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Street Photography Indoors: Exploring Interior Settings

This post is part of a series called Street Photography.
Street Photography: How to See and Use Daylight Creatively
Embracing the Role of Fear in Street Photography

Although many of us think of street photography as taking place outdoors, it can actually take place in any space that’s open to the public, including indoor settings. Shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, transportation stations, airports, subway cars, hotels, offices, lobbies, bodegas, grocery stores, drug stores, laundromats, churches, museums, galleries, hair salons, movie theaters, gas stations, even cameras stores are just some of the many indoor settings that are available to street photographers. So long as the setting is open to the public, making photographs in the genre of street photography is possible.

Solving Practical Matters: Providing Shelter

During inclement weather or colder seasons when the literal streets appear much less potent and alive, indoor spaces can be an especially welcome retreat for street photographers. Obviously stormy weather and wintertime offer many unique and beautiful street photo opportunities, too—rain or snowfall alone can provide you with the basis for an otherworldly image—but the number of photo opportunities are no doubt diminished when you and/or your subjects are uncomfortable enduring the elements for long. Moreover, interior settings are a key option first and foremost because they enable street photography to happen when it wouldn't be possible otherwise. 

Subway New York City 2015
Subway, New York City, 2015. Photograph by Amy Touchette

Expanding Your Eye: Enhancing Your Instinct

Aside from supplying a productive location, making street photography indoors also offers the invaluable lesson that interesting images can be found everywhere. A lot of indoor street photography has to take place during "in-between" moments in your life (when you're at the cleaners, say) or during very short interludes (like at the café) because it would be awkward or get you kicked out of the space to photograph at length. 

But that's actually great: having to photograph during short timespans gets you into the habit of observing your surroundings and being sensitive to the mood or general vibe of people and places on a much more consistent basis.

Honing these fundamental photography (and life) skills—observation and sensitivity—helps you cultivate a keen instinct. And when you are dealing with the public, a set who are thankfully always full of surprises, having an instinct so strong that it compels you to act without any cognizant decision-making is not only conducive to making successful images of an ever-changing canvas, but it’s also quite a lovely state to embody. It’s like you have decided once and for all to trust yourself entirely.

Working With Less Favorable Light: Overcoming New Challenges

Indoor street photography also offers some challenges, however. The most obvious perhaps being that interior light is often much weaker than mother nature’s. As a result, your camera settings usually have to be pretty on the mark indoors. This is another time when being able to gauge distances well is advantageous, because the depth of field that's in focus will be more shallow than it is in broad daylight. After you set your exposure for the existing interior lighting conditions, you’ll want to be quite sure when a subject steps into that area of focus.

Indoor street photography, therefore, often requires more frequent attention to the light and your camera settings than outdoor street photography, depending on your subject matter and how often the interior lighting conditions change as you amble about. If possible, consider exchanging your usual lens for your fastest one so that you have more latitude when dealing with indoor light. Doing so increases your chances of making technically sound images.

Doctors office Bed-Stuy Brooklyn 2014
Doctor's office, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, 2014. Photograph by Amy Touchette.

Getting Closer: Finding Comfort in Smaller Spaces Emotionally and Technically

It’s also possible that indoor street photography will challenge your level of emotional and physical comfort, because it usually demands photographing your subject at a closer range. With the exception of shopping malls, airports, and other similarly spacious settings, indoor locations are usually much smaller than the vast, open street. Tighter spaces might mean making candid pictures surreptitiously is a little harder, because people notice you more easily, so be prepared to interact with subjects more often than you do when you’re outdoors.

If this prospect brings up some anxiety or fear about giving the indoors a try, don’t let those pessimistic emotions get the best of you. So long as you are not photographing anyone in an unfair moment or to make fun of them, etc., then you are not doing anything wrong. And if someone lets you know they don’t want to be photographed, you just honor that and move on to the next subject. No big deal. 

A small interior space might also necessitate using a wide-angle lens, such as a 28mm or even wider, so that you can fit in every element you want in your frame. Images that show scenes of indoor life in context will be more challenging to make with longer lenses, and a wider angle lens, which is smaller and therefore less noticeable, will also help you have a less dominant presence in any given setting.

St Peters Basilica Pope John Paul IIs Rite of Visitation shortly after his death Rome Italy 2005
St. Peter's Basilica, Pope John Paul II's Rite of Visitation shortly after his death, Rome, Italy, 2005. Photograph by Amy Touchette.

Being Aware of Who’s Boss: Understanding It’s Not You

Last but not least, some indoor spaces that are open to the public, such as restaurants, galleries, stores, office lobbies, and the like, can prohibit photography for a variety of reasons, so you need to be aware of where you are and what the situation is. If the venue has a strictly enforced no-photography policy, you have two choices: to respect the policy or to photograph anyway.

But before you wonderful rebel souls choose the latter, determine ahead of time the consequences you will be up against if you’re caught. Maybe you’ll just get reprimanded and asked to stop or delete your images. Or maybe you’ll get kicked out and have to endure a bit of embarrassment as others see you get escorted. If it’s important to you to photograph, these potential outcomes might make the risk worth it. On the other hand, maybe you will be questioned by security and hassled in a way that isn’t worth the trouble.

The point is, unlike the wide open streets, interior spaces are owned by someone. The people in charge may or may not care if you photograph, or they may or may not be around at the time to notice if you do. Just be clear that there is indeed someone who can stop you in your tracks. But if you photograph intermittently (not greedily) and with sensitivity, it’s entirely possible that no one will bother you. 


Indoor street photography is a highly valuable alternative to the outdoors, whether out of necessity on a stormy day or to expand your eye. Getting in the habit of looking for photographs in exterior and interior settings alike will keep you more productive, and it will allow you to hone your street photography skills much more quickly than if you were you to confine yourself to the outdoors. Prepare in advance for challenging lighting situations and smaller spaces, and be aware that interior spaces have owners who may not want you to photograph. Gauge the consequences of going against their wishes before photographing so you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed.

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