13 ways to destroy street photography
I never expected to actually witness someone destroy “freedom of expression” in street photography or to categorize it in such a manner that it would affect approximately 90% of the street photographers out there! But alas, someone has attempted to harm street photography. I just happened to stumble upon this so called “list of things I have seen too much of” accidentally when a while ago I came across a post on a social media site that I consider provocative and offensive. What was more surprising was the author of this post. I will not mention the name of the photographer that believes in these things out of respect for his privacy, but I clearly disagree with him and this is the reason why I took the time to write this post. I felt the need to express my ideas and to describe in a few words how his words made me feel. Check it out:
”I have judged a couple of Street Photography Awards this month, here are the things that I have seen far too much of.
- People working out on Venice Beach style outdoor gyms.
- Indian streets with animals especially cows and chickens.
- Close up flash lit people at festivals or parades.
- People carrying mirrors.
- Reflections in puddles flipped upside down.
- People in stripes crossing zebra crossings (really?)
- Air Shows with smoke or planes in ears or around heads etc.
- Skate boarders in mid air.
- Anyone in mid air especially jumping into water.
- Your holiday/travel photos especially monks.
- Torrential downpours of rain.
- Men getting a blow job while buying a coke.
- People on top of trains, climbing in train windows, passing things through train windows, hanging out of train windows, usually in Asia.
Be responsible, think before you push the shutter”
It looks to me as a list of rules to follow if you don’t want to end up being a bad street photographer according to the author, of course. Personally I have always been under the impression that street photography was supposed to be a way for photographers to freely express themselves. Since reading through this list though, I am not that sure anymore. To better explain what I have on my mind, I will go through each one of the aforementioned
13 “rules” and will try to debunk them one by one, because I love street photography and I will not let anybody attempt to destroy it for me!
People working out on Venice Beach style outdoor gyms.
I didn’t really get this one. Street photographers photograph in public places. For some photographers, beaches are very inspiring and might come in handy if they live near one or simply because they love to express their creativity through the photographic medium in these kinds of places. I have seen photos from beaches from all over the world but even though they have a similar theme, they are very different in style and composition. As it happens, some of the people in these photos are working out. So then, do we automatically assume that this is something not worth photographing? I also have seen a lot of photos of dogs on the beach, as well as people taking showers, sun bathing, and the list goes on. Should we make even more categories of stuff happening on the beach that are not worth our attention?
Indian streets with animals especially cows and chickens.
I found this one really funny cause India is such an exotic place and yes, animals are everywhere on the streets as you guys probably already know. I am also photographing animals on streets, this is not something I would avoid or recommend a street photographer to ignore. I think I also have photos with chickens and cows made in the countryside, since here chickens don’t walk freely on the streets of Bucharest. But I admit that if I saw a cow on the street in an urban area and the surrounding space, the light, the geometry or the colors inspired me I would definitely push the shutter. Yes, guilty as charged! There are also a lot of street photos from Asia including all sorts of animals, especially monkeys. I found some of these photos being really good, and I, even have some favorite street photographers that keep including monkeys in their photos. They are really talented and their photos are always so cool and well composed. I also photographed monkeys on the streets of Thailand and Malaysia and you could say it was something exotic for me however this was not the decision factor when I pushed the shutter. I made the shots because I found them photographically interesting.
Close up flash lit people at festivals or parades.
I am aware that a lot of street photographers use flash, every street photographer knows that and in my opinion this is a great way to focus more on your subject and to get rid of the unimportant things from the background of your frame. Festivals and parades are places where you can find a lot of interesting characters, where you are less noticeable. Is that a bad thing? For example, I don’t use a flash and usually don’t photograph at festivals or parades as I am a little claustrophobic, but that’s just me. Why judge others doing this? I know a lot of good photos made in crowded places as I am sure there are also dozens of bad ones, but this is not my point. What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t constrain yourself in experimenting with different types of photos in various places, regardless of what others say. I am even thinking that this kind of areas are a good way to get rid of shyness when photographing people.
People carrying mirrors.
I know great photos with people that hold mirrors in their hand, most of them are not even street but rather documentary. So I guess I am discarding mirrors out of my list now. What about people carrying shinny bags? We have a lot of them in Bucharest. Anyway, I think that reflections are used in street photography, whether is it a mirror, a window or a puddle. Photographers try to bring to their photos a little bit of the surreal and these are some of the ways to do it. Again, I think it matters how you compose the frame and what is the whole vibe that the photo conveys rather than for example if there is a man carrying a mirror.
Reflections in puddles flipped upside down.
Yes, I have seen a lot of street photos of this kind. I normally don’t agree with this trick of flipping the image upside down to obtain an effect, as in my opinion it’s a little bit forced, but even so, I found some really good images in this category. I strongly believe that everyone should have the freedom to express themselves through street photography however they want. Maybe for some, photographing a puddle is just a phase, should we really classify and marginalize that? We all start somewhere and playing with shadows or puddles might come in handy for someone that just started street photography. Once the photographer develops more skills of composition and so on he can look with a sort of nostalgia over his previous work.
People in stripes crossing zebra crossings (really?)
Really! I would have been very thrilled to make this kind of a photo without having to call a friend and ask him to wear a striped t-shirt just so that I can photograph him on the zebra crossing. What if a zebra decides to cross the zebra crossing one day? I am just kidding, but would that be a good enough moment to push the shutter?
The thing is that, a photographer should focus on all that is happening around him and in his frame when pushing the shutter. If someone wears stripes and crosses the zebra and of course it is not a setup, I would definitely document it. And why not? It is a great moment and I feel that if you are a photographer you should not let these kind of occasions pass by.
Air Shows with smoke or planes in ears or around heads etc.
I know photos in this category. I don’t want to repeat myself by saying that I believe some of those are good. Timing is very important when talking about street photography, and it can be really challenging when photographing air shows. I think we shouldn’t minimize the photographer’s effort to get a good shot just because we seem to believe that it is easy. It might look easy to photograph but I assure you that it takes a lot of effort from the photographer to get the right angle and the right moment to do a good photo, and that is something.
Skate boarders in mid air.
Is this a thing? Really? I feel that the photographer that wrote down this list has a problem with stuff being in mid-air.
Anyone in mid air especially jumping into water.
This is practically the same thing as we read at point 8 just that now he decided that he doesn’t like anyone in mid air, which I already suspected he didn’t. Maybe he likes just birds in mid air, or balloons… but definitely not planes. Please guys try to be more creative, find a helicopter next time you are thinking of capturing something in mid air, or a flying chicken, but not from India.
Your holiday/travel photos especially monks.
I am curious which kind of monks are we talking about. Buddhist monks? I have some really nice shots with buddhist monks. Well, I liked them till now but I don’t know what to say anymore. At least I was not on holiday while taking these photos or else I would have gotten in this category. You never know when you will meet a monk or a nun in the street, especially in Rome or Vatican so what if you take a shot including one? What is the big deal? I think they are plenty of good shots with monks and nuns around.
Torrential downpours of rain.
I think that one can make interesting photos when the weather conditions are a little bit tough. Storms are challenging, cloudy skies, sand storms and snowstorms as well. I definitely admire photographers that go outside to shoot regardless of what the weather is like. It’s all fun and easy to take photos in the sunlight, especially photographing those handsome men doing their workout on the Venice beaches if you catch my drift. But what about the times when the going gets tough? I am sure that leaving your comfort zone, even when we are talking only about weather conditions can be a good sign that implies you are growing as a photographer and also a nice opportunity to take some good frames.
Men getting a blow job while buying a coke.
I am not sure I understand where this is coming from. I laughed every time I’ve read it. Is that really happening in the streets? Are there so many photographers that take these kind of photos that we need a new section for them? I must get out on the streets more because I feel that I am not keeping track of what happens anymore. However if this refers to juxtaposition and how some photographers use this technique to show humorous scenes then, I am not sure I agree with this either. Maybe some people just don’t have humor. Then again nobody’s perfect.
People on top of trains, climbing in train windows, passing things through train windows, hanging out of train windows, usually in Asia.
And we reached lucky number 13, last on our list but not least. Again people in mid air? This time on top of trains, or just people that are in trains, hanging, standing, passing through the corridor, minding their own business. I am not sure why we are taking only trains into consideration, because there are a lot of similar photos in trams, cars, buses and I don’t want to get started with what happens in the metro stations. Once again I would like to underline the fact that the place where you decide to take a photo or the action you are trying to capture are not that important. As I mentioned in my post ““Street photography vs documentary photography” – Why photojournalism and Street Photography are not the same thing” what is important in Street Photography is “that street photography tries to make its own story”. So in other words the way you decide to photograph what interests you, the moment you push the shutter, the way you compose the frame, your feelings about that place, your attitude and your trained eye are elements all working together to produce a street photograph. This is what one should focus on instead of trying to exclude places where good photos can be taken.
Although it might seem a little subjective, I really think that these 13 rules should be treated with a lot of skepticism. Street photographers should be creative, they should try things out, combine techniques and make photos that they feel are fulfilling and meaningful. This list makes me wonder if all these ways of doing photography are already out of fashion? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we are on the street shooting, all we need to do is see the street through our own eyes and feel it with our own unique way and that is what it is all about. Don’t play by the rules just listen to your own intuition and follow your own path and eventually you will get there. As Henri Cartier-Bresson used to say, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” So stay sharp & keep shooting and forget about a bunch of rules rules.