I reviewed a portfolio for a photographer and it got me thinking about how people approach searching for images for street photography. There are as many different approaches to photography as there are photographers. I always stress that if you call it art, it is art. Whatever it is about an image that speaks to you that is what is important. But unless you live in a bubble you most likely will put your work out there and you will eventually get feedback. The more positive the response the more likely you are to do more work like that next time. It takes a strong will to keep doing work that no one seems to appreciate.
I’ve spoken before on composition. I hate calling them rules, but there are guidelines that can make an image more aesthetically pleasing. It has also been shown that you can break these guidelines and create good images as well. But images that are successful do seem to have features in common. A pretty subject is usually liked more than one that is plain. No matter how advanced your skills are, a picture of a pretty girl seems to always garner more praise than an image of a plain looking girl. That is just the way that the world works.
In street photography there are a great many images that I can’t determine the photographers intent. Often beginners focus to much on one aspect of the image. They think that a color alone is a sufficient reason to take an image. I see this frequently because minimalism is the most popular genre of street photography these days. Some shooters are of the less is more mindset. I’m not much of a fan of this type of image making because I’m more interested in having my images tell a story.
The images at the top of the story is an example of what I am talking about. I saw this scene an snapped an image to illustrate this article. We see this kind of image often. The photographer sees the hair matching the shoes and shoots the image. When asked to explain the image the image maker proudly proclaims “Look at the matching colors, they pop out”. Yes the colors match, but that is it. There is nothing interesting going on, no interesting lighting. Sometimes a rock is just a rock.
This image also has another weakness that I often see. Too many street photographers shoot the backs of people. Most often this is because he/she is to shy or is afraid that the subject will see them taking the photo. Yes great images have been taken of the backs of people. But most images are much stronger when we see the subjects face. Instagram is littered with street photos that are of mostly the backs of people. Look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson the master of street photography and count how many images he took of the backs of people. Not many. We want to see what people look like. Expressions tell part of the story.
Successful street photography has an element of chance to make great images. But much of the success in the image can be controlled by the photographer. Put together a scene in your mind that has some of the makings of a good image. Then wait for the right cast to appear. I’ve talked before about having a shooting list of ideas that you can be on the lookout for so that your prepared for that just right image. You have to have an open mind that is fully engaged with the situation.
Most of all you have to put in the time and be prepared to cover a lot of ground. Street photography is not easy but it can be very rewarding. It trains your minds eye to quickly recognize a good image from a bad one. It can be a great training for whatever type of photography that you aspire to create.