A while back I wrote a post detailing the main reasons my street photography sucks and had some helpful tips to improve your street photography. Well, almost 6 months have passed and so I thought I’d post an update with some new reasons my street photos suck (and yours probably do too) as well as some suggestions to get round those issues.
This is still an important thing for me to write about as the truth is that I’m still not very good. And yet at the same time I’ve improved a lot. Honestly, out of all the street photos I’ve taken over the last year (5000 approximately, I’m not sure exactly but I have 7000 in lightroom (but not all are street), I’ve lost many, I changed catalogues so it could be more) there are a grand total of 4 I really like, there are another 20 or so which are “okay” and then the rest are just bad.
1. There are too many distractions in the background
This is a really common issue and I’m not exception here. In far too many of my shots there are big distractions in the background. Usually they take one of three forms.
- Bad separation between objects
- Bright objects which draw attention
- Messy backgrounds (leading to poor figure to ground)
All of these draw attention away from the subject in the photo or make it hard to distinguish the subject. They all ruin photos.
2. The image is blurry (and not in a good way)
Since attending Eric Kim’s advanced street photography workshop in London I started shooting in automatic mode (ghast!) I know that I “should” shoot in Manual mode but honestly, that’s just one other thing to think about and can lead to missing a shot when the light changes (I’ve had moments when I walked past a building, saw a great moment, hit the shutter and looked at the photo later only to find that (of course) I just had a black mess which even RAW and lightroom couldn’t save.
The downside with using automatic (program) mode is that you are at the mercy of your camera’s “brain” so sometimes it will just give you a slow shutter speed, leading to images ending up more blurred when you don’t want it. The usual solution is just to push the ISO high so it allows you to have a faster shutter speed, still there are moments when I don’t realise that the shutter won’t be fast enough.
3. I don’t take the shot
There have been three amazing moments that I saw and missed. On one occasion I had no camera on me, on another occasion I walked on, then realised the compositional brilliance of the moment, but then as I looked back, got a look that put me off (basically I chickened out), the third moment was when I was having a relaxing moment with my wife so I didn’t want to spoil that.
I regret the first two moments and have burned them into my mind to remind me not to miss them again.
4. There are too many “back” in the photo
[I imagine Charlie is laughing at this one] yup. I’m far to guilt of this. As a general rule (rules are made to be broken of course) back as the most boring part of a person. Seriously, someone’s ankle, wrist, hand, arm, anything is more interesting than their back.
5. The photo is too descriptive
Sometimes my photos have too much detail or information in them, they don’t lead to the viewer having to think about them much. They’re in your face with their message. This is a classic example of “telling” not showing, and sucks. Leaving a bit of ambiguity can be really interesting and make the viewer work to appreciate the image more. The more you look at it the more you like it.
Some solutions to these problems
Of course, just saying why my street photography sucks isn’t really useful. Here are some ideas I’m trying to implement to improve my photos and to suck less.
1. Go high, low or get close
All these aspects can help remove distractions from photos. When you get close, you fill the frame more, when you go low and point up, the sky becomes your background (generally less busy than the street) when you go high, the floor becomes your background. All these tricks can help and can also add more ambiguity to boot.
2. Don’t worry about grain or use a flash
To combat slow shutter speeds you either have to put up with grain (the Fuji x100T can get to about 64000 and be “okay” I generally stick to 32000 at night or 1600 at highest during the day. This helps a lot) or you can use a flash (which of course attracts more attention). Generally I stick with the grain because I’m not used to shooting with a flash but I plan to experiment a bit more with using flash. It certainly adds a unique style and can have some very cool effects when the background blurs but the subject is frozen.
3. Take the shot!
So many issues are caused in street photography by simply not taking the shot. It’s often about just not having the guts or being so afraid about what might happen. That why I try to burn into my mind the shots I’ve missed. I don’t want to have that moment of hesitation next time the opportunity comes. There can be personal safety concerns (aka don’t take an overly aggressive shot of a big group of men who are drunk and looking for a fight) but those are few and far between.
The other aspect of this is to always have my camera ready. There are some moments when I choose not to take my camera with me (and sods law, those are when those brilliant moments happen) but in general I take my camera with my a lot more now)
4. Don’t be invisible
Too often people get obsessed with being “invisible” on the streets and so they get in their way. The stand at a distance shooting with a creepy telescopic lens, [honestly, how is that not creepy], they stand in shadows trying to not be seen (again, creepy stalker territory), they don’t move or get close for the best shot but stay where it is “safe” and they stand behind people and get shots of their backs.
As soon as you lose the need to be invisible, you open up so many options and possibilities, now being seen is just part of the game and can result in photos which you could never have got otherwise.
5. Crop out important details
Cropping out the “important details” is a great way to add some ambiguity and mystery to your images. It also forces you to focus on showing not telling your viewer and highlighting the emotions, interactions and subtle details in a scene. By cropping out the important details, you focus on telling the story better and not relying on cheap tricks.
How does your street photography suck?
Well there you have it, new ways in which my street photography sucks. Maybe you can relate to some of these or maybe you have your own struggles. I’d love to know what is holding your photos back and what you are doing to improve (I’d also love your tips on my problems too). Leave a comment below.