Street Photography - The Artful CandidBy Liz Masoner, About.com Guide to Photography
Street photography has a long history and has made many photographers famous. Gary Winograd, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Mary Ellen Mark, and so many others showed us everyday life in new ways. What is it about street photography that so captures the imagination? The best way I can describe street photography is "the artful candid." Street photography isn't posed (at least not by the photographer). Street photography is all about found situations and subjects but they are photographed in an artful way. This type of photography, so often misunderstood even by many its practitioners, is about creating art out of everyday scenes.
So how do you take good street photography images?
What equipment to use is a hotly debated idea when it comes to street photography. Some insist that anything more than a 50mm lens is cheating or simple voyeurism. Others see a telephoto lens (70mm to 300mm) as a wonderful composition tool and a necessity in today's post-9/11 world of camera paranoia. For me, the result is much more important that what equipment you use. Remember that if you use a wider lens you will have to be closer to your subject which puts you at risk for physical confrontation or missing the shot if you see an opportunity from far away and can't get there fast enough. Using a wider lens does give a more powerful sense of being "in the scene" however. If you use a longer lens you could lose some of the intimacy of the scene. However, using a longer lens helps you stay anonymous and unnoticed by those you are photographing.
Before we go any further we need to discuss privacy. Street photography has a long history in most developed countries. Generally it is ok to publish street photos as they were public scenes with no expectation of privacy, however, this varies depending on location. For example, France currently forbids any photo taken in public to be published without express consent of the subject. Know your rights and the rights of your subjects before you start snapping.
What Do I Photograph?
Street photography is about people. Find that one moment in ordinary life that most people overlook every day but is powerful. Remember that street photography isn't about judgement, it is about visual impact.
Composition is the heart of street photography. I know it may not seem that way when you first look at street photography shots but it really is the heart. It's not just the rule of thirds, or centering, or natural framing, or leading lines, or any of the "normal" compositional tools. Street photography composition requires using everything available to you in order to draw attention to that one vital bit most important to your photo. Is it the giant technicolor earring hanging from the ear of a man in a business suit? Use point of view, the power of the color, the body language of the man, the delicious juxtaposition of the expected and the unexpected on the part of your intended viewer to drive the visual power of the photo you make. Street photography isn't about following pre-defined rules, it is about taking the tools you have and remixing them into a powerful vision of daily life most often overlooked in our daily routine. It bears noting that while some street photographers insist that the eyes meeting the camera are imperative, this is not the case. Powerful street photography can just as easily record only the backs of your subjects. Remember not to fall victim to someone else's rules in this art form. The only real constant with street photography is that the people are the main subject and that the street landscape itself is used to enhance the subject, not detract from that attention.
Black and White or Color?
I've saved this discussion for last in this lesson because it is a heated topic with regards to street photography. There are some who are viciously adamant that "true" street photography can never be in color. I see that as very limiting. Street photography began in black and white because that's all that was available. Today street photography can be in color, black and white, sepia-tone, whatever you want to use. Just remember to be careful in your choices. Certain scenes will be much more powerful in black and white while others will be much more powerful in color.