What is Street Photography?


Photography comes in many flavours. Each flavour requires a different set of skills and some flavours even require different camera equipment to do it well. For example, wildlife photography may require a lot of patience, an in depth understanding of the subject and specialist equipment like big lenses, hides and thermos flasks. Formal portraiture may require studio lights, backgrounds and assistants. Street photography on the other hand actually requires very little equipment, you can even use your phone camera if you want.

Street Photography has been around for years, arguably you could say that some of the first photos were street photos. Wikipedia suggests that Paris, France was where Street Photography truly began as a genre and with famous photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson making the idea of capturing the decisive moment key, Street Photography remained a popular style. Nowadays it’s the passion and enthusiasm of people like Eric Kim, Zack Arias, Lee Jeffries and Joel Meyerowitz, to name but a few (of my favourites), who are giving people the motivation to try it out for themselves.

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With digital photography taking over the world and devices like phones having very capable cameras and apps, the candid style of Street Photography is very accessible. Camera manufacturers are also aiding the popularity of this style with smaller, mirrorless cameras from the likes of Fuji, Sony and Nikon.

So what do you need to be a Street Photographer? Well pretty much any camera will do. It is best to keep things simple and easy to carry. There is no point carrying round several large lenses and a tripod, you need to be able to move quickly to capture those brief, but fantastic, moments that will make your pictures great and stand out from just being snap shots. Prime lenses like a 50mm are a popular choice as they are small, fast, light, generally good quality and most of all, with no zoom, they will force you to get you up close an personal, and that, for me, is the most important thing you need for taking pictures on the street, the confidence to get up close and get the shot.

Street photography 02

Some photographers have been known to take this confidence to levels where they literally jump out in front of people and stick a camera in their face. Personally, I don’t yet have the confidence to do that, and I’m not sure I want to get to that level, but walking around a town or city centre and grabbing every opportunity without thinking whether you should take the photo or not is something I am working towards, and that will only come by getting out there and taking more and more images.

Of course, wandering around with a camera taking pictures of people and places can draw some unwanted attention and you have to be prepared for that. First of all, it’s very important to know your rights in the location you are taking pictures. Different countries have different laws, so know them inside and out in case you get challenged. There have been stories of people in authority, who don’t know the laws fully, confiscating cameras, making people delete photos and generally making a big scene out of something that is perfectly legal.

Use your common sense. Don’t be afraid to ask permission either. Just because it’s ‘street’ or ‘candid’ doesn’t mean you can’t ask permission first. You may even get a better image if you engage in conversation with the subject first. It doesn’t hurt to try.

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Take this chap busking for instance. He knew I was going to take his picture. I didn’t ask him directly, but I gave him the universal ‘is it ok’ type knod and he knodded back, so I got the shot. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Don’t be scared.

You’ll be surprised how many people don’t really mind having their picture taken. If more subtle persuasion is needed, then you can always offer to email them a copy of the photo. Who knows where that could lead…

You’ll also notice that black and white is a popular medium for street photography. Some people swear by it, other people are producing great colour street images. So try both, pick the one that suits you best and stick with it.

So, Street Photography. Go and try it. Push yourself to try it. I am currently in that phase of gaining the confidence to get closer, and it’s hard, but I’m getting there as I do it more and more.

I’m keen to see your street photography work so feel free to leave a comment with a link to one or two of your images. it would be great to see what people can do in their own towns, cities and countries.

3 thoughts on “What is Street Photography?

  1. Street photography can be a lot of fun; however, as you are afraid to get up close and personal I am afraid altogether. I might add that I am in the UAE, so taking pictures one must be very cautious. It was even worse in Kuwait, you could not take pics in malls and even some resto’s especially with anything that looked like a professional camera. I am a beginner photographer – wanna be photographer – and would really much like to get out and experience the world thru a lens. Enjoyed the article!

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