Street Photography – What is it?

Until quite recently I had taken the odd candid photograph around and about, and when on holiday, but I hadn’t really identified these shots as being part of a particular genre of photography called ‘Street Photography’.

So, what is ‘Street Photography’?  Recently our Camera Club enjoyed a talk by Chris Pearce-Ramwell on the subject.  The format of this talk was for Chris to light heartedly appraise images provided by club members, and discuss ways in which they could be improved.  The objective of his talk was to encourage us to try this genre of photography and to point out that it was the subject, and composition that mattered most, and that the ‘technical’ aspects of the photo were of secondary importance.  I suspect that some that were present may have found it difficult to agree with this last point.

I am far from comfortable with this type of photography, however, I still found it a most enjoyable evening and I had provided a few of my own images, that I thought fitted the genre for Chris to pass comment on.  In most cases, he identified elements of interest within the shots and also suggested ways in which the images might have been improved.

After this meeting, I decided to take the subject a bit more seriously.  I’m never going to make a ‘proper’ street photographer, who is happy to walk up to anyone and point a camera at them, but maybe I can learn to make the best of opportunities that present themselves.  Happily, this weeks subscription email from ‘Light Stalking‘ contained a link to an article on eight Street Photographers whose work could be found on Flickr, and another one containing some useful tips.  I decided to have a read.

What have I learned so far?

1.  Generally, images need to contain a human element.

2.  They should also tell some sort of story.  The viewer should want to understand what is happening within the image.

3.  Timing is very important.

4.  Many of the best images, to my eye at least, are entertaining and contain a humorous element.

5.  For some photographers, the genre includes images which could also be described as ‘Street Portraits’ and ‘Environmental Portraits’.  Generally speaking, the subjects of these shots would be fully aware of the photo being taken, and have given their permission.

6.  Many photographers favour Black & White for Street Photography.

7.  Documentary photography is a specific type of street photography.  Here it is important that no image manipulation should be carried out because it is important that the ‘story’ should be unambiguous.

8.  Candid shots are the most prevalent, and also generally the most entertaining.  The subject may be completely unaware of the picture being taken, or at least will be intent on what they are doing and not ‘camera conscious’.

I may have missed some other important facts, but this is enough for me at the moment.  I am still nervous of working with this genre, but that said, I did give Chris some photos to critique so I am trying.

The following image has been seen in a previous post, nearly two years ago.  I am presenting it again because I think it falls into the category of ‘street photography’, and I thought that it might be good for me to try to analyse it.  It was taken during a Cyclo tour of the old Vietnamese city of Hanoi.  I gave a little background in the original post, where I said this :

“One thing about photographing from a Cyclo, was the nearly continuous, but erratic motion.  I thought that this might be a challenge to achieving good focus, so I took the decision to shoot everything at f9.  This meant that I had too much DOF, but at the time I really didn’t want to miss any shots, all of which can be categorised as ‘snapshots’.  I have tried a bit of not very good selective blurring on some shots to make up for this.  This next shot of the fruit seller is one such image.”

wpid-P3052472_DxO_raw_edited-2.jpg

When I took this photo it was just a holiday snapshot.  When I presented it, I decided to introduce some selective blur, to make up for the excess DOF in the original image, seen below.  This was to focus attention on the real subject of the picture.

wpid-P3052472_DxO_raw_edited-1.jpg

Does this meet with the ‘rules’ for Street Photography?  I personally think that blurring it was necessary.  I suppose that this image could also be classed as an environmental portrait, since it is obvious who is the subject.

Since Black & White is favoured by so many, I thought that I should also try this.  I don’t think that it works as well in B&W.  What do you think?  I ramped the contrast up quite a lot, but some people have suggested that even more would improve it.

wpid-P3052472_DxO_raw_edited-2-2.jpg

I think that this image fulfills the requirement of telling a story, which is about making a living from selling fruit on the streets of Old Hanoi.  The subject is photogenic.  The environment is evident, but not distracting.

I will probably revisit a some more images that I can now recognise as ‘Street’, perhaps thinking a bit more about the stories that they convey.  Please keep an eye out for them.

Doing this has reminded me that I have been posting about our Vietnam trip for a very long while, but it is going slowly.  I do still intend to finish it.

I’ve also set up another website where I can present some of my favourite images.  This will evolve steadily as I choose more images to add to it.  Many of them will not be new, but there will not be the distraction of my rambling words.  This site can be found here if you would like to take a look.

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9 thoughts on “Street Photography – What is it?

  1. I must admit to being a bit intimidated by street photography but I gave it a go when I was in Paris earlier this year and got mixed results to be honest. I’ve only once asked a complete stranger if I could take their pic and it turned out OK but I find it very weird to go up to strangers and just ask. Being in a country where I am not 100% comfortable with the language doesn’t help I suppose! 😀

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  2. Your picture looks like street photography to me, Dave, although I’m no expert. Its a good shot too, but I think the background is too distracting – which is what you were talking about with F9. What about adding more selective blur? In particular, I think the bloke in the white shirt, looking at the camera, at upper right, takes too much of my attention.

    I think that the best of the three shots you’ve presented here is the top one, because of the added blur – but in the mono version you could substantially darken that chap’s shirt, which might be a benefit. Hope this is useful. Adrian

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    • Your advice is always useful Adrian. The B&W was a bit of an afterthought and the added contrast probably aggravated the distraction of the white shirt. If I can ever remember how I did the blur to start with, I will revisit it, maybe add a bit, and look at darkening his shirt as well. Thanks for the comment.

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