What Makes a Street Photograph a Good Photograph (Rob’s View)
There are many different styles, genres and types of Street Photography. We all like different things, see things differently and have our own interests, styles and things we like to shoot. The things I see, find interesting and decide to capture, for example, others may not connect with. So what makes a good Street Photograph? How do you capture the imagination of the people viewing your work?
I use my own method to categorise my photos and help me decide whether they are good, bad or indifferent. When I come home from a street session and I am going through the images I captured I divide them into four categories. In my opinion, and I’m not talking about styles or types of Street Photography here, there are only four types of Street Photo.
These are the shots that didn’t come out as expected for several reasons. Could be missed focus point, wrong camera settings, people/objects getting in the way as you click the shutter, wrong perspective or maybe I just don’t like the shot and it didn’t turn out as I hoped. These shots don’t get processed but I don’t delete them (unless they are totally unusable) and I will often revisit these shots in case I missed something. I think your state of mind can make you view things differently not only when out shooting but also when reviewing your images. So revisit these shots and you may see something you missed before.
Ok, now to the shots I decide to process. I divide these into the remaining three categories. These three categories, for me, define what makes a good, or if you are very lucky a great, Street Photo.
1. Technically and Visually Good But Lacking a Strong Story
These are the shots where I have got things right technically. Focus point, exposure, d.o.f , composition etc. They look good to me visually. They may have good use of light, shadow, perspective or they may just be of a person/s I found interesting. However, they lack a good story. A story or message that is easy to see and relate to. These pictures can still be good but they are more eye candy than anything else. Obviously this would only be my opinion and someone else viewing the image may relate to it in a different way. For some it may have a strong story or memory they can relate to. For others it may not be visually appealing. This is why you must shoot for yourself primarily and shoot what you like because you will never please everyone. You are the first person to see the image and the image is YOURS so it’s your decision as to whether you like it or not.
2. A Strong Story Telling Image But Lacking In Technical Quality
Things happen fast when walking the streets and sometimes you see a situation unfold and don’t have time to adjust camera settings, move position for a better composition or you may even miss your focus point etc. However the image can still make a compelling photograph because the story is so strong that it holds up the technical flaws. Look at some of the classic Street Photographs from the masters. Are they all technically perfect? No, of course not. What they have is the ability to captivate you with the overall story and the thoughts they invoke. I’m not saying that they are all imperfect but there are certainly some. There are also the things that you miss when capturing the actual shot and only notice when you get home and process the images. How many times have you captured a scene and been surprised at the gesture or eye contact or whatever when you get home? I know it’s happened to me several times. So, always study your images when you get home even if they aren’t perfect. You might just get a nice surprise occasionally.
3. When Everything Comes Together And You Get 1 & 2 Combined
These, to me, are like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They are the images that come along once or twice a year if you are very lucky and work very hard. As I mentioned in a previous post the greats of Street Photography have taken hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of photos but how many do we see? How many Cartier Bresson images do you know? What about Garry Winogrand? The answer should give you some idea as to how difficult it is to get a truly great image. Do I have any? Certainly not in the class of the people I have just mentioned. I have some shots I am very proud of but I will leave it for others to decide if they are worthy of a place in number 3 or not.
with regard to online viewing of imiages which would you say is more important, story or technical.
Hi Stephen Mac
Thanks for commenting and asking the question. From my own personal point of view I would say they are about level. However, from the experience I have in several communities, I would say that the technical photos are better received than the story telling ones. I don’t necessarily agree with that but that’s what the audience seems to prefer. Hope that helps
Thank you for this article Rob. I’m a real newbie but I love your work, and I figure if I study people like you I might learn. This is a great article. I need to look more for the story out there.
Thank you very much for taking the time to post a comment. It makes writing these posts worthwhile when you get positive feedback. I’m really pleased that you like what I do and I am happy to be of help. I’m a newbie too (only 7 months experience) it’s just down to hard work, practice and patience. Keep at it and you will get there. Most of all enjoy it. Feel free to ask me or the other Streethunters any questions and we will be happy to help if we can.