What is Street Photography?


Helen Levitt

Just what is street photography?

Well, let’s look at it from the technical point of view:

Although this is an inaccurate graph (I’m a marketer, not an engineer), this roughly manages to capture what the focal length ranges are used for. But as pros will tell you – you ain’t a photographer til you’ve tried all the combinations. A friend on Google Plus uses only 300mm for his street photography. In most cases, however, street photography falls within the 28~50mm range.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what others have to say.

Turn down the lights class. Take a look at the video below, from XperiaStudio:

“A good to me… is something that makes me think, laugh, and make me ask questions.”

As the two above explain, you can’t really force a good picture. You just have to feel it– and you’ll know it when you have something.

Robert Doisneau

Another explanation comes from Kai Wong of Digital Rev:

“A matter of carefully picking out a slice of interestingness from a completely random series of events that are not under your control. That is what makes street photography new and exciting every time.”

-Kai Man Wong, DigitalRev

Kai Man Wong

Had enough videos? How about a book?

Thomas Leuthard, 85mm

Thomas Leuthard, of 85mm fame, loves his 85mm range (usually reserved for “portraits”!) and has published several books about street photography. In “Going Candid,” his first book, he tries to classify street photography as:

“…the optical capture of someone’s personal view of an everyday moment in public.”

-Thomas Leuthard, 85mm

Garry Winogrand

Then there is the father of Street Photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. As he explains it,

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Interestingly, I’ve had a lot of family members related to photography. My uncle ran a camera shop that would develop film, very basic– Tri-X and Portra were their usual customers. My grandfather had a Leica M3 (which I unwittingly inherited) that he would polish over and over again. One of my grandfather’s friends does an exhibition every once in a while. But no one had ever taught me how to handle and use a camera.

Vivian Maier

Having observed so, so, oh so many people lift their cameras to shoot the Hawaiian scenery or their loved ones with their point-and-shoots, I thought– there must be a better way. To tell a story. To arouse suspicion. To incite anger. To make the viewer laugh.

Then it came to me– summarized in the words of National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson:

“…to take useful pictures, instead of good pictures… The main rule is, don’t be boring… Break all sorts of rules… Pictures are supposed to affect us, to connect us, to excite us… Photos of things and people we will never again see again in our lives.”

-Jim Richardson, National Geographic photographer.

He framed it perfectly.

Eric Kim, “Jazz Hands”

Every time I step behind the viewfinder today, I think to myself– “Is that something we may never see again in our lifetime?”

To cut to the chase, I feel that the goal of street photography is not only to take photos of things we find interesting, things that arouse our emotions– the key ingredient being people. People by themselves, people interacting with other people, people interacting with animals or objects– it’s the relationship (or the lack thereof) that I feel make street photography so powerful. Whether the setting be a bucolic countryside, or the busy streets of New York, I find The Experience in itself is crucial too– it helps the photographer learn to anticipate and look for events that he or she desperately wants to share, and this is what I find street photography so enamoring. But don’t forget, maybe what the photo means to you– whether it be the subject or the event that was happening– may prove to become your most powerful photos.

Phillipe Han, “Exit Stage Left”


Disclaimer: All photographs are owned by their respective photographers, copyright and all. Please don’t sue me.


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