You don’t have to go far to have a photographic adventure. In fact, there’s a world of opportunity right outside your door. Street photography has been around for nearly 100 years and it remains a genre that touches upon all aspects of our lives; ethics, humour, tragedy, creativity, fashion, architecture, technology. The list goes on and on. Maybe that’s why it’s still so popular.
Thank tech for that
The genre first ‘appeared’ as a direct result of technological advances: small, portable 35mm cameras with rapid exposure times enabled photographers at the start of the 20th century to escape the cumbersome restrictions of tripods and studios and explore the streets in a quick and practical manner.
Reality in action
Street photos capture people and places at their rawest. Studio photos may be better lit, and staged shots may have more beautiful people in them, but nothing is as alive as street photography. Think photojournalism in the comfort of your home town.
Street photography has the capability to grab conflicting stories and juxtapose bizarre narratives. Sometimes those tales are witnessed – or better still – predicted as they begin. But at other times, it is only when back in the dark room (or on the computer) that one notices the echoes in shapes or the ironic detail somewhere within the frame.
An ethical act
As a street photographer, there are serious ethics to consider too. Is it fair to photograph someone you don’t know, without their consent? Another perennial aspect of the genre is photographing the homeless. Where is the line between exploitation and generating sympathy or raising social awareness?
There is a long tradition within street photography of working in black and white and a web search will quickly demonstrate this trend continues as strongly today as ever. Although images can always be converted on the computer, it is worth sometimes shooting in black and white because then you’ll start thinking in black and white.
Small is beautiful…
Street photography is always a balance of man and machine. The photographer has to get themselves into situations but at the same time remain invisible. And the camera has to be of a type good enough to capture the moment but equally small enough to be discreet. Pro size DSLRs rarely make good street photography cameras since they alert everyone to the fact that a photo is being taken!
… but invisible is even better!
Where the smart phone has now come into its own is in its total ubiquity. The fact that such a huge percentage of people have them has made them almost invisible. So whipping out your Nokia 808 PureView doesn’t stop people acting naturally in the way that pulling out a ‘normal’ camera might. This is an absolute gift for street pictures.
Shoot from the hip
One of the joys of street photography is the discovery of serendipitous compositions. When shooting in the street it is often necessary to not hold the camera up to you face and in many instances you are, literally, shooting from the hip.
Inevitably, this creates wonky horizons, buildings darting off at odd angles and people cropped at the knees or across the neck. But what this way of shooting teaches you is that these oddities sometimes make for enormously strong and dynamic pictures!
Top tip for starting on the street
Street photography takes some courage – and does involve risks. But a good place to start is in environments where people are otherwise distracted. Parades, spectator events, crossing the road… at these times your subjects are not looking at you and their concentration is elsewhere. Great photographers like Joel Meyerowitz started in just this manner.
If you’re looking for an everyday adventure, why not give it a try. You might just find it’s right up your street.
Updated October 1, 2015 7:52 am