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What is Street Photography

What is Street Photography

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What is Street Photography?

Often I come across individuals who like to share their photos and talk about them with me, they often use the correct terms for their photography styles as in: "landscape"; "portrait"; or even "still life"; but so often mis-use the term "Street" photography for what really is "urban" or "reportage" photography.

Calgary Tower at night
As we see with the Calgary Tower photograph above, often this type of photograph is misinterpreted as "street" photography when it should be categorized as "Urban" photography.
In the same sense the following image is actually "Reportage" (photojournalism) and not street photography though people are interacting with their scene.
Anti-Islam Protesters and Counter-protesters at City Hall Calgary
Because the above photo is representing or supporting a story about a protest, the photograph becomes a form of journalism, it portrays a staged event and so therefore is photojournalism or "reportage".

So what is "street" photography exactly if the above 2 examples are not street?
Street photography is a form of photography where the human being is interacting with their scene or are a none con-formative subject (as a paid model would be) within an urban surrounding or scene.

To show the difference, the photograph below has also many people within the scene but it is not orchestrated, has no paid models and is a random interaction between people and place in an urban environment - hence "Street" photography.
The Set-off
Sometimes there is a fine line between reportage and street photography and there can be photographs that will fall equally within both categories.
The Unfell
Above is a clown whom has fallen off their bike whilst police look to see if the person is ok. This photo can be used for both street and reportage, why? Because it captures part of the joy and antics of the Calgary Stampede Parade Day and on the other hand captures a random event occurring in an urban environment. So it does suit both categories of photography.
Arrested Rester
A drunken fellow decides to sleep on the patio area of a downtown hotel is not news, but does make for a photo opportunity especially when the security turn up to move him on. In the above photo you see the security guard weighing up the problem of the drunken guy whom is asleep where he shouldn't be. That is an urban story, and automatically becomes a "street" photograph.  There is a visual story as 2 people interact within the scene in 2 different ways with one shared subject - street sleeping.

Incorporating a little art into your street photography is perfectly fine as long as it adds to your scene.
The above photo incorporates two art techniques at the same time, Hi-key photography and Selective coloring. The original idea was to pull the viewer around the photograph whilst portraying the blandness of the urban bustle. When people are rushing around they rarely see whats around them unless it stands out or is in their line of sight. Hence why the woman in red stands out because she is being avoided by another pedestrian and the woman in the greenish coat stands out because she is in the line of sight of the man in the front right. Those indicated people stand out in the scene because others are interacting with them though the urban rush around them has become irrelevant to those interacting with them in a passive way.
Though a little artistic merit has been added to the usually bland rush hour scene, by keeping the main color of the two ladies makes for a small urban story.

In the photograph below I kept an accidental photo that captures people walking around, the blur made it feel like everyone was in a rush, so that is why I kept it.
In a rush
The photograph above even though it has art aspects to it, it is also "street" photography.
There is nothing wrong in being creative in street photography as long as it adds to the main visual story.
From the rooftop
Nearly all "Street" photography is recording just random events. This was known as "The Decisive Moment" by Henri Cartier Bresson who was undoubtedly the king of Street Photography.
Knowing when to shoot as all the elements come into play to make that one superb photo is the key to great street photography.

Don't shoot
Often "Streeters" - Street Photographers will sit by a place waiting for just the right moment for a person who suits the scene to move in and fill it at just the right time so that their pre-visualized photo comes into reality and then snap, they have the shot they wanted. Yes this is a way of orchestrating the scene but still in another sense it is quite random too as you never know who is going to come along to fill the gap.

A third in focus
There are no best cameras for street photography as any camera will suffice but there are some things to keep in mind if you want to do street photography seriously.

Black cameras or blackened cameras work best because they don't attract as much attention as silver or any other colored camera does.
Smaller cameras also work best as they (again) do not attract so much attention - The last thing you need is people half posing for you or flipping you a finger when you are trying to record the every day comings and goings of everyday urban life. Smaller cameras allow for discretion for the photographer.
In fact a lot of photographers will blacken out any white or red or even reflective surfaces so that they can hide their camera more.  In a way unseen means for a more candid shot of people.
Never use flash, though there is a famous photographer in New York who gets up close and personal with his camera and uses flash too. Personally I find his technique invasive and most of his photos look like people who are terrified of being photographed due to his approach - not recommended.

Have a smile and some small talk - it is so important to communicate with people, I find it helps in difficult situations (where someone has misunderstood your photo-intentions) to sit with them and calm down people and show them that they are not the main subject but the whole scene is the subject of which they are a part of and explain to them the art of street photography (thank God for Digital in that aspect). For me it somehow works and people are more accepting to what I am doing then, once explained.  Though I have been chased down the street by an individual who thought I was selling his photo for perverted reasons, no matter how I explained it to him he didn't understand at all - so I deleted it in front of him to show that I meant no harm.....and then recovered the photo as soon as I got home.

When it comes to equipment, some photographers favor the traditional Leica or Bessa route for their street photography and the Purists will only ever use black and white film with a manual winder, whilst the more financially normal of us will use large sensor compacts or mirrorless cameras and shoot in a black and white configuration.
Either way, no matter your tool or skill base, street photography is fun, interactive and helps you to look at the world with a slightly different eye - one that looks for chance, coincidence and timing.
In the near future, I will try to put together a guide on the different shooting techniques used in this candid art form.
Until then here is some recommended gear to consider.

Roots 73 - https://sanealcamera.com/product-detail/roots-73-flannel-backpack

Stuart Perry
(photos and text - October 5th 2019)

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