Street photography, like most photographic genres, comes with rules: Oft-repeated ideas about how you should structure your images, where you should shoot, and the types of subjects you should capture.
But do you really have to follow these rules of street photography? I do not think so. Sure, they work up to a point, but if you pursue them too diligently, you’ll start to feel trapped and your photos will start to look like everyone else’s.
In other words, if you want to capture sophisticated, unique photos that really make viewers stop and stare, you have to go above and beyond the rules. And that is what this article is about.
Below I share seven commonly repeated rules of street photography. And then I explain how you can – and should! – Pause them whenever you get the chance.
Let’s dive into it.
1. Street photography must contain people
Street shots often contain people and lots of newbies only raise the camera when someone is nearby. Still, street photography is really about life, and you don’t have to hit a person in the middle of a frame to get a great street image.
In my opinion, the purpose of street shooting is to capture unique and interesting moments that mean something to you. You can do this by including people in the frame, but you can also capture meaningful images devoid of human life.
For example, you could photograph:
- Trees in the park
All of the above are fantastic ideas for street photography subjects, and the presence of people will often just act as a distraction. Therefore, if you’re inclined to include people in your street photos, I encourage you to spend time researching non-human subjects. Explore your environment and try to describe it through your images. Include people when it serves your purpose, but at the same time look for unique photos of your surroundings.
If you find a large area with nice light, capture it as it is. Don’t ruin an interesting scene by including random passers-by! If you find a good background and want to include a person in the photo, that person should be added to the photo. Otherwise, wait for people to pass by, then just capture the scene as it is.
2. You can only shoot on busy city streets
Many of the most famous street photographers did make their debut in bustling cities, and their images are often full of the hustle and bustle of city life.
Yet if you look deeper, you’ll find that many pioneering street photographers – such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander – worked, at one time or another, in less populated areas.
So if you don’t live in, say, New York, don’t worry. You can still capture beautiful street shots in suburbs, small towns, and even rural images. You just have to change your approach.
Instead of trying to capture images full of people and energy, seek to match the energy of your location. If you live in a small town, try to think in terms of minimalist compositions and stunning light. If you live in the suburbs, consider capturing people working in their yard or going about their daily business.
Even if you live in the city, I encourage you to spend time shooting in the quieter areas. Go to boring and lifeless areas, then try to figure out how to take a good photo. (It’s a very powerful exercise that’s virtually guaranteed to improve your photos.)
3. You should always include your subject’s face
Although face capture makes it easy to show emotion in your street photos, it’s not always necessary. In fact, if your subject has a dull expression, their face can interfere with the overall shot!
Of course, if a face looks interesting, go ahead and photograph it. But don’t think you to have to include faces in your photos. And spend time looking for other meaningful elements: gestures, hands, poses, clothing, physical interactions, even slight changes in posture.
If you find an item of interest, it’s often best to approach it and capture it just this element. This way you can highlight the parts of the scene that matter the most. And you can even give the image a graphic quality that brings out shapes, lines and colors.
4. The best street photos are complex
Sophisticated layered images are often very beautiful – check out the work of Alex Webb to see what I mean – and there are plenty of photographers dedicated to creating complex images that show multiple elements of interest in a single frame.
However, complex compositions don’t take a good street photo. Instead, what makes for good street photography is what’s going on inside.
So instead of looking for layered compositions, start looking for interesting subjects and scenes. So you can determine whether it makes sense to create a complex image with many supporting elements or whether it is better to focus only on the main element.
If you walk out the door only looking to capture complex compositions, you’ll get in your way and often end up frustrated. Search for items of interest, and then find the best way to compose.
5. Great street photos are a matter of luck
It’s true: street photographers benefit from a good deal of luck, and the best street photos often include an unlikely combination of subjects, lighting, and careful composition.
However, it is a mistake to think that luck alone will make great street photos. As a street photographer you have to maximize your own luck. Yes, the best street scenes are lucky, but you have to look for them. Thousands of “lucky” moments happen around you every day, and it’s your job to see them.
How do you maximize luck? Here are some simple ways:
- Find good backgrounds, then wait for the right subject or interesting event to appear in front of your camera
- Spend a lot of time on the street with your camera in hand
- Work on developing your awareness of your surroundings
- Head to areas where there’s a lot going on; this way you increase your chances of encountering interesting moments
If you put in the time and learn to look, you will notice many “lucky” moments, no matter where you live. And as you improve as a photographer and gain experience, you’ll see more and more opportunities, not because you’re luckier, but because you know how to identify better. good times.
6. Street photography is all about being bold
Some street photographers are very outgoing and daring; they end up right in the face of the subject, maybe even with a flash.
However, this is not the only approach to street photography. Some street shooters are quiet and shy, and they take a different approach: they watch, they wait, and when the time is right, they shoot.
Work with the personality you have. If you’re introverted, you’ll find it hard to pounce on your subject with a flash, and that’s okay. You don’t have to push yourself to become fearless if that’s not your thing. It’s important to create a shooting strategy that feels comfortable. Otherwise, you won’t have fun. And if you’re not having fun, you won’t want to spend time getting good pictures.
So if you’re afraid of being noticed, that’s okay. Use a small, lightweight camera and lens, pick a spot, and let people come to you. Learn how to identify interesting moments, then develop your own way of putting yourself in a position to capture them. Alternatively, try your hand at telephoto street photography, where you work from a distance with a longer lens. (Yes, it’s unorthodox, but it’s a great way to capture unusual images!)
Over time, you will refine your strategy. And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up feeling comfortable enough to try a bolder approach.
When shooting with a street photography student, I often come across a typical moment:
Someone with red, blue, or green hair, or someone covered in tattoos, will pass – and the student will raise the camera to their eye and take that picture faster than they’ve been doing all day.
But while you can certainly capture great street photos of extraordinary subjects, the best street photographers don’t. to confine themselves to these images. Street photography can focus on anything. It can be colorful, mundane, ordinary or amazing. It can highlight unique-looking people, but it can also emphasize everyday beauty.
Some of the most incredible street photography captures ordinary moments in extraordinary ways. And if you stay there looking for colored hair, you will often be bored! Instead, research anything and everything and capture what makes it interesting.
Street Photography Rules: Final Words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know the most common rules of street photography and know when and how to break them.
So go with your camera. Do some street photography. And break the rules. (Oh, and have fun in the process!)
Which of these street photography rules are you going to break? Share your opinion in the comments below!