3 Important Facts About Street Photography


Street photography has become quite popular in recent years, and I find it fascinating. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to endless streams of images that keep our craving for images constantly unsatisfied.

And since this genre has become so popular, it seems important to talk a bit about three important facts that will help you understand what street photography is all about.

Street Photography is simply recording life.

Valérie Jardin

 If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.

Robert Capa

 I can't photograph anything without a city. I'm definitely addicted to cities.

Daido Moriyama

What Street Photography Is Not

First, let's start by defining what is not street photography. Street photography is not about shooting pictures of random crowds or the social mayhem that happens within a landscape. Street photography is about looking for the aesthetics that happen within the ordinary daily life of society.

People often comment that certain pictures aren't street photography because they happened inside a store or place, but for me, capturing the beauty of society interacting inside a common place is just another layer of street photography.

Some people think street photography needs to happen inside urban venues – but as a Latin American photographer, I don't limit myself to urbanism alone. Rural venues offer a great deal of street photography as well. For me, the main parameter for defining an image as “street” is the presence of humanity and society. That's why I define myself more as a social photographer because it broadens the possibilities.

Image by Federico Alegría

Some other people say only candid images are “real” street photography, but for me, taking images of unknown people who completely aware you’re photographing them is a valid way to go. The reason I defend this (even though I rarely practice it) is that because even though people may be aware they are being photographed, the previous social interaction makes it a street thing.

To avoid confusion, street photography can be summarized in a single equation:

Aesthetics of society + non-controlled situations = Street Photography

What Is Considered Street Photography

Street photography is just visual evidence of the social moments of human nature that come across our eyes for a fraction of a second and trigger us to use our camera to preserve that moment in time.

Street photography is the reflection of how we see society and humans interact. Perhaps the most evident element you'll find in a lot of street photographs is human nature (in an obvious way), or even in a metaphorical sense, like when we see images of decaying cities on the Internet.

Image by Federico Alegría

Many people tend to narrow their own expression and creativity to a monochromatic format when working in street photography, but you should know also color street photography is great. Why has black-and-white street photography become such a standard format that shooting and viewing color images of the streets is called “color street photography”?

The answer is simple and has nothing to do with glamour and style. The main reason why a lot of people find themselves comfortable while working with black and white on the streets is that these scenes tend to have a lot of colors competing with each other, and the black-and-white format is more efficient for telling a message or a story.

Image by Federico Alegría

Seek Meaningful Photographs

Street photography is accessible. You don't need huge and expensive equipment (check out Daido Moriyama in this compelling video, where he shoots with an almost generic point & shoot camera), or models and special lighting setups. Even though Street Photography is easy to start practicing, there’s always something more you need to know. It’s not easy to capture meaningful images on the streets.

I don't know if Keven Carter actually said this, but I like to believe that he did. Also, Robert Capa knew that getting closer to your subject is extremely important, not just with your camera, but as a human being. You need to “connect” with people to create meaningful images.

The term connection is a metaphor; you need to be able to perceive emotions and moments as they happen in front of your eyes. If you’re not quick to recognize those meaningful moments, you need to walk more to connect better with society. You don't need to be extroverted or even awkwardly social; you just need to be able to anticipate and feel those moments that are worth being preserved.

Image by Federico Alegría

Street photography is getting crowded, and its popularity will grow. This is not a problem for any photographer who loves challenges and understands that capturing meaningful images will always be the ultimate goal. Shooting crowds is easy, but the ability to isolate a truly meaningful moment within the teeming crowds is the first step to becoming an excellent street photographer.

Image by Federico Alegría

Maybe this list hasn't been as generous as it might have been, and the reason why is because I want to leave the discovery up to you. We are sure you'll become a passionate and talented street photographer simply by knowing what street photography is and is not, and also by recognizing that you need to set your goals high.

Look for work that matters. Rise above the random shots taken at crowds in the streets. And remember to always have a camera with you. You never know when the best picture of your life will cross your sight – and trust me, you want to be prepared for that.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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