London by Bike: street photography tips

Professional photographer Nick Turpin shares his wisdom

Nick Turpin gallery

To help you in your quest for the perfect cycling photograph, browse through a selection of images taken by Nick Turpin for the competition.


Nick Turpin's top photography tips

To take striking street photographs, you need to understand that street photography is something more than just taking photographs in the street. The best street photographers use the camera to elevate the everyday into something special through the act of photography. Their results may be beautiful, witty, tragic or ambiguous. They may be abstract or graphic – but they will always be special.

Keep your equipment simple, leave your camera bag at home and take just one camera and a short lens, or a small compact camera or phone. You want to be discreet and this means not looking like a photographer. Ideally, your camera will have no delay when you push the shutter and you'll be able to turn off the flash, as that tends to be a bit of a giveaway.

Be aware of the decisions you are making when you use the camera, specifically the way you frame the scene with the rectangle of the viewfinder, and the moment that you select to release the shutter. These are your two main tools as a street photographer and a good street picture will utilise them both carefully. I like to think of the camera as editing space with the framing of the shot, and editing time with the shutter release.

Don’t try to photograph the whole city because you will miss everything; street photographs are usually about small but beautiful observations. Choose a small area to work in – a corner, crossroads or square – and learn what happens there and what the opportunities are to make a photograph in that spot. This is going to require patience.

The street photographer's mantra is, 'You know it when you see it.' This refers to the fact that you can't make street photographs happen, you can only make sure you are ready when they do. Don't get frustrated when you come back with nothing after a whole day on the street, that happens to all of us. When something special or unusual happens, you will know, and that's when you mustn't hesitate to take lots of pictures. Let the scene develop, keep shooting and trying to improve the shot until it's gone.

One for the cyclists: on a bike you can cover a lot of ground and often you take the roads less travelled, which can reveal unusual backstreet scenes. Nobody expects a cyclist stopping at the kerbside to be a photographer, which gives you a degree of invisibility. From the perspective of the road, the pavement appears as a stage, with actors entering left and right. Be aware of what is coming, who might be about to enter the scene and make your picture.