“Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography, it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature but not all candid photography being classifiable as street photography.” - Wikipedia “Street Photography”
I’ve been thinking a lot about “street photography” as a genre.
It feels difficult to define. Even the above Wikipedia introduction confuses me a little. My own portfolio of photographs would clearly suggest that I’m a street photographer but, as I’ve mentioned previously in this blog this is something that has simply happened over time. Street Photography seems a little vague to me. Even the above quote suggests that street photography is as simple as capturing any stuff happening in any public places. So where should we start?
Over the past year I’ve noticed street photography gain more and more traction on photography blogs. Almost all are offering valuable tips such as where to stand, why you should get closer, what camera you should be using or what focal distance is best for street photography. These are all valuable things to know but I’ve been trying to think back further. What do we need to know before learning technicalities? First of all what are we supposed to be shooting as street photographers and why are we even doing it?
Here are my thoughts on how we can all become interesting street photographers.
Stroll, roam, explore, soak it all up and enjoy.
Let’s get the most obvious advice out of the way first. Street photography requires spending a lot of time wandering around. Embrace this. Street photography very rarely offers us good photographs during our first few minutes on the street. Be prepared to visit all of the locations, all of the time. I can easily wrack up a 10 mile round trip on a good day out shooting street. I genuinely believe that wandering my environment and discovering its intricacies are where most of the fun is. Being out there, seeing life, feeling it and becoming a part of the world is what street photography is all about.
Street photography is a strange term as it implies that all of the photographs in this genre will be taken on an actual street, in particular city streets. A quick google search for “street photography” will reinforce this thinking as the most common result will be New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo time and time again. Clearly the vibrancy of these cities and the life thriving within them attracts a particular type of voyeuristic photographer towards them, however not living in a large urban area definitely shouldn’t put us off. Street photos can be taken anywhere from the city to the coast. They can be shot at the beach, in the woods, at a park, at a music festival, on holiday, in our own neighbourhoods or even indoors. Street Photography is a catch-all term for non staged, everyday scenes that can be happening in any public places. The trick to becoming a good street photographer is having a genuine love and interest in the location we’ve chosen to shoot. If we find a place that fascinates us as photographers, we want to capture the life within it and we believe it delivers something interesting for a viewer then we’re off to a great start.
Become a part of the environment.
Once we’ve found the location that we really love being in then we’re probably going to spend a lot of time there. It’s best to become a part of the environment. Capturing genuine street photography with soul is much easier if we’re accepted by the people around us. This may sound ridiculous but the last thing we want is to be trying to capture the trendiest part of east London dressed like we’re on camera safari. A lot of street photographers suggest we become invisible as they skulk through their environments sniping creepy headshots. I personally feel that encourages sneaky behaviour. It’s more valuable to become welcomed and friendly. There is no need to hide what we’re doing. Get a feel for the location, be friendly to the people in it and openly take photographs that interest us. If somebody wants to talk then feel comfortable stopping and talking. Chances are these people will be interested in what we do.
Document life all around you.
Often, unless we have a predetermined project we’re working towards then we’ll have absolutely no control over what we spend the day shooting. Having arrived at our chosen destination we’ll simply watch what is happening all around and hopefully realise how interesting the world can be. Everyday everything is changing and anything that happened yesterday will likely never repeat. Interactions between people and their environment can come and go in an instant. We may see something fascinating that could never happen again. It’s tuning into this method of observation that will shape us as street photographers. Look for the oddities. Find something that amuses you. It could be funny, scary, cute or just strange. Whatever it is make sure that it triggered some form of emotion within you. The best street photographs always feature an element of intrigue to the viewer. Any one of us can take a photograph of people crossing a road, but how many of us can find an interesting story to tell on the street?
Shoot people, animals, objects or places.
Most street photography that I see is based on capturing people. I can understand why. We’re fascinating to watch and incredibly fucking strange as a species. The way we dress, behave and interact will throw up endless opportunities for photographs. But any subject can be captured in street photography. Perhaps a cute dog is waiting patiently for it’s owner, or somebody is walking with a cat on a lead. How about a tiny worn out hardware store surrounded by modern high-street retailers. Is there an ice-cream splattered across the pavement or weeds growing through the tiles? These are all valid subjects. As long as we’re documenting the unscripted world around us as it’s happening and creating an opportunity to share an interesting slice of the world for others to appreciate then we’re probably shooting interesting street photography.
Try to let the photo narrate its own moment.
The art of street photography can be a difficult thing to master. Either so much or so little is happening that it can often feel futile. Perhaps the weather is not what you hoped for or the location is too busy/quiet. Everything can seem quite overwhelming at times or perhaps your hometown seems boring. Don’t give up! Everywhere has interesting street photography to capture once we learn how to read our surroundings. Becoming a talented street photographer can happen even when we don’t have a camera. The art is in learning how to recognise when an interesting moment is about to occur. Everywhere you go watch how life works and learn what patterns capture your attention. See how people move around each other and navigate through their daily lives. Does the same elderly lady walk to and from the postoffice every day? Are those people going to walk into each other? Is that seagull about to steal some food? Is the woman wearing a dress that flows amazingly in the breeze? Is this car so old it looks like it’s going to fall apart. Will this child jump into that puddle? Everything has an opportunity to tell a story. It’s our job as street photographers to capture them in an image.
Accept that everything is out of our control and be ready.
As I study photography I’ve discovered incredible images captured throughout the years by so many insanely talented photographers and begun to realise that so few of our own are valuable to the viewer. I’m sure that every talented street photographer out there has shot thousands of photographs hunting for those perfect moments to be revealed. It doesn’t matter how good we are as photographers and how much we learn about street photography, the reality is that it’s very difficult to make our mundane, day to day life appear interesting to others and we’ll frequently return home with nothing to show. Keep shooting everything! It’s about making sure we know what to look out for so that when the moment arrives we’re confident enough in our ability to capture fascinating images that represent our vision of the world we live in.