Category Archives: street photography

Observations About Street Photography

Observations About Street Photography

Street photography is a topic that piques the interest of many aspiring photographers. From my conversations with my photography students it is clear that this is a genre of great appeal and the source of some confusion. The confusion stems from definitions and the overlap with documentary style photography.

For me, personally the works of well-known street photographers have served as inspiration for my image making. Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand are a few of my favorite practitioners of the form whose work I admire. I would urge you to seek out their images and see their artistic vision. Getting out and working public spaces with my camera is one of my favorite photo activities and a welcome break from the client work I produce.  Don’t get me wrong, I am always happy working behind the camera. It’s just that street photography allows for more discovery and creative freedom that just adds to my pleasure.


Street versus Documentary Photography – Aren’t street photography and documentary photography the same thing?

Street and documentary photography are similar photographic genres. They have styles, techniques and visual qualities in common along with distinctions in form. Documentary photography is about accurate depiction of events, of capturing history as it unfolds. Photojournalism is a documentary version of photography.

Documentary photography is a subjective. Street photography is objective.

For street photographers there is only single subject people. For the documentary photographer any and all subjects including people are recorded. Street photography is candid and about life. Candid by definition means the subject is not aware of the camera when the shutter trips.

Street photography is not connected to real events; rather it is a record of ordinary slice of life moments usually made in public places. It‘s intent is to capture mirror images of society and social conditions as observed and typically without the subjects awareness of being photographed.

Street photography is an instinctual response to the unpredictable moments that unfold in front of us. Unlike a documentary photo the image is not made with the purpose of making a record, rather it is an expression of discovery. It does not have to present a narrative, it is enigmatic by definition and is simply an artistic observation.

Framing and timing are the primary elements of successful street photography. Creating images of poignant moments, arrangements of content and moment is what being a street photographer is all about.

If you want to know more about street photography consider attending one of my photo workshops.  My next street photo experience is on October 25, 2014 when I am returning to New York City with a group of photographers.  The New York City Street Photo Workshop includes round trip travel from New Hampshire , lunch and so much more for  details go to the event website.


Street Photography: Street Photo Tips for Nervous Beginner Photographers

Are you a reluctant street photographer, the other kind of camera shyness? Here are street photo tips  to help.

You love documentary style photos.  You really dig the work of the great photographers that preceded you.  You want to go out and make your own street photography but your nerves are getting the better of you.  Photographing in public, especially of people is intimidating.  So how do you get over your nervous gitters and get out on the streets with your camera? Here are some street photo tips that may help you get over your fears.

I have over thirty years experience wandering the planet and capturing candid moments and making street photos in dozens of countries and cultures.  From that experience I have learned a few tricks for better street photography that are useful for the reluctant and inexperienced.  

What is street photography?

Example of street photography created by commercial photographer Dan Splaine from one of his international photography assignments.  This scene was made on the streets of Mysore India. This article includes street photo tips for beginner photographers.  ©2013 Daniel J. Splaine  - All Rights Reserved

There is some argument in photography circles about  the definition of street photography.  We’ll go with a broad, open interpretation. Street photography is a form of documentary photography that is typically shot in public places. The images made are candid observations that capture “slice of life” moments.  The genre takes many forms.  Portraits, photography of crowds or found objects all fall into this category.
Some street photo tips for novice photographers
First step simplify.  Cut down on the amount of photo gear you use.  Select a single lens to work with and leave the camera bag at home or camouflage it in your purse or knapsack.  The less gear, the less likely potential subjects will notice you.  Use a smaller, point and shoot camera to really cut down on drawing attention with your gear.
Think like a hunter.  The most successful hunters  are those that are not observed by their prey.  The more incognito you are, the more fluid you are with your camera operation, the more success you will have with street photography.  Noisy hunters go hungry. Stealthy photographers get the best shots when unnoticed.
Start with inanimate objects.  Photography of strangers on the street is fraught with challenges.  Document the details of the place you are exploring and avoid people at first.  Get the hang of shooting on the fly, of finding interesting subject arrangements and making strong images.  Avoid shooting people  until your skills and confidence are ready.
Look for dynamic moments.  Rather than shooting a lot frames and hoping to get lucky.  Wait for the apex of action as it occurs in your frame and then take the shot. Street photography relies on good timing for creating the most  compelling images . Pay homage to one of the greatest street photographers of all time, Henri Cartier Bresson and find the “decisive moment”.
Work with your light.  As you explore your streets and urban environs pay attention to the direction of your light resources.  Pick a direction of travel  and observation that goes with the direction of your light (sunshine coming over your shoulder).
Begin in a familiar place.  Work a location that is well-known to you and that you are comfortable in.   Don’t wait until you are in some far away , foreign location to begin your street photography pursuit.  Practice in you own town or nearby cities. It is easier to develop  your skill, observation powers and timing  without dealing with the stresses of an unknown setting.
Work at a distance. Use  telephoto lens to put some distance between you and your scene.  Observe  your subjects from a little further away at first.  Get closer as your confidence grows.
Work at being a street photographer and you may one day you will be able to walk up to perfect stranger, in a foreign land , that does not speak your language, and get them to happily be a subject for your photography.   
Want to learn more about photography?  Attend one of my photo workshops or photo tours.  Sign – up for to receive our photo tips and workshop information by email.
Example of street photography created by commercial photographer Dan Splaine from one of his international photography assignments.  This scene was made on the streets of Mysore India. This article includes street photo tips for beginner photographers.  ©2013 Daniel J. Splaine  - All Rights Reserved
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. His company TEST of TIME PHOTOGRAPHY based in Nashua, NH provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan is a photo educator and he presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England.  For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.