How to Practice Creative Urban Street Photography

Creative urban street photography is about urban exploration and candidly capturing everyday urban culture.

The Camera’s eye is attracted to the light, but the shadows have much more to say.

Yesterday was a street photography day for me. The summer is high and the sky is bright, but in spite of everything, it can change unexpectedly into choppy unpredictable weather.

That’s definitely part and parcel in urban street photography. If you’re serious about capturing urban culture and making it into artistic street photography, then the weather is neither here nor there.

When you get out there on the street, you feel the buzz of life, and you know that the city is full of opportunities to turn everyday urban scenes into urban street photography – into artistic work for your street photography portfolio it’ll fill you with confidence.

No fear of confrontations, no trepidations about strange looks from passers-by, just you, confidence and the street. These type of feelings ensure that you’ll have great day out, and return home with a bag full very creative street photographs.

Creative Urban Street Photography

There’s a street corner in Berlin that I’ve become interested in, Unter den Linden. It’s a big crossroads, and I’ve noticed that when I stop and spend a few minutes hanging out I feel a vibe that tells me there is more to be had from the view than at first thought.

It’s a broad and busy crossroads with lots of natural light. The main street is long and traverses East to West. Get there first thing in the morning and you can witness some pretty impressive sun rises.

The morning sun creates a spectrum of coloured nuances along the walls of the old classical buildings. Sandstone materials, white facades, arches and large important looking doorways offer opportunities for a patient urban street photographer.

There’s a bus stop with a shelter that intrigues me. I’ve stood on the corner several times and observed how the light changes around the bus shelter. The reflections on the transparent sides create shards of light, and groups of people huddle inside in winter, or in summer stand, lean, or stroll in circles while waiting for the number 100 bus to arrive.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2023 Berlin Street Photographer
Image by Author

Explore the City and Find Your own Creative Urban Street Photography

What intrigues me is the possibility of a shot of people inside the bus shelter, grouped closely, the sun from either east or west blasting down onto the bus shelter, but around them the street is grey and shadowed.

This is using light and shadow to isolate the subjects. The city is chaotic. People walk, run, and the flow creates a difficult pattern to follow and predict. When somewhere in this urban space a group of people stop and wait, it offers opportunity for a good composition and a pleasing photograph.

I always look out for a group of shadows to create a frame for my shot. I think those shots are more harmonious in content, and the light is always more natural.

I do use objects like a car bonnet, or an angled metal beam to create a frame, but I lean into the natural elements of photographic compositions.

I haven’t yet got the perfect shot of the bus shelter that hovers in my mind. I’ll keep going back, hang out and wait. The shelter is of course a structure that creates the frame. The deep shadows that surround it support it and isolate the main subject.

Street photographers do a lot of waiting. Winter or summer it’s either freezing feet and fingers, or mopping sweat from your forehead every few seconds — in the end, it seems to be the only way. It’ll pay off, it mostly does.

The sun came out, went back in, it rained hard and the sky turned the colour of tarnished pewter.

I stood on the roadside and watched out for interesting compositions of umbrellas and people scurrying along the road.

Everybody seemed to be sensible and gathered in doorways and looked at their mobile phones while the rain soaked everything.

After the rain stopped, I walked along the dull grey road. I promised myself that I’ll get the train back home as soon as I’d reached the underground entrance. It took me ages to travel the 500 hundred metres along Friedrichstrasse back to my corner of Unter den Linden, where I could board a train.

A squad of crows/ravens stopped me in my tracks.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2023 Berlin Street Crows
Image by Author. Raven Fast Food

Several ravens bickering over discarded Italian food caught my attention.

Creative Urban Street Photography can also include street life of birds. Pigeons and crows populate the urban city centres as much as human beings do. Sometimes, as a breather from watching people too much, I might stop and observe birds picking at food on the city streets.

It appears to me that amongst ravens there is no such idea about sharing. One of them found the food, the others could watch but not touch as he tore into the soaking pizza wrap base.

After a while they allowed me to get closer and I managed to get some well focused shots — but, I like the one above. It’s a better angle and is expressive.

So much for city wild life.

The sun began to shine again and there were some beautiful patchy areas that were perfect as spot-lights — shadows surrounding the light made people appear brighter and full of contrast.

Image by Author: Selfie with pouting Hoodie

All of these shots were taken with a 50 mm Sigma lens. It’s a great piece of kit, weighs slightly less than Tower Bridge of London, and I love it. Quality above a lightweight lifestyle.

The overcast sky threw a strong mixture of patchy sunlight and shadows that I could use to create compositions. All I needed to do was move my feet into place, bend my knees a little and take my shots.

Below, a couple of shots that are more about candid street photography experiments than finished work.

The group waiting at the traffic lights makes for a nice triangular composition. The couple standing far left add strength to it, all the people are in a line. The photo is more about structural composition and lacks perspective lines. This type of composition requires more interesting content than perspectives that create geometrical patterns.

Images by Author

Below, people crossing a traffic intersection; an example of creative urban street photography. I used the sunlight streak to capture a little moment of urban street life

Again, here I’m trying to catch the light and focus on only the group of people as they cross — which I did pretty well. The sun was shining on to the pavement where they walked, and most of the street was left covered in shadows.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2023 Berlin Street Photographer
Image by Author

Most of my post-processing is done quickly. I’ve learned the lesson about “mucking about” with photos for an hour, just to discover that I end up at the place I started.

Don’t forget, if you want creative urban street photography to be your goal, then not all photos need sharpness, and depth of shadows and brightness of light can be divided into two thoughts; I use the “dark” to adjust anything that is coloured black. I use “shadow” to adjust what is really shadow. When you do this the balance works out better and you work quickly.

Even if your photo is smoothly shot — without “noise”, you can still use the colour noise adjustment to smooth out colours and create an creative urban street photography touch to clothing and folds in textiles — this avoids the over crisp look that makes some photos look garish.

I often adjust sharpness downwards to create a soft look. My Sigma lens will give me a tack sharp finish, but a softer focus will help to bind the whole composition together.

The weather is turning here in Berlin. Sweltering days of 36 degrees have turned and it’s plummeted to 18 degrees — suits me. But a little sunshine for the next few months would be welcome.