What is street photography?
Mudeford Quay, Dorset

What is street photography?

This is a good place to start. A clear definition will help for the articles I intend to write in these notes.

Street photography is candid public photography.

Let's break that down.

Candid

The dictionary says:

A photo taken informally, without the subject's knowledge

Yep, that sums it it for me. It's not about being creepy. It's about preserving the truth of the scene you are photographing.

Asking someone to pose for a photo out on the streets is fine. But that makes it a street portrait. That's NOT a street photo.

Street portraiture is a fine genre in its own right. But it is not street photography because it's not candid.

To me, street photography is about truth. You are shooting photos that reveal the moment — as it happened.

Public

Street photos are generally in public places and spaces. Out on the streets. Or anywhere that is a public space that people are free to move through and around.

I know street photography is a free spirit, or it should be. But I have a problem with that. Or, I do if it means we are accepting a multitude of definitions that water the genre down — like weak beer.

If the genre matters (and it does, it has a long history) then we should all do our best to preserve that.

I see a lot of so-called street photos on social media, that aren't. They may be good photos. great photos, even. But NOT street photos.

We wouldn't call a photo of someone's cat, a landscape, would we? So, let's stay true to the genre.

Interpretations

There have been and are, many street photographers who put their own spin on it.

I have no problem with that — as long as they are shooting actual street photos.

For example, there has been a trend of late, to shoot photos that are almost architectural. But the inclusion of people, lets it carry as a street photo.

I shoot those types of photo myself. They still fit the genre because they are:

  • In a public place
  • Candid (nobody in the scene is posing for the photo)

Also, there are photographers that shoot all their street work in colour. Their argument being, that is the only way to capture the whole truth.

While other photographers shoot all their work in black & white.

I use a mix of both. I'll talk about why in a future article. But for now, either is fine — as long as it is a street photo you are shooting — if that's your intention.

And so, that's street photography. You will read a multitude of other definitions. But this is the one that makes it clear what works for street photography.

Now, you just need to go out and shoot street photos.