What Is Street Photography… Rob’s Opinion
So, what is Street Photography? I’m not going to get into genres, types of street photography, history of street photography or what is, or isn’t, considered street photography as these subjects have been talked about, discussed, agreed/disagreed and argued over so much in the past, present and, no doubt, in the future too.
Besides, who am I to decide what is, or isn’t, street photography?
So, what I want to write about is what street photography is to me personally. What it has done for me personally and what I choose to photograph and not to photograph.
So, what is street photography to me then? In its simplest terms it is my daily life. It’s what I saw that interested me yesterday, today and probably tomorrow and so on. I post a lot of images to Social Media and most of these images are posted within a day or two of me capturing them. Therefore my street photography has become almost like a daily diary or journal. The chances are that when you see one of my images I was there, walking that street, today or yesterday. I have never kept a diary or journal in my life and a lot of the things that I have done in the past, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and done, people I’ve met etc are just distant or forgotten memories. Now though, I try and get out on the street most days so my photos have become my journal, my diary and my memories.
So, What Do I Photograph?
Basically just normal daily life. People on the streets going about their business. My style is still evolving as I gain experience but generally speaking I photograph three different things.
A Person That Attracts My Interest.
This can be for several different reasons
- Some people just stand out and it’s as if they are holding a sign saying “Take my picture”!
- It could just be the way someone looks physically.
- It could be the clothes they are wearing.
- The way they walk.
- The way their hair is blowing in the wind or the sunlight is shining on it.
- It could be the way the light is catching someone.
- I have even had a couple of occasions when I have been downwind and smelt a womans perfume as she walks towards me.
I don’t know! We all have our own chemistry and our senses are heightened by different things. A person has to heighten my interest for me to want to photograph them though.
A Composition That I Like
This normally involves a waiting game as the composition is rarely complete immediately. If I see a composition I like the look of (it could be a particular street, certain light conditions, a wall covered in graffiti etc) then I wait. I wait for a particular type of person to come along that I think fits well with the scene.. Sometimes I will shoot a couple of test shots to decide where I would ideally want the person to be and also to see if the shot looks how I hoped it would. Then it’s just a case of waiting and being patient. Sometimes you are lucky and get the shot quickly and other times it just doesn’t happen and you move on. That’s all part of being a street photographer!
The Ready Made Situations
These are those scenes that you come across and you just act instinctively. The scene is there and you just capture the moment. You don’t really get time to think in case the scene changes and the moment is gone. This is why it’s important to keep checking your camera settings and make sure you are prepared. Again though, it has to interest me and spark that chemistry or I probably wouldn’t even see it or pay it any attention. But what interests me may not interest the viewer which is one reason why Street Photography can be so hard. As an example, when Robert Frank’s book “The Americans” was first published it was hated by both the critics and the public probably because it wasn’t understood for what it was at the time. Now, however, it is seen as one of the most influential and revered books in photography. Robert Frank understood it. It just took everyone else some time to get it and understand it.
Ok, so that’s what I do personally and what I see as street photography. Now to some of the things I don’t do. Remember, this is my own personal view, so, if I don’t do it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t street photography. It just means it doesn’t fit in with my style or what I want to achieve and get out of my work.
I Don’t Shoot With A Telephoto Lens
My go to lens is my 35mm prime. This is on my camera most of the time. I also have a 50mm prime which I use for other things and occasionally on the street. Lastly I have a 18-105mm lens. I sometimes use this lens if I want to do some wider angle work but I never use the longer focal lengths on the street. I normally carry this lens with me when I go somewhere new and I don’t know the streets or if I am going out to concentrate on a specific type of shot. My normal working range is between 18 and 50mm. I used to use a compact camera and it was very easy to zoom in on someone and capture them but there was no feeling or emotion to the shots for me. I want to be close to the people I shoot. Not invasive but close enough to hear their voices, see the wrinkles in their faces, the scuff marks on their shoes and, when possible, have some eye contact if the situation is right. I can’t do that with a 200, 300 or sometimes I have even seen 400mm focal length being used. The chemistry and emotion is gone and, as I mentioned earlier, that means there is no shot.
I Don’t Take Random Snapshots Of People
This again goes back to the chemistry. If I started taking random snapshots they would be meaningless. When I look back on my images I want to be able to remember WHY I took the photo. Street Photography, to me, is also about being honest with myself. Why am I doing it? Yes I could go out right now and take 1000 random shots of people walking along the street but is this Street Photography? No, not for me it isn’t because none of those shots would mean anything. Again there was no chemistry. Sure you may get some decent shots out of it but will you remember how you felt at the time and why you took them in six months time? I would say probably not!
I Don’t Use Continuous Shooting Mode Unless I am Panning
This is just a personal preference because I am new to photography and still have so much to learn.Street Photography is very reliant on timing. If you don’t get the timing spot on then in many instances you miss the shot. I stick to single shot mode at the moment to practice my timing. Sure I miss some shots this way but I think it’s making my reflexes and instincts sharper.When I gain more experience and better camera control I may well switch to continuous mode but, at the moment, it’s not for me.
I Never Ask Someone If I Can Photograph Them
Again this is just personal choice but I prefer to work candidly, capturing people in a totally unposed way. Again, this may change in the future but for now I prefer to work the way I do.
So what is Street Photography for me and what has it done for me?
In my opinion Street Photography is about capturing everyday life that’s going on around me. Normal people living their life the way they choose or the only way they can. Capturing those “Decisive Moments” isn’t an everyday occurrence when you walk the streets. They are very rare! Street Photography for me is my journal, my diary, my memories and, most of all, it’s life through my eyes, going on around me.
It’s chemistry, feeling and emotion. It’s also damn hard, frustrating, stressful and tiring (both physically and mentally) at times.
I am a relatively shy and quiet person and I don’t have much self confidence so getting out on the street and photographing strangers doesn’t come easy to me, particularly working close. I can look back on my images from different days shooting and tell what kind of mood I was in by the shots I took. If I was confident I will see a lot of close up portraits. If I was lacking confidence I would see more compositions. So it’s teaching me about myself and how I cope with my own feelings and difficulties also.
So, for me, Street Photography is about stretching myself, getting out of my comfort zone and gaining self confidence through my images.
That, for me, is Street Photography.
A clear, concise and instructive presentation, Rob. Thank you very much!
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post. I am happy you found it interesting and useful.
Thank you, as always, for your support my friend.