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What is Street Fashion Photography? A Beginner’s Guide With History, Tips, and More

What is Street Fashion Photography? A Beginner’s Guide With History, Tips, and More

Street fashion photography is a hodgepodge of eclectic fashion styles and diverse settings. Embracing its dynamism is your first step toward becoming a stellar street photographer.

This fascinating fashion niche is a relatively new one, but is so synonymous with everyday life it feels timeless. Social media is often the bastion of street fashion photography, but you’ll easily find this niche gracing physical magazines or billboards. Learning how to accurately capture both a model and the environment is part and parcel of the niche. I’ll help you learn how to do just that.

What is street fashion photography and how can you add this niche to your own portfolio? I’ll explore street fashion’s history, share some visual inspiration, then provide street fashion photography tips to help you get started.

Source Image: Pixabay

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Street Fashion Photography?
  3. The History of Street Fashion Photography Around the World
  4. Who are Famous Street Fashion Photographers?
  5. What Makes a Good Street Photographer? 
  6. What Gear is Needed For Street Photography?
  7. Five Tips for Beginner Street Fashion Photographers 
  8. What are Some Good Street Fashion Photography Blogs?
  9. Conclusion: Street Fashion Photography is a Stylish Niche Anyone Can Get Into

a young woman with blonde hair wearing a flannel dress and dark jacket while leaning against a wall

Source Image: Pixabay

What is Street Fashion Photography?

While many styles of fashion photography meticulously craft outfits down to the last glittering detail, street fashion is all about spontaneity. This niche embraces the unpredictable.

Fashion photography as a whole focuses on capturing compelling ensembles, as well as hair and makeup. Street fashion photography – also known as street style fashion photography – is distinctive for several reasons, one of which is right in the name. Street fashion snapshots are the results of spontaneous glimpses into the mundane, emphasizing quirky outfits and dynamic poses. 

The locations are often casual and modern, too, hence the ‘street’. Instead of polished studios or handcrafted set-ups, you get dusty windows or the stretch of a park. The environment and the fashion are a two-way conversation – they inform each other rather than drown each other out.

The fashion itself tends to blend form and function. Street styles are usually a mish-mash of a little bit of everything.

What is Street Style?

Street style is the natural conclusion of everyday human expression captured in an art form. This fashion sense is rarely just one, usually combining several distinctive styles into a unique mishmash, such as:

  • Sporty
  • Hip hop
  • Artsy
  • Retro
  • Punk
  • Youthful

Why is it Called Street Style?

Street style earned its name by growing organically as a form of mundane fashion expression. Rather than being carefully cultivated by high fashion designers or displayed in a mall outlet, street style mixes styles spontaneously. 

What’s the Difference Between Street Photography and Street Fashion?

These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably and understandably so. The ‘street’ aspect of street fashion is just as much part of the style as the clothes themselves.

Street photography generally refers to the environment first, but some people will still use the term to describe street style. Street fashion is a term that specifically focuses on fashion.

What’s the Difference Between Street Photography and Urban Photography? 

While street photography usually refers to taking photos of the environment, it sometimes refers to street style snapshots, too. 

Urban photography focuses exclusively on documenting everyday environments such as cities, alleys, and streets. 

a man in a dark graphic t shirt and a straw hat performing in a marketplace

Source Image: Pixabay

The History of Street Fashion Photography Around the World

Becoming acquainted with street fashion photography involves learning its history as an individualistic subculture. Street fashion’s history developed primarily as a means of self-expression sprinkled with rebellion.

While historians are a little mixed on the exact year street style fashion photography took off, the general consensus is that it grew in the 1970’s. Multiple countries around the world such as the United States, Canada, and Japan saw growing counter culture movements resisting the sterile environments of strict rules and regulations. Many of these movements originated as a way to capture a sense of identity during shifting socioeconomic and political times.

Understandably, this freeform and expressive sense of fashion also bled into the environment. Many people frequently associate street style with downtown districts, alleyways, murals, markets, and artist districts. 

Each country has several distinctive subcultures relating to street fashion. Japan has seen street style movements rise and fall such as the gyaru, a playfully rebellious street fashion subculture that emerged in the 1970’s. Hongdae is another street style fashion in South Korea, inspired by the artist districts it’s named after.

a photographer sitting down in front of black and white photos while holding a photo of a girl

Source Image: Pixabay

Who are Famous Street Fashion Photographers? 

Learning street fashion photography means learning from the best. Famous street fashion photographers earned their name by meticulously crafting a visual style all their own.

Since street fashion is already an ambiguous and dynamic category, my examples will overlap heavily with candid photography and street photography. All of these subniches are incredibly important to building up the compelling collage that is street fashion photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Widely believed to be the creator of street photography, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson is a must-have on your list of inspirations. While his portfolio didn’t focus on fashion exclusively, he still spent painstaking effort documenting the expression and culture of France in the 1930’s and 40’s. 

He earned worldwide acclaim for his striking compositions, powerful use of contrast, and emphasis on the candid shot. All of these traits are vital components of crafting street fashion photography.

Esther Bubley

It’s hard to talk about the origin of street fashion photography without bringing up Esther Bubley. This American photographer and journalist earned a place in the hall of fame for her dedication to capturing the beauty in everyday life.

Her subjects frequently were of everyday people in everyday situations, a great place to start when working on your own street fashion photography. Many viewers of her work note how expressive her snapshots tend to be, whether it was the sincerity of her subjects or her powerful understanding of composition.

Bill Cunningham

Originally starting out as a photojournalist, American photographer Bill Cunningham contributed mightily to street fashion photography during his time. Famous models and designers to this day credit his incredible attention to detail as well as his passion.

His photography sometimes blurred the line between high fashion and street fashion, with a particular love for complex and layered outfits.

a skateboarder wearing a patterned shirt and bright red shoes doing a trick in a half pipe

Source Image: Pixabay

What Makes a Good Street Photographer? 

Now that the definition and history is established, it’s time to discuss what a successful street photographer needs. Although basics such as an eye for composition and familiarity with tools are vital, there are a few necessities unique to the niche.

To become a street fashion photographer who captures brilliant photos, you need the following:

A Sense of Professionalism

Whether you want to get into street photography as a career or keep it a hobby, a good street photographer needs a sense of professionalism. Just running up and snapping photos of people without permission can be rude and even creepy.

A professional street photographer is mindful of people’s personal space and will ask if they can take a few shots of their outfit. Some people are perfectly happy to strike a pose and let a photographer practice. However, if they’re uncomfortable or disinterested, being professional means respecting their space and seeking inspiration elsewhere.

To earn the right to candid and natural shots, a photographer needs to be willing to earn people’s trust first.

A Strong Instinct for the Environment

The environment is just as important to street style fashion as the outfits and models. They help set the stage for the photo by creating an engaging scene that tells an interesting story. 

Professionals will actively study the environment for locations that could potentially make a good shot. Sometimes they start by looking for good backdrops, such as a smooth brick wall or a cluster of trees at the park. Other times they focus more on where the model feels comfortable, as that comfort translates heavily into the natural feel of the final result.

A Flexible Attitude

Since you’re not in the controlled environment of a studio, street photographers are highly flexible in how they approach the craft. If you’ve ever witnessed one in action, you’ll already know how breezily they juggle tasks like snapping shots, talking to people, and getting into position.

Sometimes a stray cloud can move over the sun and interrupt bright lighting. A skilled photographer would have to find another way to get a strong shot of the model’s face or shirt logo. Other times, these photographers work with models who get cold feet and don’t show up to the photoshoot. They might have to reschedule or consider hiring another model entirely.

Being flexible is part of being a photographer – since they’re documenting life, they need to have the adaptability needed for life itself.

An Open Mind to Learning New Skills

This last tip is especially important for people who want to consider street style fashion photography a career. Photography already overlaps heavily with other art disciplines: street style fashion is no different. 

There’s a growing need for photographers who also have skills in other areas such as editing or marketing. Video post production is expected to grow by over 12% over the next few years. To clarify, this is a diverse field that refers to artistic disciplines such as color grading, traditional animation, or editing.

You don’t have to worry about diving in headfirst with a dozen different skills. Street photography has its roots as a spontaneous, casual art style, so you don’t need more than a few tools to get started.

two women wearing yellow and pink sweatshirts posing outside beneath green trees

Source Image: Pixabay

What Gear is Needed For Street Photography?

Becoming a street fashion photographer involves similar gear to any other photography niche. However, since you’ll usually be outside, a few types of gear take prominence.

A Smartphone Camera or DSLR to Snap Photos

Would you rather use your current smartphone camera or switch over to a DSLR? Either way, you’ll have more than enough technology at your disposal to snap an array of fantastic photos.

Smartphone brands continuously push the technological envelope for photography. For example, the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera has pushed the envelope by providing clearer nighttime photography and improved image stabilization. You can even take ultra-wide camera shots, a feature not seen in models prior. 

If you don’t use the iPhone series, you still have options. Both Samsung’s S Series and A Series boast strong cameras that capture crisp images with rich color. I’ve been using the Samsung phone line for years now and it’s my personal favorite. 

However, the DSLR still has some advantages such as more variety in focal length as well as shutter speed. Due to the active and dynamic nature of street style fashion, you’ll have many opportunities to improve your DSLR photography.

Extra Memory Cards to Free Up Your Creativity

Don’t be limited by your memory card space. Get a few extra ones so you can snap as many photos as possible. 

While older smartphone models may not have a memory card slot, many newer ones can slot in 32GB or 128GB cards.

Modern DSLR cameras also have the ability to store memory cards. Keep in mind the brand and model you use may not mean all memory cards are cross compatible. Try to purchase cards from your brand’s line-up to avoid any incompatibility issues that affect your photo storage. 

Comfortable, Well-Fitting Clothes for Continuous Walking and Standing

While you can sit on a chair and relax in the studio, street style photography often requires you walk, stand, or even jog to get a shot. Make sure you wear comfortable, well-fitting clothes for the occasion.

Steer clear of wobbly high heels or unreliable flip flops – sneakers, slip-ons, or boots are best. The last thing you want are a series of blisters to commemorate your next photoshoot. 

Likewise, try to save the long, flowing skirts or extremely tight jeans for another time. Wear something stretchy, cozy, and able to hold up to a lot of movement. 

Weather Gear to Be on the Safe Side

To follow up on the previous point, you also need to anticipate changes in the weather. Not only should you keep an eye on the forecast, you should have some weather gear to be on the safe side.

Camera sleeves are vital for protecting your camera from rain or snow. They can easily be fitted over your camera, then tucked away when no longer in use. I also recommend keeping a dry microfiber cloth at all times in case anything lands on your camera lens. 

a photographer in a bright graphic t-shirt and black jeans laughing in front of a gray background

Source Image: Pixabay

Five Tips for Beginner Street Fashion Photographers 

Despite street fashion photography’s roots as a carefree and spontaneous approach to fashion, it can still be daunting to get into. I have some reliable street fashion photography tips to help you take photos comfortably and swiftly.

Become Familiar With Your Environment

I touched on this element earlier with professional photographer habits, but this aspect can be challenging for a newcomer. Getting comfortable with an environment beforehand will help you choose the best locations for your photoshoots.

While an experienced photographer might adapt quickly to new locations, I recommend visiting an ideal environment beforehand. Take a few minutes – maybe even a few hours – to get comfortable with your setting, such as studying landmarks or finding comfortable places to sit and pose. Get a feel for how active people are during certain times of day, especially if you have social anxiety or don’t want people interrupting your shot.

Becoming familiar with the environment will also generate fresh inspiration for what story you’re trying to tell. You’d be amazed by how many ideas can crop into your head after an hour or two of studying.

Start With Models You Already Know

There’s nothing wrong with starting with a friend, family member, or acquaintance before trying to work with a model. Considering hiring a model can cost money (unless they’re doing the shoot pro bono), go for something simple to start with. 

This familiarity will help you get your feet wet before branching out. You can worry about building a professional demeanor and learning how to work with models later. 

Stick With Standard Focal Lengths (For Now)

Choosing an ideal focal length will help you create a strong focal point for your photo. While you can technically use any available to you, there are several popular street fashion focal lengths I recommend starting with. 

The 50mm focal length in a prime lens is ideal for closely replicating how the human eye works, resulting in shots that honestly feel like the viewer is stepping into the photo. However, branch out to 70mm or so to experiment a little with 

Don’t Hesitate to Take Dozens of Snapshots

It’s easier to get an ideal shot when you let loose and snap as many photos as possible. Depending on the camera you’re using, you can switch up your settings to make this process easier. 

Most smartphones have a setting called Burst Mode – also known as continuous shooting, this allows you to take rapidfire shots of a subject. Instead of manually clicking every time you want a pose, you click once and the camera will take a burst of photos in a limited amount of time. This tool is great for capturing subtle nuances in expression or pose that would’ve been easy to miss with manual shooting.

Experiment With Portraits, Torso Shots, and Full Body Shots

Fashion photography as a whole focuses on different areas of the body, such as the face or the entire ensemble. Your ability to capture a mood or tell a story will change depending on what you focus on.

When you focus on the face, you tend to emphasize the individual’s personality or current mood. If you focus more on the torso, this automatically means you have to step back a little – this act exposes more of the environment, thus bringing in more of the setting. Lastly, a full body shot feels more like a scene, almost like something out of a movie or a music video.

Think about what you want your viewer to feel as you snap portraits, torso shots, or full body shots. A nudge in either direction can completely transform the focus of the final result.

a woman with long blonde hair, a green jacket, and sneakers standing in a busy street with a tote bag

Source Image: Pixabay

What are Some Good Street Fashion Photography Blogs?

A little inspiration is just the ticket for getting you started in this incredible niche. I regularly follow street fashion blogs to not only inspire my own photography, but give me ideas for new outfits.

Tokyo Fashion

One of my most beloved blogs is none other than Tokyo Fashion. This site is a menagerie of the dazzling, creative, and unexpected fashion of Japanese subcultures – one of their most famous sections is their Tokyo Street Snaps.

Their Street Snaps update regularly with new entries from people coming from all walks of life. Not only are the outfits jawdropping in their creativity, the street snaps provide a good variety of portraits, torso shots, and full body shots. Emphasis is put on celebrating the ensemble more than creating an illustrative or dynamic composition. 

Lee Litumbe (SpiritedPursuit)

If you’re looking for Instagram photographers to follow, a great place to start is with the stylish Lee Litumbe. Mixing street fashion with an elegant and colorful flair, she has a style all her own.

Lee Litumbe frequently provides a color or texture contrast between the clothes and the world around her. She’s particularly skilled at utilizing lavish environments to frame her already lavish outfits, adding a level of visual complexity that takes serious skill. 

Tiffany Hsu (HandInFire)

The line between street style and high fashion can get blurry at times. Tiffany Hsu happily blurs the lines with elegant, striking photos that stress dramatic angles and even more dramatic outfits.

No journey is completed in a day. While all of these examples may be a little overwhelming at first, your street fashion photography style will grow in time. 

a woman tossing long pink hair back against a darker background of trees

Source Image: Pixabay

Conclusion: Street Fashion Photography is a Stylish Niche Anyone Can Get Into 

Street fashion photography is a niche without limits. Unlike the lofty culture of high fashion, street style is one of the most beginner-friendly photography niches out there.

Street style fashion photography has its roots in cultures all over the world, but many styles we know today originated in the 1970’s as a counterculture movement. This fashion incorporates many styles such as sporty, hip hop, or an artistic mishmash. It also heavily emphasizes the environment to celebrate the mundane details and settings that make up people’s lives.

Capturing street fashion photography involves similar gear to any other niche, but often requires a different mindset. This niche stresses spontaneity, a flexible attitude to setbacks, and a desire to step outside of the box.

Want to continue developing your skillset across different niches? Check out the following posts below: