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What Are Your Street Photography ‘Triggers'?

Updated: May 11, 2023

I often wonder what the secret is to capturing a good street photography image.

What is it that makes the difference between an image that is mundane and ordinary and one that stands out from the crowded field of street photography images and catches the viewer's eye?

Is it good observational skills?

Is it careful planning?

Is it luck?

All of these may play a part but unfortunately there is no guarantee that we will get a good image every time we go out to do street photography.

Yet I would suggest that having an idea of what we are looking for when we do street photography can be a good starting point.

Street photographer Mike Chudley talks about having triggers for your street photography.

Triggers are those things you look out for on the street. They are the key moments that hook you into stopping and taking a second look. You might be on the lookout for particular colours, or for a splash of vivid colour in an otherwise dull background. You could watch out for certain gestures, unusual activities, people’s reactions to something that is going on or humorous events. Your triggers might be strange juxtapositions, reflections, silhouettes, pockets of light, good options for framing or sub-framing your subject. In fact, anything that you watch for to include in your images, that will help to make your images more visually appealing, can be your triggers.

With more practice in street photography you will begin to become aware of what these triggers are for you. When you go onto the street with your triggers in mind, and actively watch out for them, it will help you to avoid taking random shots of people doing nothing interesting, which only leads to an uninteresting image.

If your trigger is of interest, and triggers will vary from person to person, there is some chance that your image will also be of interest.

Essentially, for me, street photography is about narrative. It is about showing how I perceive what is happening in front of me. It is about telling the story of a place and its people.

But telling that story is not a simple process. It is not just a matter of ‘pray and spray’, just pointing the camera and shooting.

Getting a good street image requires patience, good observation and being able to capture the image at just the right moment. It is getting that moment, what Henri Cartier Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’, that will make all the difference to our final image.

Triggers, or hooks, that help us to keep a lookout for certain things, will go some way to helping us capture even a tiny bit of that photographic magic.

Here are some of my triggers:

Reflections - under a watchful eye!

An abundance of one colour...

...or a repetition of the same colour.

The man's colours are matching the colours of the building.

I waited for someone in white to come along.

A human moment.

Pockets of light and shade

I particularly like to place a solitary figure in a position with strong light and shadow.

Someone dressed slightly differently.

Often if I particularly like a location or space it will become my trigger. Then I wait for a subject (or subjects) to come along.

I try to look for opportunities to use sub-framing.

What are your triggers?


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