Post Processing for Street Photographers – Better Photos through Better Understanding

I like to keep post processing as simple as possible – I want the photo to be an in camera shot. That’s not always the case, and sometimes I have a shot that was a little off kilter, or an annoying object imposed on the whole composition. Something in a corner that could be cropped.

When we approach post-processing digital images, we should always bear in mind that we take it as far as we like; digital imaging is not film photography, so changes can be dramatic – and sometimes, unwanted mistakes.

Shoot RAW to obtain the optimal finish that can be worked on.

Learn to be honest with yourself about what you are doing. Are you using basic post processing techniques to improve that basic image, or do you want to enhance the image with AI technology?

Books on Street Photography

by Sean P. Durham, 2019

Photoshop and all the Bells and Whistles of Technology

There are several tools that are popular among street photographers for post-processing their images. The choice of tools often depends on personal preference and workflow, here are some of the popularly used options:

I use Photoshop. I’ve chopped and changed over the years, but I have always returned to Photoshop because of ease of use, and user friendly buttons and sliders.

If you are planning on using Photoshop or another type of editor for photography, experiment to get used to it. It’s okay to try things out, you can always correct mistakes by eliminating those mistakes fairly quickly if you use layers.

Berlin, NollendorfPlatz Ubahn Station. Berlin Street Photography by Sean P. Durham, 2019

by Sean P. Durham, 2019

Making mistakes, both in post-processing, and photography, is the best teacher – making mistakes when we post process helps us to formulate better questions about what we want to do with a photo.

  1. Adobe Lightroom: Lightroom is one of the most popular and versatile tools for photographers. It offers a wide range of editing features, including exposure adjustments, colour correction, noise reduction, lens correction, and more. Lightroom also has powerful organization and cataloguing capabilities, making it a comprehensive solution for managing and editing street photography images. I use RAW edit instead of Lightroom, then go straight to Photoshop to finish my edit.
  2. Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop is another industry-standard software that provides advanced editing capabilities. It offers precise control over various aspects of an image, such as retouching, selective adjustments, layering, and complex compositing. Photoshop is often used for more in-depth editing and creative manipulations in street photography.
  3. Capture One: Capture One is a professional-grade editing software that is highly regarded for its exceptional image quality and RAW processing capabilities. It offers powerful tools for color grading, precise adjustments, and selective editing. Capture One is known for its excellent handling of colors and is favored by many photographers who prioritize color accuracy in their street photography.
  4. DxO PhotoLab: DxO PhotoLab is another software known for its excellent RAW processing capabilities. It provides advanced noise reduction, lens corrections, and automatic adjustments based on optical profiles. DxO also offers an impressive range of creative tools and presets for enhancing and stylizing street photography images.
  5. ON1 Photo RAW: ON1 Photo RAW is a comprehensive editing suite that combines powerful editing tools with a user-friendly interface. It offers features such as non-destructive editing, layered adjustments, advanced masking, and various creative filters. ON1 Photo RAW also includes tools for organizing and managing your street photography catalog.
  6. Affinity Photo: Affinity Photo is a professional-grade editing software that provides a wide range of editing tools and features. It offers excellent compatibility with Photoshop file formats and a similar interface, making it a viable alternative for photographers who prefer a non-subscription-based option. Affinity Photo includes advanced selection tools, retouching capabilities, and extensive layering options.

I’ve used Affinity and I like it. I really do. Try the free version and you’ll see what I mean.

Not all paid photo editing software is better than free versions. It really depends on your personal needs as a street photographer. You might be aiming at getting the best in camera shots, and only need a little light and darkness adjustment after the fact. Converting to black & white is easily done on free software, so is a pretty in depth post process. Photoshop and others offer a wide array of tools that many street photographers will never use – but we pay for it as a whole package.

It’s important to note that each of these tools has its own strengths and may appeal to different photographers based on their specific requirements and preferences. Many photographers also utilize a combination of these tools to achieve their desired results. I often use Photoshop to edit the first part of my street photography shots, then I finish off in windows editor. This allows me to view the shot as it will be seen on the web, or my website. In Photoshop the image is fully laden with RAW details, and looks fantastic. when you upload to another site like FB, it’ll strip the photo of various components that it deems unnecessary. Ultimately, the optimal tool for post-processing street photography images will depend on your workflow, editing goals, and personal preferences.

Berlin Street Photography at Potsdamer Platz 2020. Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2023

by Sean P. Durham, 2019

How can a street photographer get into the street photography mind set, or mental zone, to ensure that they have a great day out with their street photography?

I asked myself this question because it’s so important. A lot of photographers will tell you that when they get out on the street, it sometimes doesn’t seem so easy to get into the zone; being in the zone, or mind-set of street photography helps us to get an in camera shot that will need minimal post processing – it all hangs together in one fell swoop of action. Hunt the scene, take the photo, don’t spend too much time thinking about it or looking at the result, just move on, get home and post process with a fresh point of view.

Getting into the right mindset or mental zone can significantly enhance a street photographer’s experience and increase the chances of capturing great shots. Here are some tips to help you get into the street photography mindset:

  1. Be Present: Street photography is all about capturing candid moments and the essence of everyday life. To be in the right mindset, focus on being fully present in the moment. Pay attention to your surroundings, observe people, and immerse yourself in the energy of the streets. Practice mindfulness to stay aware of the present moment and the photographic opportunities it presents. I find that standing still on a corner, or sweet spot in the street, will offer me calm and a great vantage point of observation. Stuff will happen for the patient street photographer.
  2. Let go of Expectations: Release any preconceived notions or expectations about what you should capture. Embrace the unpredictability of the streets and be open to new and unexpected scenes. Intention and expectations are two different mind sets. Have a strong intention, but don’t expect to see what you want to see. Let the street unfold before your eyes and you’ll see inklings and ideas appear before the lens. Sometimes it’s like a magical moment. This mindset allows you to be more receptive to unique moments and compositions that may arise.
  3. Stay Curious: Cultivate a sense of curiosity and wonder about your surroundings. Approach street photography as a journey of exploration, where you are constantly seeking interesting subjects, compositions, and stories. take an interest in architecture. Ask questions about why a building was built the way it was, how does it fit in with the flow of the street and from which architectural era does it stem. Sometimes modern buildings can show elements of classicism, or Romantic periods in their design. This piques the mind, creates curiosity, helps the street photographer get into the present moment. Train yourself to observe the small details, interactions, and emotions that make street photography compelling.
  4. Develop a Storytelling Mindset: Street photography is not just about individual images; it can also be a means of storytelling. Train yourself to think beyond single shots and consider how different images can come together to create a narrative or convey a message. Go beyond the simple “best seller shot” of matching clothes to street advertising, look for groups of people that create flows of a story, expressions also create contrasts when viewed in a group of people. Look for connections, contrasts, and recurring themes that emerge during your street photography sessions.
  5. Embrace Rejection and Failure: Not every shot will be a masterpiece, and that’s okay. Street photography requires perseverance and a willingness to take risks. Embrace the possibility of rejection or failure and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you go out to do street photography, and fire off two hundred shots then return with only two or three great shots – then you have succeeded. It’s not about going out and coming back with two hundred fantastic street photographs. One great shot overwhelms everything. It makes your day the best street photography day. Understand that even the most accomplished street photographers encounter challenges, but it’s through persistence that they capture their best images.
  6. Connect with the Environment and People: Street photography often involves interacting with strangers and navigating public spaces. Develop your social skills and be respectful when photographing people. Try to establish a connection with your subjects, even if it’s just through a smile or a brief conversation. Building rapport can lead to more authentic and meaningful photographs. This helps you experience that people are not going to eat you alive when you take a shot. People are often curious about street photographers.
  7. Practice Patience: Street photography requires patience and the ability to wait for the right moment. Be prepared to spend time observing and waiting for the elements to align in a scene. Patience allows you to capture decisive moments and interactions that add depth to your images.
  8. Experiment and Have Fun: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques, compositions, and styles. Street photography is a creative outlet, so enjoy the process and let your intuition guide you. Try complex ideas, then make it dead simple and go for the generic street photography shot, café windows with steam on them, reflections on a rainy day, people’s faces in puddles, street artists doing a backflip or dancing, find out what floats your boat as a street photography – this makes you stronger in your intentions. Embrace spontaneity, try new angles, play with light and shadows, and be open to happy accidents. Remember to have fun and enjoy the experience of capturing the world through your lens.

By adopting these approaches and developing a street photography mindset, you can enhance your creativity, expand your vision, and increase your chances of having a fulfilling and productive day out with your street photography.

The choice of camera and lens for street photography depends on personal preferences and shooting style. There is no definitive “best” camera or lens for street photography, as different photographers have different needs and preferences. However, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Camera Size and Portability: Street photography often involves being on the move and blending into the environment. Compact and lightweight cameras are generally more inconspicuous and easier to carry around. Mirrorless cameras and compact DSLRs are popular choices due to their smaller form factor.
  2. Focal Length: The choice of lens focal length depends on the style of street photography you prefer. A versatile and commonly used focal length for street photography is around 35mm to 50mm (full-frame equivalent). These focal lengths offer a natural perspective, allow for environmental context, and can be great for capturing scenes and subjects without distortion.
  3. Wide-Angle Lenses: Wide-angle lenses, such as 24mm or wider, can be useful for capturing expansive scenes, emphasizing foreground elements, and creating a sense of depth. They are particularly effective when shooting in tight urban environments or when you want to include more of the surroundings in your frame.
  4. Standard Prime Lenses: Standard prime lenses, like 35mm or 50mm, are popular choices for street photography. They offer a field of view that closely resembles what the human eye sees, making it easier to capture scenes as they appear naturally. Standard primes are versatile and can be used for various types of street photography, from candid shots to environmental portraits.
  5. Telephoto Lenses: While less commonly used in street photography, telephoto lenses can be beneficial for capturing distant subjects or for focusing on details within a scene. Telephoto lenses compress the perspective and can isolate subjects from their surroundings. They can be particularly useful in situations where you want to maintain some distance or capture candid moments without being intrusive.
  6. Fast Apertures: Lenses with wide maximum apertures (e.g., f/1.8 or wider) are valuable for street photography. They allow for shooting in low light conditions, provide more control over depth of field, and enable faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. Fast lenses can help you capture sharp and well-exposed images, even in challenging lighting situations.

Remember, the best camera and lens for street photography are the ones that you feel comfortable and confident using. Consider your shooting style, the type of street photography you enjoy, and your budget when making your decision. It’s also worth trying out different cameras and lenses to see what works best for you before making a final choice.

by Sean P. Durham, 2023. Oraninienburger strasse, Mitte, copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin Street Photography, 2023

by Sean P. Durham, 2023