Generally, for street and travel photography, you want a relatively natural-looking image. The viewer should almost feel like they see things for themselves. Let’s look at how to achieve that.
What Lens to Use for Street and Travel Photography
At 50mm, you get a perspective that closely mimics what the human eye sees. Everything looks natural. 35mm, 28mm, and 24mm all show a wider field of view so you can include more of the scene without adding much distortion.
Note that these are the traditional focal lengths on full frame bodies. For crop sensor cameras, they correspond roughly to 16mm, 18mm, 24mm, and 35mm. If you want, you can use a prime, but 18mm, 24mm, and 35mm all fall nicely in the range of the standard 18-55mm kit lens that comes with most cameras. Convenient, eh!
Aperture for Street and Travel Photography
Arthur “Weegee” Fellig famously said that the secret to good street photography was “f/8 and be there.” It’s a motto that’s been picked up by photojournalists for a good reason: shooting at f/8 with a 35mm lens gives your images a nice wide depth of field. This means that all you have to do is be where something interesting is happening.
Weegee’s suggestion still holds today, although with autofocus cameras (he had to use a manual focus camera) you don’t have to be quite as strict. An aperture between f/5.6 (on wider lenses) and f/11 (on a 50mm lens) will generally give you great results, whatever is happening.
Shutter Speed for Street and Travel Photography
Most of the time, when I’m shooting street or travel photographs, I use aperture priority mode. As long as the shutter speed stays above around 1/100th of a second, your photos will be sharp and now show any blur from the camera shaking or the subjects moving.
Unlike a lot of subjects, however, street and travel photos can benefit from a bit of creative blur. This means you might sometimes want to use a shutter speed that’s slow enough to show a bit of movement.
If you want your subjects moving, I find somewhere around 1/15th or 1/30th works well. On sunny days, you will probably need to narrow your aperture to get a shutter speed this slow.
ISO for Street and Travel Photography
In general, for street and travel photography you want your ISO at 100 (or whatever your camera’s base ISO is). This is pretty easy to achieve in bright daylight but in narrow alleys, in the evening, or even at night, you’ll need to increase it to keep your shutter speed up. However, since street photographs, in particular, look good when things are a bit rough and raw, you can safely increase it when you need to.
Street and travel photography are really fun ways to use your camera. You probably already have the gear, so get out there and shoot!