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Streetscapes and how to capture those amazing roads you travel

August 31, 2011

– words and pictures by Richard I’Anson

Shanghai’s Bund, New York’s Fifth Ave, Memphis’ Beale St, Dubrovnik’s Placa and Paris’
Champs Élysées are streets that demand to be photographed. Their very names conjure
up images of the heart of the city. Every city has such streets (even if they aren’t household
names) – streets that are the city’s commercial, cultural, tourist and transport focus for
locals and visitors alike.

The most consistently effective streetscapes can be made with a medium telephoto or
zoom lens setting around 100–150mm. These focal lengths allow you to pick a point of
interest at least 100m away from your camera position and provide just the right amount
of subject compression to give a realistic perspective between the foreground and distant
elements in the street. This will create a dynamic and busy feel, and will keep the buildings
parallel with the film or sensor plane so the verticals remain straight.

An elevated viewpoint works best, as it gives you the clear space you need in front of
the lens to prevent foreground elements such as people and traffic from unbalancing the
composition and blocking the view. Keep an eye out for 1st-floor windows and balconies,
rooftops, bridges and pedestrian overpasses, as they all make ideal vantage points.

35mm SLR, 24mm lens, 1/125 f8, Kodachrome 64.

Street corner at Burra Bazaar, Kolkata, India
Don’t just concentrate on famous streets. Scenes such as this in one of Kolkata’s busy commercial districts offer a glimpse of life around the city and pack in plenty of information about architecture, transport, people and local government policy on the use of advertising signs! An elevated vantage point overlooking a corner is also a great opportunity to use a wide-angle lens to capture the view down two streets in one frame.

Fleet St, London, England; 35mm SLR, 100mm lens, 1/125 f8, Ektachrome E100SW

At street level find a viewpoint with some space in front of it. Even a slight rise in the road or standing on a couple of steps will let you shoot over the immediate foreground. Otherwise, standing on the kerb or in road intersections (once the traffic has cleared on your side of the road) will do. However, you need much more patience when shooting at street level. When you’re planning your shot and searching for a viewpoint, remember that when the light is at its best (early morning or late afternoon) one side of the street will usually be in shadow. Once the sun has set and the lights come on, you’ll have your best opportunity to include both sides of the street in a single photograph.

Temple St, Hong Kong, China
Temple St is famous for its night markets, so to convey the night-time atmosphere I shot late at night, relying solely on street lighting rather than shooting in the mixed light after sunset as I typically do.

35mm SLR, 80-200mm lens at 200mm, 1/250 f5.6, Ektachrome E100VS

Pedestrians on Placa, Dubrovnik, Croatia
This is the most literal of streetscapes, with Dubrovnik’s most famous street, Placa, as the point of interest. Shimmering as though wet, the marble flagstones are in fact lit up by the afternoon sun that’s reflected from the light coloured stone of the clock tower at the top end of the street.

Get the definitive guide to gear on the road

Famous skylines and how to photograph them

Why photographers are only happy when it rains

Get all the latest tips in Richard’s book on travel photography.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2011 12:40 pm

    Beautiful pictures, I love the one in Dubrovnik!

  2. September 1, 2011 12:30 am

    Great pictures…….I live very high in niddle of huge buildings close to a big street in Santiago de Chile…..Nice pictures….how can I send you some??? Congrats


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