If you’ve followed this beginners guide to street photography series then by now I’m sure you are out and about shooting. But what makes a good street photograph? What are those things you should look out for when you are out shooting on the street?
What to look for in street photos
There are a few very common elements that appear in street photos. This makes them both good and bad things to look out for. After all, if something is often photographed then it can be overdone or cliche, at the same time these elements are often interesting for viewers and you can try and make your own take on it.
1. Great backgrounds
A good background helps your images to no end. This is something which makes it easy to see your subject and doesn’t distract from the main items in the image. This can vary a lot but there are some good typical characteristics
- contrasting colours with the subject(s)
- simple patters or no pattern
- a thematic background (I.e. Old bricks to create an old feeling, a grey concrete wall to create a sterile feeling etc)
You should always keep your eyes open for an interesting background and move so that a potential subject lines up with that background.
When you are taking pictures of people, it’s good to keep an eye out for emotions on people’s faces. However, don’t just look at people’s faces. Keep an eye out for hand actions, how people stand and how they walk. A single ounce of emotion can turn an ordinary moment, extra ordinary and often has long term lasting value unlike some other aspects people look for in photos. The two key elements to look for are
- the eyes
3. Good light
Light can be very influential in a photo. Just look at how the position and quality of light can impact a portraits. Light from above looks menacing with deep shadows in people’s eyes, light from behind causes mysterious silhouettes and so on. In street photography, it can be fun to play with the light, finding little pockets of bright harsh light which leaves some elements in shadows.
4. Interesting juxtapositions
A classic in street photography is to try and find two or more contrasting aspects. This could be a young woman and an old figure, someone with modern technology and then someone with ancient technology, or perhaps a happy figure and a sad figure.
This could be done with several people, or it could involve a fake element such as a sign, poster or statue. This is an area which is often overdone or cliche as many of these ideas have been done for a long time. Still, it’s fun and your friends will love them if you do them well.
5. Geometric shapes
Harry Gruyaert famously said
There is no story. It’s just a question of shapes and light
If that’s true then it’s vital to have your eyes open for shapes on the street. This could be from buildings, shadows, Windows, the way a person stands or objects around the place.
6. Something “out of place”
Out of place objects and people area great attention grabber. This can be subtle or loud by the fact that the object might be large in the frame and obvious or small and not immediate.
Keep your eyes open for anything which “doesn’t belong” where it is.
7. Interesting characters
This is a dangerous one as “interesting characters” don’t automatically make a good photo and can lead to dehumanising the person involved. It’s very common to see poor photos of a very interesting person.
An interesting person could have interesting clothes or an interesting characteristic. Try to match an interesting character with an interesting action or scenery to reinforce the message.
Couples can often show emotion making them good subjects. They are also often so focused on each other that they won’t see you. This helps you remain unnoticed.
What do you look for in street photos?
This is not a definitive list but just a small example of what I look for. You can of course start your own particular list and items to look out for. That’s the joy of photography, you can make it what you want.