What is street photography?

What is street photography?

It’s not that simple to explain. In my words, it’s the documentation of life in public in a candid way. These activities will never be monotonous. It’s like holding up a mirror to society. It’s a single human moment captured in a decisive moment. Per definition, Street Photography is a kind of journalism of life in public. You show what everybody sees with their eyes everyday but do not notice; you capture this with your camera and highlight it to the World so they can see it as well.

In street photography it’s important that all the three elements are fulfilled. You have to get close, you have to be in a public place and you don’t ask the subject upfront. Street photography is all what is happening in a public place.

Bruce Gilden once said that “If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph”. This brings it to the point. You cannot point your camera out to the street and make a photo. It’s not that simple. I guess you have to get into it to understand it. Most important is that a photo tells a story.

I’m not sure if an outsider can really understand the spirit of Street Photography, I think, it is not necessary. It’s more than just pressing the button out in the street. You have to have a deep interest in people and life in public. It’s more like social studies than a leisure activity. You do something for humanity; you show the World how life is. You have a mission; it’s not just fun. I just want to go out and take photos of life and portraits of strangers in public. I have to admit that it might also be an addiction. You cannot really stop doing it.

A lot of people don’t have the guts to do Street Photography. The reason for that is obvious: It’s not a piece of cake and if you really want to go close you might get into trouble. There might be trouble with the people you shoot, there might be trouble with the law in certain countries and there might be personal issues with yourself not getting close enough. I used to say that you can learn how to get close to someone. Today I don’t really think that you can. Either you have this ability or you don’t. It’s the same with a good eye; some people have it, some haven’t. Those who are not gifted with one of these talents will never be more than an average photographer. You cannot call yourself a Street Photographer just because you point your camera at people in the streets. It’s not that easy. You really have to practice, have a plan, get close, study people, be interested in humanity and spend a lot of time walking up and down the streets. You cannot learn Street Photography. You have to have it inside your body. It’s a feeling, an interest in everyday human life, characteristic faces, interactions between people and life in general. It’s a kind of lifestyle.

The human element should not be underestimated. Photographs with people are simply more engaging than those without people. Some people will argue this point and that’s okay. I will stand by my opinion. However, that is not to say that all good photographs must have people. If all we had were photographs of people they would likely lose much of their impact. Street photography is generally accepted to be about people. If you search for a definition of street photography you will find many. Beyond that, it seems that nearly everyone who claims to practice this genre of photography also has their own definition, or variant on a particular one. One thing most will have in common, however, is a central focus on people and public places. That’s fine. You will get no aggressive argument from me here. Although, I would not limit my “street photography” to only people. I just wouldn’t. There is so much going on in the street, in public, that limiting oneself to “seeing” as it were – and photographing – only the people seems silly. So before you go out and train your lens on only people, think about what else goes on in the street. Think about what other photographic representations of the human influence you might capture. That is, what can you photograph that shows “evidence” of people without actually showing any people? An upturned garbage can, some graffiti, a deserted car, champagne bottle or perhaps a pair of abandoned shoes? These all have a human element. So too can all these photographs be produced in a way which is worthy of their place within the genre.

You can enjoy street photographe every day on your way to work. Look around and start framing situations, thinking about titles, looking for opportunities. There are so many situations in everyday life that you could take a lot of photos. It’s not about taking them at that time, but it’s about recognizing the beauty of life in public. Look what people do, how they act, what they wear. Your interest should be in the life of ordinary people, not in photography as such. This makes the difference be-tween an ordinary photographer and a street photographer. A street photographer is a journalist of the everyday life. He captures the interesting aspects of the ordinary life in public.

So okay– you want to shoot street photography. Now what? What exactly should you be looking for when you’re out on the streets? Where should you shoot? What should you focus on? Well first of all, I recommend shooting street photography in an area where there are lots of people. So for many, this can be a downtown area. Starting off street photography in a downtown area can be advantageous because you can get swept up in a crowd– and feel less self-conscious about shooting street photography. Here are some techniques you can work on in street photography:

1) Juxtaposition. So one of the basic and most fundamental techniques in street photography is “juxtaposition” – meaning photographing an image in which two elements are directly side-by-side (and contrasting one another).

2) Gestures. Another street photography technique can be trying to capture gestures on the streets. I think that the best street photographs are generally the ones in which the subjects have interesting hand-gestures, facial expressions, body language, and postures. Why do gestures make good street photographs? Well, with gestures, you can get a better sense of the emotions a person has– and you can get a sense of how that person feels.

3) Emotions. I think for me the most important element of making a strong and memorable street photograph is to capture strong emotions.

4) Street portraits. Another popular type of street photography is “street portraits”. The idea is that instead of photographing a scene, you’re focused on an individual person you find interesting. There are some people who will argue that “street portraits” isn’t street photography– but I call bullshit. So if you are a street photographer that is interested in faces– I recommend trying to photograph people you find interesting.

There is a quote by famous Magnum photographer Robert Capa, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I feel this is a great way to describe street photography– generally the closer you are to your subjects, the more intimate your photos feel, and the more connected your viewers can make with your subjects.


Remember that street photography isn’t just taking photos in the streets– it is a way of life. Street photography is a way for you to live life more fully, more vividly, and gives you the opportunity to engage with others and the world.


Street photography is something that has transformed my life for the better– and I am sure that it will help you as well. Street photography will make you more confident, make you more adventurous, and help you appreciate the beauty of the mundane and everyday aspects of life.


These are the Top 10 things I think street photographers should know:

  1. Candid Street Portraiture is straight, real and not setup. 2. It’s not about the camera, the lens or the settings. 3. Your eye decides on what you see and capture. 4. A good composition can do much more than good technology. 5. A good photo arises from the camera, not from your computer. 6. You can’t start at the top. It’s a long way to get closer. 7. It’s very important how you approach and act while you shoot. 8. 95% of the people won’t say anything. That’s a proven fact. 9. You cannot learn everything. There must be some talent present. 10. There is no right or wrong. It’s your photo, your style, your way.

Remember the golden rule: Always have your camera with you.

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