Thoughts on Street Photography

Thrift shop

Great shopping

Bakery

Rope guy

Waiting at the Festival

Of all the recent trends that has increased in popularity since digital cameras, it is street photography that intrigues me the most. Street photography is not a new phenomenon and has been around since the beginnings of photography. Just check out the work of French photographer Eugene Atget in the late early 1800’s, or Fred Herzog’s photos in 1950’s and 1960’s Vancouver, Canada. In spite of the long history the pastime is still a niche in the broad spectrum of interests that photographers have. However, I am spending more and more time viewing intriguing images of life on streets around the world captured by talented modern day photographers.

Wikipedia says, “Street photography is an art photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment…The origin of the term ‘Street’ refers to a time rather than a place, …when workers were rewarded with leisure time…and people engaged with each other …more publicly and therein the opportunity for the photographer.”

I’ve never been good at street photography. I have made a few pictures worth viewing, but I become more occupied with man-made things and get side tracked with some building’s shadow and miss those interesting people shots captured by photographers adept at seeing what I pass by.

On my recent visit to Anacortes, Washington, I did try a bit, but I quickly realized that with my big DSLR camera I was attracting too much attention. Whenever I stopped people slowed, turned to face me, and watched.

Since I started discussing photography on-line I have come in contact with some very skilled street photographers and regularly visit their blogs and websites to view their creative work. Those photographers don’t usually add comments, letting their work speak for itself, however, I found a discussion by Los Angeles street photographer, Eric Kim, and the following are some of his thoughts on being a street photographer.

Mr. Kim writes, “…When you start off in street photography you will be inspired by all these other photographers you see. You will look at their work and be amazed by their photos…my advice is this: start off copying the photographers whose work you admire. All the great renaissance painters started off as apprentices. They copied their masters for years, and learned all the basics and fundamentals. And once they mastered the basics, then they were able to go off and find their own voice.”

He counsels us to, “Follow your curiosity.” and says, “As a photographer you are a scientist. You experiment to find new results.”

Kim continues, “When I started photography I always thought it was my gear which held me back. I felt my camera or lens wasn’t good enough…but what I realized is that I was simply lacking education…I didn’t dedicate myself to learn enough about photography. I simply thought that buying gear would help me become inspired, and therefore become a better photographer.” I couldn’t agree more with him when he writes, “…education is the best investment money can buy. Education is something that will always stay with you, in your mind, thoughts, and actions.”

While writing this I thought about all the advice I could have gotten just by asking the talented street photographers I have come in contact with in the last few years. Those interested will find that a quick search will show many photographers to look at and from whom to learn. There is also “The International Collective of Photographers” at http://www.street-photographers.com/

I’m not ready to start roaming city streets yet, but there is a local Fall Fair coming up in September. That environment, with its festive participants, might be the perfect place to search for that decisive moment.

I always appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

15 responses to “Thoughts on Street Photography

  1. I think gear can hold you back in street photography but not necessarily in the sense that you need better or more expensive equipment, just more suitable. As you suggested, a large DSLR is not a very suitable street photography camera and you don’t necessarily want a zoom either. A mirrorless camera, fixed wide angle, such as the Fuji X100s, prefocused, not necessarily even looking through the lens, can create quite different opportunities. The prerequisite, though, is that you have to know what sort of image you want to take and why.

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    • Murray, I like your words, “The prerequisite, though, is that you have to know what sort of image you want to take and why.” That is what I am learning as I view the work of those Street Photogs I like to view.
      Regarding a camera, I will be experimenting with a Nikon J1. Not the greatest resolution, but its not like I’ll be making prints anyway. It focuses really fast and if, as you advise, I predetermine what, “what sort of image you (I) want to take and why.” the LCD is of no consequence.

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  2. Great post John,

    I completely agree that s DSLR. Can be a hindrance in street photography.

    The only minor success I’ve had is with my Canon G12. It has an articulating screen so you can look down into it, abut like a TLR.

    While I admire street photography, it’s not a genre for me. I prefer urban scenes and landscapes and still life these days.

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  3. In Vietnam I had good luck simply settling down someplace and watching life go by. After a while no one paid attention when I looked through the viewfinder, not even the kids – everyone just went on with their life, which is exactly what I was trying to capture.

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  4. My Dad did a lot of candid and street photography in the 60s with one of those double lens larger format cameras with the “viewfinder” on the top. The camera then hung on his chest and was a lot less intrusive. With today’s technology something like that is possible?

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