Photographing Street Art

Creative tips for photographing urban art

Cars pass in front of a colorful warehouse in Miami, FL
Cars pass in front of a colorful warehouse in Miami, FL

If you live in or near a major urban area, chances are you will come across interesting street art. I’m not talking about random graffiti, I’m talking about serious art, sometimes offered in areas to create a unique urban setting. Whether you’re on a casual photo walk or planning a comprehensive shoot, the colors and textures of urban art can be a really fun subject to photograph.

I always find it a little bit tricky to take photographs of other people’s artwork. At what point does a photograph of art become art itself? For that reason, I like to employ a variety of creative techniques when I’m out shooting street art. Here are some tips for creating unique photographs of urban art:

Look for details and closeups
Look for details and create your own compositions.
Look for details and create your own compositions.

Sometimes, the shot isn’t the entire piece, but details hidden within the artwork itself.

Make it about colors and textures
Enhance the colors and textures in post-processing to really make your shot stand out.
Enhance the colors and textures in post-processing to really make your shot stand out.

Process your images to enhance the vibrant colors and textures in street art. In Lightroom, use the Vibrance, Saturation, and Clarity sliders to enhance the effect, or go even further by using an enhancement plug-in like Color Efex Pro 4 (Nik Collection) or Intensify CK (Macphun).

Find reflections
Street art in Denver's RiNo Art District reflected in warehouse windows.
Street art in Denver’s RiNo Art District reflected in warehouse windows.

The wild colors and patterns of street art take on even more interesting forms when they are captured as reflections in windows or black cars.

Use multiple exposures or image overlay
I combined a multiple exposure and a single frame in my Nikon D810 to create this composite image.
I combined a multiple exposure and a single frame in my Nikon D810 to create this composite image.

If your camera has a multiple exposure mode, try combining more than one shot to create psychedelic effects. You can also combine images in Photoshop layers to create unique composites. Some cameras will let you overlay two shots to create a composite RAW file right in the camera.

Use long exposures to create motion blur effects
Zoom blur during a long exposure (1/4 second)
Zoom blur during a long exposure (1/4 second)

Try stopping down and using a low ISO and move your camera during the exposure. You can try swipes, zooms, and rotation to get interesting motion blur effects. You can also use zoom blur filters in Photoshop if you are unable to capture a long exposure in the field.
Get Jason’s complete guide to long exposure photography.

Where to find great street art

Just about any urban center will likely have street art, but there are a few places that offer specially contracted works that go beyond traditional graffiti.

  • DUMBO (Brooklyn, NY)
    The Brooklyn neighborhood around and under the Manhattan Bridge is well-known for having lots of interesting street art.

    Street art in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY
    Street art in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY
  • Wynwood Walls, Miami, FL
    This once derelict warehouse district in Miami has a fantastic area of specially contracted works which change every year. The surrounding neighborhood of warehouse buildings is covered in amazing art.

    Wynwood Walls, Miami, FL
    Wynwood Walls, Miami, FL
  • Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV
    The area east of the Fremont Street district is covered with some wonderful and colorful art. Check out the area near Ogden Avenue and 7th Street.

    Reflections near Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV
    Reflections near Fremont Street, Las Vegas, NV
  • River North Art District (RiNo), Denver
    In the alleys and streets along Larimer Street north of Coors Field you’ll find lots of hidden gems to photograph.

    The RiNo Art District in Denver has lots of art if you know where to look for it.
    The RiNo Art District in Denver has lots of art if you know where to look for it.

Do you have a favorite spot for photographing street art? Leave a comment and share it!

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