Updated: Aug 26
Do you find the prospect of shooting candid photos on the street daunting?
Or do you love the spontaneous nature of this genre of photography?
Street photography is an area of photography that doesn't immediately appeal to me. I set about finding out what is the attraction to street photography.
Street photography can be the telling of ordinary stories, the finding of ordinary images in extraordinary places or extraordinary images in ordinary places. It can show life as it is being lived in the here and now. Street photography is about going out, looking around, seeing what others miss and capturing the image.
Street photography often requires the photographer to watch and wait. You almost have to read the future, interpret how the elements are going to line up to make an interesting picture and catch that fleeting moment.
Street photography involves the juxtaposition of a number of different elements to make a complete scene - often a random mix, a complete accident that those elements should merge in this place at this time - and yet for the picture to work the mix has to have a certain purpose or meaning. Sometimes that meaning is purely visual - the combination of colours and patterns are visually appealing to the photographer and warrant the taking of a shot.
Other times the meaning of the image comes from something that speaks to the photographer which he/she hopes will speak to the viewer also. In the image below the various subjects and elements make up the early morning routine of opening a market stall. Are there words between the stallholders? Is everything running according to plan? Are there apprehensions about the day ahead? The story is hidden in the image and yet is there for interpretation.
Street photography captures everyday human activity in a way that no other type of photography does.
The Three S's of Storytelling
Street photography lends itself in a special way to storytelling. When considering what images to shoot I think of the three S's - subject, scene and story.
The main question to be asked is, what is the subject of the photograph? Is it a person, animal, object? Is it a building or particular landscape? Is it one element or a combination of different elements?
It is important to know who or what is the main subject of the shot and focus on that subject. In some cases only the subject may be in sharp focus, in other cases the whole image makes up the subject.
This brings us to scene - where is the subject placed in the photograph? What is happening around the subject? What other elements (if any!) combine to create the scene? Where are they placed in relation to the subject?
In this way story is built up. I always ask myself whether I can 'read' the story from the photograph and hope that if I can do that, others will too.
However, storytelling on its own won't always yield worthwhile images; decisions have to be made about technique and composition. The subject needs to be in sharp focus, but what about the other elements? Is it more effective if they are also in focus or does a blurred background work best?
Technical know-how is required to satisfy these decisions - should I open my aperture to its widest or shoot using a smaller aperture? Do I need to shoot with a long lens or is my subject close enough to capture effectively with a short zoom or fixed lens? What elements need to be included in the photograph, and maybe more importantly, what elements are not required in telling this particular story?
I believe that it is important to learn proper camera techniques to help me make effective decisions and achieve the best possible results. Despite the fact that I believe in the supremacy of storytelling in photography, I would do a dis-service to the art by just shooting randomly and hoping for a pleasing image. But learning camera techniques is not so I can take photos like other people, it is so I will take my own best pictures, develop my own style, find my own means of expression. I have to dare to be different, develop my own style, tell my own stories:
"The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself." – Rita Mae Brown
Street photography may initially appear daunting but it has much to offer in terms of challenge, finding meaning through our photography and sheer enjoyment. It really is worth overcoming our apprehensions and getting out onto the streets with our camera.
Do you enjoy shooting candid images on the streets of your local town or city?
Do you like to tell a story with your images?
Let me know in the comments.