Let’s Talk About Traditional Street Photography
While there is a full range of topics surrounding street photography, especially how to do this in quiet places, suburban places, in your home, etc, I don’t want to leave the more traditional street photography out – the candid people photography, the decisive moment, the serendipitous, whatever you may call it.
Here are some thoughts and ideas that I wanted to talk about regarding this aspect of street photography.
Call it the street photographer instinct, but you just know when you come across a scene in front of a home with six growling lion statues and a candy factory with pallets of Swedish Fish out front, that if you just wait a bit, a potbelly lion looking man will eventually emerge to complete the scene.
This is just how the laws of photography work.
We’ve been talking so much about the mundane, but the other side of it is the serendipitous – those special moments that happen when they happen, but only happen when you’re looking for them.
As a photographer, you need to be greedy sometimes. You need to want more. If you see a good scene, take the shot before it goes away of course, but then look around for more to happen.
You should always be looking around for more to build your scenes. Most of the time nothing else will happen, but the rare times that it does it will create some spectacular keepers.
Organizing your photos
I think organizing this type of street photography is one of the most difficult tasks. There’s just so many people, so much content, that you can easily get lost in a sea of pretty decent photographs.
We don’t care about pretty decent. The goal is to find the gems – and to find the gems that work together. Photography is about much more than just the individual best photos you have.
Be ruthless with your editing. Trust your gut. Create collections or folders of your best work and of cohesive work and revisit them. Try to mix together different types of imagery. As you add better images in, thinking about what old photos no longer make the cut.
The goal isn’t strictly to grow the number of good photos you have, it’s to raise the bar as to what you consider to be good. What’s good to you now might not be good to you in a few years.
Play around with the sequencing of the work and see how the photos influence and relate to each other. Mix these serendipitous gems with some glue photographs, maybe some mundane work. Capture a variety of photographs and play around to see how well they all fit together.
Not Taking Portraits
There’s no need at all to do portraits if that’s not your thing. But I do think that traditional street photographers can sometimes focus entirely on the candid and completely forget about the importance of the portrait in telling a story.
And I think this is even more evident in city street photographers. The more action their is, the easier the candid photography becomes, the easier it is to forget about portraits.
The stories, the connections you create, while not better than candid photos, are just different and can add another layer to your photography and the stories you are trying to tell. Just take a look at what portraits have done for the work of Alec Soth and Nick Meyer.
Only Focusing on People
Similar to the previous comment, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole different side to street photography that doesn’t have people in the frame. Capturing backgrounds, details, mundane moments – those can be very important for your ability to tell a complete story, or just to share a feeling.
Turn your brain off from focusing on people occasionally and just look around at everything else for a while
This comment is more related to city photographers. Sometimes the larger the place and the more action there is, the less focused we can become.
Whereas a photographer in a smaller town or area often has a set place to explore intimately, a city photographer can go anywhere at anytime and hope to find some exciting content.
Instead of thinking of a city as one big whole, think of it as a variety of small neighborhoods. Limit yourself to a small area to focus on. This practice will open your eyes to really get to know the place. I think you’ll find a lot more by doing this.
Go Off the Beaten Path
Cities have quiet areas too – and they can be incredibly interesting. Go in the opposite direction that you usually do. Escape the crowds. Hop a train to a random stop. Shake things up a bit with where you usually shoot.
And this tip doesn’t just relate to cities. Wherever you are, break out of your routine and go someplace different, wherever that may be.
Not Tying Your Work to Yourself
There’s a reason why you take photographs. There’s a reason why you find street photography to be interesting. Figure out that reason. What attracts you to this work? What are you looking to find in the people you photograph? What story are you trying to tell?
This insight will say just as much about you as it will about your subjects. Find those consistencies and those tie-ins between yourself and your subjects and run with them.
Not Being Patient Enough
Candid photography speeds you up. Cities speed you up, mentally and physically. Remind yourself to take your time. Slow down. Use photography to forget about the stresses of life. Don’t move on to the next location so quickly. Wait for something to happen.
Patience is the key. This is a tip I need to remind myself constantly.
Lucky for you, you’re already unique!
I’m sure I sounded like Mr. Rogers there, but we all need some Mr. Rogers these days.
Expressing this uniqueness through your work is the hard part, especially with traditional street photography.
For instance, when you’re shooting in a city with thousands of others shoot daily, creating unique work can feel like a daunting, if not impossible task. But that’s just not the case.
Being unique is about being true to yourself. It’s about learning the ins and outs of a place and capturing moments that relate to you – finding people that relate to you.
It’s about learning how to express yourself with your camera and through your surroundings, and then choosing and sequencing your photos together to tell this story.
And most importantly, it’s about creating photographs that you want to look at.