Street photography

Created date

February 10th, 2016
man playing guitar and harmonica
man playing guitar and harmonica

A genre of photography that you see all the time—and may unwittingly perform yourself—is street photography. It gained popularity with the advent of small, portable cameras in the ‘50s and ‘60s. While closely related to documentary photography and photojournalism, street photography was not intended to record history or support social issues as completely as those genres. Rather, street photographers sought to capture people engaged in the environment where their subjects live and work, mostly urban areas. These photos were almost exclusively black and white. Without the distraction of color, the eye tends to concentrate on shape, form, detail, and story, creating a stronger emotional impact. 

The street photographer developed techniques of taking photos without being observed. Cameras were often held at waist-level because the field-of-view of wide-angle lenses permitted them to take photos without looking through the viewfinder. Speed and timing were mandatory skills. Many of today’s street photographers use mobile phones. Their ease of use and omnipresence make taking pictures surreptitiously a snap, and new techniques have been adopted. 

Spur-of-the-moment opportunities

You, too, might be a street photographer from time to time. Mobile phones are handy devices for taking pictures of people and many spur-of-the-moment activities. Here are some tips to help you capture those life experiences: 

• Get close to your subject. The lens has a very wide angle of view and the subject will otherwise look very small.

• Use the lens at wide-angle, even if you have a zoom. This makes everything nice and sharp. Zooming to adjust focal length also takes precious time and you will likely miss “the moment.”  

• Do not use flash. Natural light is best.

• Shoot at the subject’s eye level whenever possible.

It is important to remember that, as a street photographer, you are an observer. Let the scene unfold naturally. Don’t try to control it or ask anyone to pose. What’s more appealing than a subject being absorbed in his or her own world? The street photographer doesn’t direct the story, only preserves it.