Storytelling is the key to creating powerful and engaging photos. And iPhone street photography is the perfect way to capture interesting stories. But how do you begin to tell stories through your pictures? How do you turn a moment in the life of a stranger into a thought-provoking image? Read on to discover 10 street photography storytelling tips for creating compelling images.
1. How To Create Pictures That Tell Stories
Most people struggle with the idea of capturing an interesting story in a single photo. After all, how do you tell a story with just a moment frozen in time?
Here’s the key to storytelling through photography:
You don’t need to tell the complete story!
In fact, creating a sense of mystery is the best way to capture the viewer’s imagination.
You want to make people ask questions about what’s going on in your photo.
Who is that person? What are they doing? Why are they there? Are they a couple? Why are they dressed like that? What are they thinking? What are they looking at?
Your photos don’t have to reveal what was actually happening in reality. Instead, you need to capture just enough interest or emotion to grab the viewer’s attention.
As the photographer, you don’t actually tell the story. You capture a moment that speaks to you. The viewer then projects their own story onto what they see.
Keep in mind that not every viewer will see the same story.
Their interpretation of the photo will depend on their past experiences and memories. Even their current emotional state will affect how they interpret the story.
With this in mind, storytelling through photography isn’t actually that difficult.
Taking pictures that tell stories is simply a matter of capturing a moment that interests you. The rest of the storytelling process is out of your control.
Ultimately, it’s the viewer who creates the story. And that story is based on their emotional connection with the characters in your photo.
So how do you start photographing interesting moments in the lives of strangers?
Read on to discover how to create powerful street photography storytelling images.
2. Look For Interesting Characters For Your iPhone Street Photography
When you’re out on the street, you’re surrounded by people. But how do you choose who to photograph?
Who will make an interesting subject? Who will add an intriguing storytelling element to your photo?
Start by looking for an interesting character.
Does the outward appearance of a particular person stand out to you? If so, they’re likely to make a good subject.
Maybe their clothing or hairstyle catches your attention.
Perhaps they’re wearing a mask or carrying a placard with a political message.
Maybe you’re intrigued by a person’s facial expression or body language.
Anything that’s slightly unusual or “off” is likely to make a captivating photo.
Busy locations are the perfect place to find interesting people to photograph. The bigger the crowd, the more opportunity you have to find unique characters.
My favorite place to shoot street photography is in the subway. You see an incredible diversity of people in terms of age, economic class, ethnic background, etc.
But wherever you choose to shoot in the city, you’re sure to find interesting people to photograph.
And that’s the first step to fascinating street photography storytelling!
3. Capture Emotion For Powerful Street Photography Storytelling
One of the easiest ways to tell a story in a photo is to capture some kind of emotion.
Emotional photography allows the viewer to create a strong connection with your image. And that’s really important for street photography storytelling.
You want your photo to resonate with the viewer. You want them to empathize or identify with the subject.
Above all, you want the viewer to feel some kind of emotion when they look at your photo.
It’s also important that you feel some kind of emotional connection with your subject. Then you can create a story from that.
Look for facial expressions that convey some kind of emotion.
Capture positive emotions such as happiness, love, excitement, and laughter.
But don’t be afraid to look for negative emotions too.
Sadness, anger, fear, or disappointment often create emotional and gripping stories.
Even a look of boredom on the subject’s face can make a captivating image.
Get close to the subject so that you can capture their facial expressions.
Sitting on the subway is a great way to capture the emotions of people sitting opposite you. During your journey, you might be able to capture many different emotions in a single subject.
You’ll find a lot of heightened emotion at festivals, events, political rallies, and protests. Emotions can range from joy and excitement to horror and disgust.
Remember, you’re capturing your own perception of the subject’s emotions. You don’t need to capture the true emotions that the person is actually feeling.
And the viewer might project a different emotion onto the subject.
But this is part of the joy of street photography storytelling!
A single image can be open to many different interpretations.
Your job is to capture something interesting. So focus closely on your subjects. And be open to all the emotions happening around you.
This is the key to shooting compelling street photography with iPhone!
4. Photograph Interactions Between People
Another way to tell interesting stories is to capture the interactions between people.
When people are interacting or communicating, it can be easier to find a story in the image. The story is already there – you just need to capture it.
Interactions between people often display strong emotions. And that will help with your street photography storytelling.
I find interactions between couples really intriguing.
Look for couples displaying affection towards each other. Maybe they’re holding hands, hugging, laughing, or sharing an in-joke.
But also photograph couples who don’t look so happy together.
Perhaps they’re looking in opposite directions. Or maybe they look bored in each other’s company.
All of these interactions can tell fascinating stories and evoke strong emotions. The viewer can probably identify with the subjects based on past or current experience.
Interactions between friends can be interesting too.
You could also look out for parents and children interacting.
Interactions between different types of people often portray powerful stories. For example, you could look for communication between young and old or rich and poor.
Airports and train stations are great places to capture emotional interactions. Look for people arriving or departing. And capture the stories as people say goodbye or greet each other.
Try to capture people’s gestures as they interact. A hug or a touch of the hand is a great way to tell a story and show emotion.
Photograph the unscripted, candid moments between people. And that will take your street photography storytelling to a whole new level.
Remember, don’t just photograph people. Photograph the stories that are unfolding in front of you!
5. Photograph A Solitary Person
Interactions between people make it easy to tell compelling street photography stories.
But a solitary person also makes a great subject.
Taking a good street photography portrait of a single person can be more challenging.
You have to work harder to create a story. And it’s often difficult to isolate a single person when you’re in a busy city.
But the following iPhone street photography tips will help you capture interesting stories of lone people.
First, focus on the outward appearance of your subject. What draws you to them? What’s unusual about them?
Next, focus on the emotion of your subject. Study their facial expressions. Watch their gestures and body language.
People on their own often appear deep in thought. And that’s perfect for street photography storytelling.
Why? Because the photo will be open to many different interpretations.
Each viewer will come up with a unique story about what the subject might be thinking.
Finally, try to include some context that helps create a story.
Compose your shot to include some of the surroundings. This will give the viewer a clue about where that subject is and what they might be doing.
Maybe they’re sitting on a park bench, waiting on a street corner, or standing at a bus stop in the rain.
You could also focus on the person’s actions.
For example, they could be looking at their mobile phone, reading a book, or listening to music.
With these iPhone street photography tips, you can tell interesting stories with just a single person.
6. Look For The Unusual Or Unexpected
You’ve learned that street photography storytelling starts with an interesting character. And then you need to capture some kind of emotion.
But the most intriguing stories will also have some kind of twist or tension.
So how do you create this in a still image?
You look for something unusual or unexpected!
Anything that’s slightly “off” about the scene is a great starting point for a story.
Ask yourself whether there’s anything odd or surreal about the scene.
Maybe someone is doing something that you don’t see very often.
Or perhaps a person looks out of place in that location.
Humor is also a great way to add a twist to a story.
When capturing humor in your photos, try to approach the story with empathy.
It’s not a good idea to take photos just to make fun of someone.
Once you start looking, you’ll find all sorts of unexpected and unusual scenes in front of you.
And these will add an extra storytelling layer to your street photography.
7. Capture Interesting Interactions Between People & Their Environment
With street photography, you become very focused on the subject. But that means you can forget to check the surroundings.
Incorporating background elements can help you to tell more intriguing stories.
It also allows you to create more pleasing and eye-catching compositions.
So what exactly should you look for?
First of all, you can use something as simple as color.
Color can create visual cohesion or tension in an image.
In the photo above, the yellow banana skin matches the color of the taxi in the background.
This creates a relationship between these two elements. Your eye travels from one yellow object to the other.
Posters and billboards offer another way to create a relationship between a subject and their surroundings.
In the photo above, the young man in the poster contrasts with the older woman in the doorway.
Trains are a great place to find posters with interesting slogans.
Include the poster behind your subject to add an extra storytelling element to your photo.
The slogan might be construed as a message that you’re trying to convey. And it can often add an element of humor to your photo.
People standing by statues can sometimes make for interesting pictures too.
In the photo below, the statue appears to be looking over the woman’s shoulder at her phone.
Sometimes you can plan your shot by finding a good background and waiting for a person to enter the scene.
But other times you’ll need to act quickly before the moment is gone.
In the photo below, the man and dog are both peering out from behind something. And that’s what makes the image so entertaining.
This moment only lasted for a second or two, so I had to shoot quickly.
Capturing interesting background elements as well as an intriguing subject can be challenging.
But when you manage it, your photos will tell even more compelling stories!
8. Create A Sense Of Mystery For The Most Intriguing Stories
The most captivating photos are often the most ambiguous or mysterious.
So try to leave something to the viewer’s imagination. It’s the perfect way to get them to engage with your photo.
You want the viewer to ask questions about your picture. You want to them to be curious about what’s going on.
And you want your photo to be open to different interpretations.
So don’t always go for the obvious shot. You don’t have to reveal everything that’s happening in reality.
Instead, compose your photo to create a sense of mystery or curiosity.
Read on to discover some simple ways to create mystery in your iPhone street photography.
One of the easiest techniques is to obscure the face of your subject.
Not showing their face adds a mysterious element to the photo.
Who is that person? What do they look like? Who’s under the mask? Why did the photographer choose to hide their face?
You can obscure the subject’s face in several ways. The easiest method is to shoot from behind so you only capture the back of the subject.
Another technique is to use an object in the foreground to hide the person’s face.
Sometimes, their face might be obscured by something they’re wearing or holding.
For example, they might be wearing a mask, a hat, or a veil that hides their face.
Perhaps they’re holding an umbrella over their head.
Or maybe their face is hidden by a book, a bunch of flowers, or some other object that they’re holding.
You could also try capturing the subject’s face in dark shadow. (You can always darken the shadows further using a photo editing app).
In fact, you can even photograph just the shadow of your subject against a wall or sidewalk.
Reflections are another way to create a sense of mystery.
You can capture fantastic urban reflection photos in glass, water, or other shiny surfaces.
Another way to create curiosity is to photograph someone looking at something… but don’t actually show what they’re seeing.
This makes you wonder: What’s the person looking at? What’s caught their attention?
Remember, the viewer will project their own thoughts and feelings onto your photo. And they’ll create their own story about what’s going on.
The more ambiguous and mysterious the photo, the more thought-provoking it will be.
9. Anticipate What’s Happening Around You… And Be Ready To Shoot
Street photography is all about capturing fleeting moments and emotions.
If you miss the shot, that moment is gone forever!
So always be fully aware of what’s going on around you.
Anticipate what’s about to happen. Be in the moment. And make sure you’re ready to shoot.
I always have my iPhone Camera app open when I’m walking the streets or riding the subway.
I use the iPhone’s volume buttons to take pictures (rather than the on-screen shutter button). So I always keep my finger on the volume button.
That way, I’m ready to press the shutter whenever I see a moment I want to capture.
Sometimes, you’ll have a little bit of time to set up your shot.
For example, if you find a good location and then decide to wait for someone to walk through the frame.
Lock the focus point by tapping and holding the screen for a couple of seconds (until you see AE/AF Lock). Then swipe up or down to adjust the exposure (brightness).
If the action is happening very quickly, you won’t have time to do this. But it’s better to take the shot, rather than to miss it while you’re playing around with camera settings.
If you have time, you can also compose your shot in advance. Then you’ll be ready to take an eye-catching photo as soon as a person enters the scene.
When you’re thinking about composition, be aware of what’s around your subject. Then decide what to include and what to exclude to help you tell the story.
Experiment with different angles and perspectives. And try shooting at different distances from the subject.
Keep an eye on what’s happening around you.
Is someone going to walk into your shot and ruin the photo? Is someone even more interesting about to enter the scene?
Do you need to change your shooting angle to eliminate unwanted objects?
Maybe you need to get closer to remove distractions. Or perhaps shooting from a lower angle will isolate the subject from a distracting background.
Finally, if the action is unpredictable or happening very quickly, use burst mode.
Burst mode is an iPhone camera feature that lets you take a series of shots in quick succession.
To activate burst mode, simply hold down the shutter button. The camera will keep taking photos until you release the shutter.
Afterward, you can select the best shots from the burst and delete the rest.
Street photography can be very fast-paced. You have to capture those moments quickly before they’re gone.
At first, this can be daunting. But if you shoot regularly, you’ll soon become aware of everything going on around you.
And this will help you shoot fascinating street photos that tell wonderful stories.
10. Be Discreet To Ensure You Capture Unguarded Moments & Emotions
The iPhone is the perfect camera for capturing unguarded moments and emotions.
Your phone is so discreet that your subjects won’t realize you’re taking their photo.
Even if someone notices you holding your iPhone, they probably won’t think you’re taking a picture.
And that’s really important.
Because to capture true emotion, your subject shouldn’t know you’re taking their photo.
If they realize they’re being photographed, they’ll become more guarded.
And then you won’t be able to capture the authentic emotion that tells a powerful story.
Obviously, if you hold your iPhone out in front of you and take a picture, you’ll probably get noticed.
But here are some tricks for remaining discreet when doing street photography with iPhone.
First of all, it’s much easier to remain discreet in crowded locations.
Nobody will notice you taking photos because you’ll blend in amongst the mass of people.
Always mute the volume on your phone. You don’t want the loud camera shutter sound going off every time you take a photo. That will really give you away!
Don’t tap the shutter button on the screen to take a photo. Instead, use the volume buttons on the side of your phone (or on your Apple headphones). This makes it less obvious that you’re taking a photo.
Don’t make eye contact with the subject. That’s a surefire way to draw attention to yourself!
Try “shooting from the hip.” This involves holding your iPhone at hip level and taking the photo without looking at the screen.
Of course, you can look down briefly to check the framing. But with practice, you’ll know which angle to shoot from even though you can’t see the screen.
If you need to shoot with the iPhone held up higher, here are a few tricks you can use:
Pretend you’re taking a selfie. Hold the iPhone up in front of your face and smile as if you’re taking your own picture. (But really, you’re photographing the person in front of you.)
You could also pretend you’re looking at directions or making a phone call.
Anything that makes it look like you’re not taking a photo will work!
For powerful street photography storytelling, you need to capture unguarded moments and emotions.
And the only way you can do that is to be discreet when taking pictures.
If you go unnoticed, you’ll be able to shoot wonderfully thought-provoking street photography.
You can find more of my street photography on Instagram @shelserkin.