What is Street Photography – Spyro’s Personal Definition

What is Street Photography – Spyro’s Personal Definition


The following views are mine personally and do not necessarily represent the views of the StreetHunters team.


Street Photography is a genre of photography that can’t be easily described to others. The understanding of the definition of it varies from individual to individual due to the fact that each person simply understands it in a different way. I don’t know who originally named this genre of Photography “Street Photography”, but as time has passed, more and more additions to the definition have been made. Street Photography has changed and maybe that is why for some, the actual name “Street Photography” is now a bit confusing.

Wikipedia official definition of Street Photography

“Street photography is a genre of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. ‘Street’ simply refers to a place where human activity can be seen, a place to observe and capture social interaction. The subject can even be absent of any people and can be that of object or environment where an object projects a human character or an environment is decidedly human. Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment. Alternatively, the street photographer may seek a more prosaic depiction of the scene, as a form of social documentary.”

Brief history

Italian Street Musicians - 1877 - Street Life in LondonThe first ever photos taken, were from the streets. At the beginning of the 20th century, even the late 19th century when photography was invented, in order for photographers to take photos, they needed available light that could only be found outside, in the streets. So, this was the birth of Photography, or should I say Street Photography. Back in the day, especially in places such as Paris, France or London, England, photographers would take their large format camera, carry it around with them and take photos of the life of the streets. Back then Photography was just photography and there were no genres like today. So, somewhere along the way, this term popped up, which I think belongs to the time it was invented and not to today’s world. I will explain why.

Why Street Photography could easily not be Street Photography any more

When the term was invented by a photographer or a group of photographers at one time in history, that term fit the emerging genre perfectly. Photographers needed a way to distinguish the types of Photography that existed at the time so this term was perfect. It said clearly that it was the type of Photography taken by Photographers of the street. Photographers of the street or Street Photographers would walk the streets and people would ask them to take their photos. So they would setup their large cameras, take the photos of people and move on. They would do this for a living. This was what a Street Photographer was back then. A person that would walk the streets and get paid to take street portraits. Everyone had to be still for a good photo to be captured, so most if not all Street Photography was posed.

As technology advanced and time went by, Street Photographers became more agile. Large format cameras were used more and more in Studios and also for the emerging Landscape photography genre. Portable 35mm cameras were used for outside work. Leica, Rollei, Kodak, and more portable cameras started to make their appearance and Street Photography became less posed and more realistic. Things changed again and Photographers of the Street a.k.a. Street Photographers as they were called then, learned new skills and started using Studios for Portraits with controlled lights, but used portable cameras for taking photos on the go, in the streets, for magazines and newspapers of the time – This was the birth of Photojournalism. During the World Wars photography was essential and the portable 35mm cameras managed to capture amazing moments that wouldn’t be possible with large format cameras.

Check out Robert Capa’s photos to understand what I mean. Street Photography and Documentary photography or Photojournalism seemed as one back then, so Photographers had to make the distinction again. It seems that during the time when this distinction happened,  the term Street Photography started getting more and more complex. If you check Henri Cartier Bresson’s work or Robert Doisneau’s work from the 1940’s and onwards you will notice that intelligent (smart) Street Photography began to make it’s appearance, as also geometric and other types of Street Photography. At this point in time, a photo of a person sitting in a bar was considered street photography, also a photo of a person in a rural area was considered street photography. A geometrically composed photo with a random person walking in it without any further meaning was considered street photography. Photos that pleased the eye. Eyecandy! Any candid image, be it funny, sad, painful, beautiful, mysterious that betrayed the presence of humanity or the influence of humanity was considered street photography. So you had images from busy Paris or New York or London showing up at the same time as images from the retrograde Greek islands or the slowly progressing South Carolina areas (Constantinos Manos photos). Isn’t this interesting? Then, came Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz that used colour. More and more variations of Street Photography, different styles, colour! Street Photography was undergoing more and more constant changes and as technology moved on, so did the genre but the name remained the same.

Jump to the mid 2000s. Digital camera’s begin to replace film cameras. Technology gets better. Fast forward to the camera phone revolution, move past that to the Social Media sharing age, to now! Street photography is still here, it is still called Street Photography, even though it now encompasses most types of Photography.

I see a pattern.

When photography was invented it was only Street Photography. This is the beginning of the circle. Then, as time went by Street Photography had to be distinguished from the newly emerging genres of Photography so it adopted the name of the type of photographers that used to practice it up until then. As time went by, more genres of photography arose and more of those genres found their way slowly fitting into the defining term of Street Photography. Portraiture, Candid, Photojournalism, Geometric, more and more styles, genres and types started falling back into the term Street Photography. Technology made it possible to share more photos of everyday life, more “street photos” and the circle of Street Photography now begins to close and to find it’s way back to its origins. Street Photography is Photography. All the Masters of Photography took Street photos. They were not self defined as “Street Photographers” and not only Street Photographers are suppose to be Masters of Photography.

So, what is Street Photography?

Street Photography is going back to it’s roots and everything we shoot, everything we see is now most possibly a creation of man or has been affected  / influenced by man. People shoot street now more than any time in history, everyone that owns a smart phone or a pocketable digital camera can be a Street Photographer. So, is there really room for a definition any more? Since most of photography is Street Photography, isn’t Street Photography then just Photography?

This is the way I see it.

I am a Photographer.


  1. Very good article, this fits very well my point if view. I’m a photographer too.
    An amateur photographer in it’s correct meaning.
    Klaus Scherer

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