Sep 23, 2022

How To Take Street Photos In A Small Town (with Video)

If you live in the middle of nowhere, you can still take great street photos. Let me explain.

Hunter Scott
Hunter Scott
How To Take Street Photos In A Small Town (with Video)

When you live in a big city, street photography can feel a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s always something going on, so as long as you’re out and about, you’ll find something to shoot. If you’re living somewhere a little less urban however, you’re going to need to get a bit more strategic about how, where, and when you shoot. In this article, I’ll show you that you absolutely don’t need to be in New York or Tokyo to get out there and have something to show for it when you’re done. That having been said, let’s get into some tips and tricks that will help you get shooting when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Use a longer focal length

This is something that I found very challenging initially - I’m a 28mm kinda guy, so composing and shooting with a long lens isn’t something that I’m particularly good at. Now, I’m not suggesting you should go and dig out your 400mm super-telephoto! I’ve found that lenses around the 85mm or 135mm mark work great for this. When I travel light, I only take a 24-70mm zoom, and I’ve also had success using that, locked out at 70mm. 

The reason using a longer focal length helps is, well, you can be further away from your subject! Outside of big cities, people are much less receptive to having strangers up in their personal bubble. I’ve been clocked taking photos of people from across the street in small towns! Using a longer lens will give you the ability to capture scenes without disturbing them more easily, and it’s also fun to play with a narrower depth of field. 

Small town street photography shot at long focal length
Street Photography Shot At 70mm

Try shooting at night

Caveat: Don’t put yourself in unsafe situations! With that out of the way, shooting at night (or dusk) is a fantastic way to change things up, but is especially useful when you’re in a smaller town. Generally, small towns don’t have many tourists, and most people will work during the week, and stay at home during the weekend. The busiest times tend to be after work, when people are doing their groceries or going to the pub. I also think that nighttime scenes suit single subjects well, and you’re unlikely to be stumbling across bustling street corners if you’re rural. I tend to shoot for (no pun intended) the hours between 6pm and 9pm.

Small Town Street Photography At Night
Nighttime Street Photography

Location, Location, Location

Walking around aimlessly works in the big cities - almost everywhere is busy. In small towns, you have to employ some strategy in order to be successful. Even the smallest towns almost always have two things - a petrol station, and some sort of religious/community building, like a church, mosque, or town hall. If you only have those two locations to work with, then you know that you’re likely to have one morning a week where people are coming out of church. You also know that one of the hotspots in your town might just be the petrol station. Put the Cinestill 800T down. Behave.

Often small towns will have rural vehicles; old beat up pickup trucks, rusty sports cars that are past their prime - you can get creative with this!

The point is, think about the “heatmap” of your town, and pick places to shoot that you’re more likely to have success.

Small Town Street Photography Location
Street Photography Location Strategy Paying Off

Get deep

If you’ve been shooting for any length of time, you’ve surely heard of Alec Soth. He’s kind of the master of small town photography. Now, his work isn’t “street photography” in the purest sense, but it’s hugely influential in the street scene and (in my opinion) some of the best work out there. His approach is to actively seek people out, whether online, or by door knocking. He’ll have a chat, and find out about the area, what people do, and how they live. He’ll then find some people who will let him into their homes to photograph them doing whatever it is they do. This is one of the many reasons that Soth’s work resonates with so many people - it’s intimate, and it feels like you’re getting an insight into the subject’s life. Small towns have less going on, sure - but the people who live in small towns are just as interesting. Try reaching out to local businesses, figures, and workers to see what photographic stories you could tell.

Get creative, and don’t let being in a small town hold you back! Many great artists have spoken about constraints being not only useful, but necessary for creativity to flourish. Get out there, do your best, and you might find that the biggest thing holding you back was yourself.