"Stride By" Street Photography- A How to Guide
Updated: Jan 17
If you’ve ever picked up a camera of any kind and taken some photos, I’m certain you have taken a “Stride By” photo. Whether it is on purpose or by chance this is one of the most popular styles of street photography you’ll encounter and coincidentally also my favorite.
What exactly do I mean by "Stride By"
It’s a relatively simple concept, you find an interesting backdrop, architectural element or frame, wait for a person and then shoot.
The idea is to capture the person “Mid-Stride” as they pass through your frame adding an element of action to the scene. Literally capturing a person as they "Stride By".
In the days of analog cameras with manual shutter releases this would have taken a certain amount of skill, timing and trial and error to get the shot just right. Even then you really wouldn't know if you got the shot until you developed the film. However in the digital age where cameras now have frame rates of 10 or more shots per second you can rely a little less on your luck and a little more on the "Spray and Pray" approach. Don't be fooled though it isn't as simple as it sounds. There is still an element of planning and skill you will need if you want a something good for your efforts.
So how do I capture a good "Stride By" shot?
I like to employ a little of both techniques (Planning / Spray and Pray) for when I capture a stride by shot. It’s always about finding the right scene first. Once I find a backdrop that catches my eye, I then dial in my camera settings and decide on the general layout of the shot. After which it's all about waiting patiently (Not always my forte) until an interesting subject moves into frame. Because the subject is moving I like to have my focus set already and when they are in position I fire off three shots minimum. This allows for the half step before and after they fully extend their leg. I often shoot way more than three shots though because it's always good to have options when editing.
Should I use a fast or slow shutter speed for my shots?
Shutter speed is critical element for a a good stride by shot. You must decide early on if you want your subject to be sharp or do you want motion blur which can add a dynamic quality to the end result (Especially if you don't have any interesting subjects to work with). Generally, it is accepted that a shutter speed of 1/250 or higher will freeze most motion. You may want to go higher if you have people passing through frame on bikes or running. I like to start at 1/500 and roll back from there. If you don't care about the aperture (Depth) of your shot you could start in "Shutter Priority Mode", this way your camera will handle all the other settings and you just need to decide the shutter speed. To add some motion blur to your shot drop your shutter speed to 1/30 of a second and then either dial it up or down to experiment. If you still want your background to be sharp you need to have a steady hand or use a tripod. I sometimes use my neck strap as a stabilizer when attempting shots with lower shutter speeds.
How can I capture a good "Stride By" Shot myself?
1. Location / Framing – You need to think about your backdrop or framing first and foremost for a stride by shot. Sometimes you will find an amazing mural or building but unless you find the right composition and frame your subjects will just become lost in the details. Your backdrop or mural should frame and accentuate the subject. Doorways, subway entrances, building archways and alleys make for perfect frames.
2. Subject Choice – Just because you have the perfect frame or backdrop now doesn’t necessarily mean you can just snap away when any person passes through frame and then call it a day. You do need to think about your subject as well. Unlike the location though where you have to find the right frame, finding the right subject generally comes down to patience. You may need to camp out for a while but keep an eye out for details that might improve the shot. Subjects wearing similar colors to a mural, silhouetted characters carrying umbrellas or with large hats add are way more interesting than a guy in jeans and a shirt. Also think about the colors, if you have a dark background you might want to choose a subject wearing white or light colors so they don’t get lost in the details.
3. Shutter Speed – I like to experiment with this. I set my focus on where the subject will pass. I then start with a shutter speed of 1/500 and adjust the aperture to expose the scene. I will then start dialing back the shutter speed to 1/250 and again adjust the aperture to expose the scene. These shots will generally freeze the subject in frame. I wait until the subject enters the frame and then fire off three shots minimum. After I have a few shots I’m happy with I’ll dial the shutter speed all the way back to 1/30 and again adjust the aperture to suit. I will go up and down slightly with the shutter speed a little with each shot to experiment with motion blur. Make sure you have a tripod or if you don’t want to stand out brace yourself against a streetlight, wall or some other prop to steady your hand while shooting. You can experiment with exposure but generally I like the background to be sharp and the subject to be blurred.
4. Composition – You don’t always have to be standing square on to get a good stride by shot. Remember to get low or close to a wall to use the leading lines to frame your subject. This is some advice I could take more often myself but each time I do remember I’m always happy with the result. Puddles of water after rain are great for reflections and if you use them properly, they add an amazing symmetrical element to your shots.
5. Patience / Persistence – Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to stand in the same spot for 10 minutes, half an hour or all day if you want. Big cities are always changing and if you stand long enough in one spot the whole world will pass you by. Also don’t be afraid to come back to the same spot at different times of the day or night. Come back when it is raining, sunny or snowing. There is always more than one way to frame a shot and some of my best shots come from locations I have visited multiple times.
Stride By Assignment
You've read this guide and now you want to go out and capture some dope stride by shots. I know it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. So here's a few ideas with some corresponding images below to get your started.
Scale it Up - make someone look really really small. Look for a large building or wall that dwarves your subjects. Look at the shot above and you can see I used the size of the building to show a sense of scale.
Get High - Try to find an overpass or high vantage point like a bridge. Look for an interesting angle and shoot from above.
Slow Down - Slow your shutter speed down and capture some movement.
Freeze - Find an area where people ride bikes or run on a regular basis. Parks and along canals are great for this. Set the shutter speed to 1/250 - 1/500 (better to try on a sunny day) and freeze some people mid stride or ride.
Leading you On - Look for some long leading lines. Bridges and alleyways are great for this. Frame your subject at the end of the lines so the viewers eyes are drawn to them in the final product.
Stalker - Get close, stride by shots don't need to have the whole person in frame. Focus on a leg or upper body, capture some part of a person in motion.
Go Dark - Find a good shadow, backlight or contrasting light source and capture a silhouetted figure striding by.
Reflect - Finally don't forget to use windows, water or other reflective surfaces to create some great effects. Reflections and symmetry are always fun
Any last words of advice?
Don’t forget to have fun and experiment. You can use a flash and long exposure to blur the background and freeze motion. You can play with your focus in manual mode to create more “Abstract” images and so much more, the possibilities are endless. Sometimes a single person in frame is enough and sometimes people in the foreground or background or groups of people can create a more dynamic story.
Don’t let other people’s expectations of what a “Stride By” shot (Including mine) dictate what you try or what you think is “Right”.
Photography is art and it is a way of expressing yourself. For me it is a way to unwind and disconnect while being creative. Yes, I won’t deny that if someone likes or praises something, I’ve created it is very rewarding but ultimately this is something I do for me.
STOP BEING SO HARD ON YOURSELF, everyone is the mark by which someone else measure themselves. We are all just doing our best. Go out have fun and make sure you share with me how you get on.
Have fun and keep creating,