Why Street Photography Is So Difficult…My Opinion
During my short time as a Street Photographer I have come to realise just how difficult it is. As I said in my introductory post ‘anyone who thinks it’s easy has probably never tried it or doesn’t do it properly’! Sure, anyone can stick a 200-300mm telephoto lens on and take random snapshots of people 100-200 metres away but that’s not what street photography is all about. So in this blog post I will try and explain some of the difficulties I have encountered so far.
I think anyone who is new to street photography or relatively inexperienced (like myself) goes through this. “What if I get into trouble?” “What if I get assaulted?” “What if they shout at me?” etc etc. I am still wary and nervous (but I’m getting better). I have never, up to now, had any problems on the street. Sure, you sometimes get some strange looks but that will always happen. The only way to overcome this fear is to get out there and do it. Practice, practice, practice. Start by shooting from a distance you feel comfortable with and gradually get closer. Study people too. If a person appears angry or in a bad mood then they may react. If I see a person like this and I don’t feel comfortable about the situation then I don’t take the shot. Let your senses guide you a little.
In most other forms of photography you can get set up, capture the image you want and if it’s not quite right (over/under exposed, d.o.f needs tweaking, composition needs adjusting etc) you can make the adjustments and take the shot again. As long as the light hasn’t changed drastically you can have several attempts to get the shot just how you want it. Not so with street photography. In most circumstances you get ONE chance to make the shot and very often you have to react quickly. You can set your camera when on the street to maximise your chances but the failure rate is still high. I am not a prolific shooter and I try to pick my subjects and compositions carefully. Even so, I still only get about a 10% success rate. So 90 shots out of 100 are either unusable or not good enough. This can be for many different reasons. For example;
- Sometimes when you have to react quickly you can miss focus.
- Someone can walk in front of you just as you take the shot.
- The person/s you are shooting could move, turn away, stop doing the gesture you were hoping to capture.
- A vehicle could come between you and the subject.
The list is endless. However when everything comes together just right and you get a really great capture the satisfaction and adrenalin rush you get is huge!
I don’t really know what to call this one, or even if there is a proper term for it!?
If you are in a busy area where there are lots of people and activity going on all around you it’s very easy to let your emotions get carried away with all the excitement and think that all your shots are going to be great! REMEMBER, the viewer can’t see all that activity going on around you in a 360 degree panorama. They can’t hear that music playing, the people laughing, shouting, talking all around you. All the viewer gets is what you frame and capture. So if you are in a busy area with lots happening take a step back, calm your emotions and think even more about your shots and framing to try and deliver some of that atmosphere.
If you are out on the streets shooting for 3-4 hours, particularly in hot weather, maintaining concentration and keeping alert for photo opportunities can be very difficult. As Spyros mentioned in his post “keep yourself hydrated”. If you feel your concentration going sit down and take a break for a while. It’s better to take a short break to refresh yourself than to walk around aimlessly for another hour or two, missing most of what is going on around you, because you have lost concentration. Most of the time when I get home from a photo walk I am mentally drained from the concentration.
These are just a few of the things I have come up against and I may follow this up with a “Part 2” in the future.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. As always your comments and feedback would be welcomed and very much appreciated.
Thanks for reading
Hi Rob, one of the things I find really useful whilst stomping the streets is ‘everyone is interesting’ mantra, and although it could lead to a glut of dreadful snapshots and/or just capturing everything that moves , this is tempered with David Hurn’s advice in his book ‘On being a Photographer’ – "never go out without a purpose" – old people/young lovers/sitting/colour/movement/flash and trying as one might to blend the two together. And one I’m trying to overcome which I picked up at junctions whilst learning to drive ‘He who hesitates is lost’. Thanks for the post, it’s always interesting to refine and learn
Thank you for taking the time to comment and I hope you enjoyed the post. I don’t think there is any "right way" so to speak, it’s whatever suits the individual best. I am not very prolific as I mentioned in my post but others will go out and take 3-4 hundred shots in a few hours. Another problem I have is that I don’t get the opportunity to travel much so I’m walking the same streets, seeing the same people every day. What you say about going out with a focus is very true though. That is one thing that I need to start doing, or maybe set myself up with some projects to have as an ongoing thing. I have been so busy lately and on top of that I have new equipment that I am still trying to learn and get used to. Once things settle down though I will make that top priority.
Thanks again for reading the post and taking the time to comment. It really helps to know that people are actually reading the posts.
Thanks Rob. NIce post. I find when I feel open to others and happy with the world I can get better shots. I feel less intimidated by strangers. I try to remind myself, that no one knows what I am doing or if I am ‘supposed’ to be shooting them. If I fell like I am supposed to be shooting, others are mostly accepting.
Thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
You are absolutely right. State of mind and feeling comfortable with yourself play a very big part. There are days when I go out and just don’t feel comfortable, particularly getting close. Quite often on days like these I go home empty handed.
I also find I work better away from my home town where nobody knows me. I live in quite a small town and am on the street so often that I see the same people almost every day. Away from my home town I feel like I have more freedom and am more comfortable.
Agreed. Ive always maintained if you find ‘street’ easy you’re probably not getting great shots. So many variables to consider, so many challenges to overcome, which is why when you nail a good shot it’s such a thrill.