting your settings, you’re missing out on a lot of great images.
If the camera app you use gives you this type of control, be sure that your exposure and focus are on auto. Trust that your phone knows what it’s doing. Otherwise, you may find yourself with overexposed, blurry photos, or your subject may be gone by the time you get everything adjusted.
Most importantly, take lots of photos! Most modern smartphones have a ton of storage and are capable of storing photos on the cloud, so don’t be afraid to take more photos than you need. Sure, you might take several hundred photos or more, but you’ll have a better chance at capturing a few really great ones than if you had only taken ten.
Cell Phone Street Photography Tip #3 – Get Up Close
Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your subjects! You’ll need to actually move yourself and your camera closer instead of zooming in. Unlike with DSLR camera lenses, zooming in will ruin the quality of a photograph taken on your cell phone, so you need to move closer.
This may mean that you need to talk to people. Street photography is not for the meek. If you don’t like talking to people, you may need to find a different subject. Most people are happy to accommodate your art, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a friendly conversation with someone before taking their photo.
In fact, depending on where you live, you may be required by law to ask for permission before taking someone’s photo. In some countries, such as France, it’s illegal to take someone’s photo without their permission, even if it is in a public place.
In the United States and Canada, it’s completely legal to take photos in public places, but you may run into people who are still unhappy about having their picture taken. Although these encounters are few and far between, a friendly demeanor and politely asking permission will go a long way.
If you’re photographing children, you should always ask their parents or guardian for permission. For obvious reasons, parents may react quite angrily when they see a total stranger photographing their kids. It doesn’t hurt to offer a suspicious parent your contact information or offer to send them the photos you take just to give them peace of mind.
Don’t worry, though. It can seem intimidating to approach total strangers at first, but you’re guaranteed to meet some really interesting people. Most people are more than happy to let you take their photos, especially after a friendly conversation.
Cell Phone Street Photography Tip #4 – Develop Your Own Style of Story-Telling
Remember, street photography is all about candidly capturing spontaneous moments in public places. There’s no single “right” way to capture these moments and every street photographer has their own unique style.
The only way to develop your own style is to grab that smartphone and get out there. As with all mobile phone photography, the only way to improve your skills is to practice!