Why Street Photography

There are two major strands of my photography, landscape/panoramic and street/candid photography. The wedding/social and portrait photography could be seen as an extension of my interests in street/candid photography in general. I’d like to reflect on what makes street photography attractive to me, and possibly to lots of other photographers. It’s a genre diametrically opposite to studio/fashion photography and I think it’s these differences which are behind its appeal.

Street photography is relatively cheap. Well, it may not be if you decide to get a Lecia M9 and Noctilux, but a minimum kit with which to start off consists of a manual film SLR and cheap 50mm “standard” lens. Even with film costs, it’s something a student could afford to try out. You can try street photography with your camera phone, LOMO, disposable cam, or point&shoot. No need for a fancy DSLR, in fact the smaller the camera the better in many cases. One doesn’t need fancy lenses, huge zooms, or complex kit. A single lens and simple camera is enough.

Street photography is exciting. The process of going out and taking street photos can be exhilarating. It can also be frustrating, tense, anxiety provoking, and sometimes dangerous. Street photography, as a personal endeavour, is as much about the process and struggle one goes through to get the shot than it is about simply the final product. It’s not to say that results don’t matter, but one can derive personal satisfaction from the activity. For me, it can be a form of therapy, a way to focus the mind on the immediate reality of the now and banish other worries. Getting a few good shots is an added bonus.

Street photography is unplanned. You never know what you will come back with when going on a street photo outing. Life is unscripted, people are random, you have to be lucky as well as good. You can improve your chances by choosing your stalking ground, the time of day, observing and noting people, groups, and situations as they develop. But there are no guarantees with street photography.

Street photography is not rigid. The “rules of photography” one may learn as a beginner (“rule of thirds” etc.) can be tossed out of the window when doing street photography. What “works” as a street photo is so open to interpretation. Often, framing can be haphazard but the photo is still interesting. Exposure can be “off” but the effect can work with the subject. Even photos which are not perfectly sharp can show interesting scenes, blur can be used creatively to enhance a mood. It is up to a street shooter to work with circumstances, creatively apply their technique to capturing interesting shots.

Street photography is democratic. Anyone can pick up a camera and start doing street photography. The low barrier to equipment, you don’t have to travel anywhere in particular, there’s no special technical know-how involved (setting you camera on automatic or P-mode works well enough in most cases), and post-processing is comparatively simple (no need for endless touching-up on photoshop, merging HDR brackets, stitching panoramas etc.)

Street photography is a solitary activity. You don’t need models, make-up artists, stylists, or assistants. All you need is yourself, a camera, and the street (loosely defined). When starting out, it can pay to go shooting with a more experienced streetshooter  to get hints about camera settings and handling, spotting scenes, good spots, and general demeanour but that’s not even strictly necessary. One can easily be self-taught in street photography, more so than for more technically and equipment laden genres.

So, if you haven’t already tried street photography, you have no excuse. Remember the words of Robert Capa, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”