The 3 Maxims of Street Photography

The way of street photography is a difficult way to master. The main reason for this difficulty is because mastery is hidden somewhere between the desire to hock million dollar fine art prints, and the fear that our street photos are no better than tourist snapshots. How can we master street photography? Is it even possible? Like any other art form there should be incontrovertible dogma, agreed upon by all, that establishes the tenets of the form. Building on immutable concepts, one after the other, is how we can eventually achieve the balance necessary to move closer towards total perfection of the street photographic art. I submit to you 3 maxims of street photography that are in my opinion irrefutable.

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I look for isolation in my photographs, when possible. 

PREPARATION

It has been said that the best ability one can possess is availability. This cannot be more true when it comes to street photography. Preparation in street photography translates to having your gear available when you are ready to shoot. This may sound simple but it is the most essential tenet of all when it comes to street photography. Have your gear with you. Moreover, have your gear out and your camera in your hands or around your neck. Thirdly have your settings arranged properly. There is nothing worse than hopping out of your car when you are feeling fresh and full of artistic energy, next taking a series of well-composed shots, only to check the screen a few minutes later and see that the shots are blurry because your exposure settings were incorrect. I have done this a billion times and will do it tomorrow if I am not mindful. Street photography is performed shot-by-shot, moment by moment, and our exposure settings should change periodically to reflect this constant flow. Remembering this will prevent you from being ill-prepared to capture what inspires you.

In street photography, the big things should be handled smoothly when the time comes. See the big shot, take the big shot, cash the big check after your gallery show in Manhattan. Conversely, little things need to be taken seriously. Get your settings as close to perfect as possible beforehand. Hold your breath when you taking the shot. Be swift and decisive. This way, the little deal of properly setting the appropriate aperture, for instance, will prevent the big deal of screwing up that one-in-a-million shot.

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Many street photography subjects are not egomaniacs or diva-Instagram models and are quite flattered when you shoot their photo.

BRAVERY

A closed mouth wont get fed

“Scared money don’t make none

Shoot first. Ask questions later

These crude platitudes are spoken by folks hoping to impart upon the listener the concepts of bravery and boldness. Despite being wholly true, these concepts must be briefly explained when it comes to street photography.

Frankly, we don’t want to be rude jerks out there when we practice street photography. We want to get great shots, sometimes taken as close as 3 feet from the subject, but we don’t want to get punched out or cursed out or given dirty looks. We want to get intimate shots without necessarily having to withstand intimate interactions, especially hostile ones. With that being said, street photographers are represented by all genders, races and people-sizes. Some street shooters are tiny Asian women. Some street photographers are giant African men. Some shooters don’t mind getting punched in the face and will return the favor. Some street photographers will go into a micro-depression and stop shooting that day if one subject sneers at them or rolls his or her eyes. The level of boldness one adopts will vary, based on who you are. You must be brave however, in a general sense. You must get in the midst of what’s happening and shoot. Put on an enthusiastic demeanor and start firing off shots.

ADDENDUM: Keep your camera in silent mode if you have it. You don’t want to inadvertently draw the attention of the wolves and the clowns.

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I always feel I should have flipped the Newport box right-side-up when I evaluate this shot. Then I remember that I tried it that way first….

COMPASSION

I was asked by a Facebook friend why I don’t photograph the homeless. Admittedly there are petty reasons why I do not. Homeless folks tend to be disheveled, and that’s not what I look to shoot. Mainly however, it is due to my personal sense of compassion.

Homeless folks might be the most vulnerable subjects available in street photography, with the possible exception of teenagers staring at their phones. I have framed many shots of homeless folks and snapped a few early on in my practice, but I always felt guilt once I opened the photos in Lightroom. This is a personal feeling of course, and others may feel differently. There are many powerful, artful, and inspiring photos being taken of the homeless each day, and indeed some of these photos help to bring awareness to the plight of poverty and mental illness across the globe. Those photos generally border on photojournalism in my opinion. I make a conscious effort to be less “photojournalist” and more “artist” when I’m out there shooting, even if I’m being an actual photojournalist for a news outlet. Bottom line is: street photography of the homeless just isn’t my thing. It could very well be your thing but that’s when you have to be extra compassionate and realize when the fine line between artistic capture and wanton exploitation is being crossed.

Another example of where compassion must be exemplified is when people don’t want their photo taken. It is perfectly within my right to photograph whomever and whatever I choose in a public area, and I’m also strong enough to defend whatever position I take, but that doesn’t mean I should suspend compassion and take the photo anyway. Furthermore, if a person expresses that they didn’t want their photo taken after I’ve already taken it, I delete it. One reason I delete the photos is compassion towards my fellow man. The other reason is because a subject telling me they didn’t want their photo taken infuriates me, and deleting the photo is my first and most fair reaction to that feeling.

Be mindful of these 3 maxims and you will not falter or get lost during your street photographic journey. Don’t be distracted out there. Forget your trivial micro-struggles. Focus your focus. Enter the kill zone and come out with bodies. Do not falter. Stay low and keep shooting…..

 

As always please like and share my post.

2 thoughts on “The 3 Maxims of Street Photography

  1. May be I am lazy but I always leave my camera on program mode to save getting the exposure wrong, well it gets it right most of the time. Like the top photograph.

    Like

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