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5 Lessons I Have Learned From Street Photography

During summer 2022 I found myself being drawn back to urban/street photography.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. It is difficult to do landscape photography in harsh light so this summer's long hot spell, plus a visit to Portugal and Spain, which were both experiencing a heatwave while I was there, meant that the best option for photography was street and urban photography.

2. I have been doing landscape photography over the last 9-10 months, trying out woodland photography through the changing seasons, experimenting with ICM and abstract photography as well as doing general landscape photography.

By way of change and keeping things fresh I have been concentrating on street photography and coastal photography over the summer months.

Although street photography is different in many ways to landscape photography, being a faster, more spontaneous way of shooting, it has nevertheless taught me a few lessons that I can apply to landscape photography, and indeed to many other types of photography.

Here are the 5 most relevant lessons that I have learned from doing street photography this summer.

#1 To be curious

Street photography is all about expecting the unexpected. We can’t plan what we will shoot due to the candid nature of this type of photography. We don’t know who will be on the street, what they’ll be doing or what activities and interactions we will come across. We need to have an open mind and a curiosity to seek out good images, to wander along streets and down alleyways, to amble through markets and other places that people gather, to watch and wait for that perfect moment to capture on camera.

It is only by being curious, by keeping a constant lookout for images, that we will recognise those moments when they come along.

I shot this from a distance with my phone so the image is grainy, but I like the moment when the dog peeped out from behind the pole and took the place of the man's head.

#2 To experiment

I have watched some YouTube videos made by photographers who are skilled in the art of street photography. They differ in style but one thing they all advocate is that we get out there with our camera and experiment. It is by experimenting that we will find the things that we like to shoot, and it is by experimenting that we will come to know and develop our own unique style.

Recently I began experimenting with shooting through glass. I haven’t got any good images yet but I know from others’ work that it is possible to get them so I will keep trying, keep experimenting.

#3 To be patient

Sometimes we might stand on a street corner with a perfect contrast of light and shade and realise that there is no subject. It is then that we wait, and wait, and wait for the perfect subject to come along and then try to capture that subject in just the right position.

Sometimes a burst of colour will brighten up a scene, on other occasions it might be something unusual happening in the right place at the right time.

Often I waited in what I thought was a good location and I still missed the shot!

On this occasion I was in the right place to capture this young man delighted with his catch!

#4 To grab opportunities when they present themselves

No photograph is perfect.

There will always be conditions that are not quite right.

With landscape photography we can always return to our composition at another time when conditions are better and the scene will still be there.

With street photography it’s often a case of shoot now or lose the opportunity forever. The chances of the same people or interactions lining up again are slim so we need to take our opportunities when they arise.

I still have images in my head that I should have taken and didn’t so the lesson I have learned is to grab these opportunities when they come along.

Even if the image is not perfect, it will be better than no image at all.

Every image we capture is a learning opportunity, a stepping stone on our photography journey. If an image is not worth keeping, it is worth learning from.

The images we don’t capture teach us nothing.

In this image I have good light on an interesting corner of the building. But there is nothing of interest to see. There is no subject, nothing to tell a story. Yet keeping the image is a reminder that I need to watch and wait for something interesting to happen or a good subject to walk into the frame if I want to make a decent street image.

#5 To seek good light

Every photography teacher stresses the importance of good light.

Having the right kind of light can make the difference between a mediocre image and a good image, or even between a good image and a great one.

Summer time in a city or town gives great contrasts of light and shade and if we seek out these conditions we will improve our images immensely.

This is a snapshot of a day in Vila Real, Portugal. The image itself is a bit cluttered but I do like the light.

Seeing how light improves my street images has taught me a valuable lesson about the primacy of good light in photography, regardless of what type of photography we do, and this is a lesson I will try to apply in all situations.

Now I just need to add a good subject and composition!

To Sum Up

I once read a comment by a photographer who said he had no interest in doing street photography because he didn’t want photos of random people he didn’t know clogging up his photo library.

I guess he has a point.

It is probably preferable to have a library full of rather nice landscapes even if they don’t translate into good photographs.

On the other hand, who wouldn’t do street photography if they thought they could one day capture that one iconic image - the next Behind the Gare Saint Lazare!

We can but dream…

…and keep improving our photography so that one day that dream may come true.

I don't believe I have succeeded at street photography. My images are not by any means good examples of the genre. But I do love taking candid images in the street and they are everlasting reminders of the places I've been.

In my next post I will try to discover what it is that makes a good street photography image.


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