Street photography can be defined in many ways but what it basically comes down to is it is photography that captures candid scenes of the human experience in public places; the aim is to capture and convey a moment and emotion in time. Even that loose definition is disputed because there are some who believe that you can have a person pose for the camera and it still be street photography. However you define it and do it, street photography came into existence with the advent of portable cameras and as the price and availability of cameras (and now phones) has made it where almost any and everyone can go about snapping away, the genre has exploded.
The end goal of this type of photography is to capture this moment in time which tells you a story such as the fashions of the time, social attitudes, relationships, humor, emotions…etc. The photographer desires to capture and share with their photos what they see. That image can be in color or monochrome and sharpness is not strictly obligatory but I personally try to capture things as sharp as I can unless I am trying to convey movement, then that alters the appearance of the photo.
How you approach street photography is left entirely up to your own preferences. Some people will never interact with their subjects and prefer to keep it “purer” that way. Others will go up to their subject and engage them in a bit of conversation in order to make them more comfortable with having their photo taken; Humans of New York is the best example of this. I have done both. But when doing this type of photography it is extremely wise to be aware of your surroundings and of the person you are trying to photograph. Some people do not want their photo taken and if they give you an ugly stare or wave you off I think it’s best if you find another subject. Street photographers don’t always do that and I must confess a time or two I went ahead and took a shot anyway (and then quickly walked away).
Then there is the legality of this type of photography. Some public places have shooed off photographers and there have been lawsuits of freedom of speech vs. right to privacy. I won’t get into that hornet’s nest but I will say that you should be cognizant of who and what you are photographing. I will not photograph a child without asking the parent first for one. Some people decry those who photograph the homeless because they feel that they are not being helped but rather exploited by the photographer. That point can be argued vehemently! With my photos I try to capture certain aspects of humanity such as how overly connected we are to our electronics, I’m a sucker for adorable babies and children, and just capturing fleeting moments of life.
Which leads us to how to do street photography. That could be several posts but in a nutshell I shall say that how to do it depends on you! First, there is no such thing as THE street photography camera. Remember it’s not the equipment that captures the image (well it does but work with me here) it’s the person wielding the equipment that does. You don’t always have to have the full face or body in the image in order to tell your story – it can be just parts of the body or of them walking away. How you set your camera is entirely up to you as well. You can shoot completely automatic, shutter or aperture priority, or manual with your settings where you only have to lift your camera (or shoot from the hip) to your eye and anything within so many feet will be captured.
Street photography may or may not be your thing but it is a genre that can capture wonderful slices of life.
Here are a few links about street photography: