Chris J Wilson

Krakow Street photographer

What is Street Photography?

what is street photography

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts for beginners looking at Street photography. In this series I hope to take interested people from no idea to out and shooting street photography. With that in mind, let’s start with what is street photography?

Just like most art forms, people have long fights over what is and what isn’t street photography. If you go onto different Facebook groups which describe themselves as “street photography groups” you might come across polar opposite styles of “street” photography.
According to Wikipedia (which as we all know is never wrong), street photography is

Street photography is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment.

The last detail there might seem a little strange, the name implies that it requires being on “the street” and yet it says the street can be absent. One of the key details in the definition are “unmediated” and “random”. Street Photography traditionally has been about observing and encountering wonderful moments without disturbing the environment. So asking people to posse is a complete no, no. In fact, for many street photographers, interacting in any way with your subjects is a big no. However, as I said, definitions change, sub genre’s form (such as street portraits where a subject is asked to pose on the street) and so you should feel free to experiment, break rules and work out your own path.

In fact, Nick Turpin suggest that perhaps it is easier to describe what is not street photography. A landscape clearly isn’t street, a portrait clearly isn’t street and so on. He even suggests that perhaps street photography is really what photography at its essence is.

A word of warning though, if you completely break the classical definition of street photography and then call yourself a street photographer, you will be judge by some people. On one level this is just egos but on another, especially when it comes to art competitions and criteria, calling something a painting which is a sculpture is just silly. Likewise calling a posed photo taken with portrait lights of a subject you know and it just so happens to be on a street “Street Photography” is also silly.

My tip is to not get too caught up on definitions and focus on good photography, sure call yourself a street photographer but go beyond those bounds as well. Try shooting in completely different ways, break the rules…but when you get permission or ask someone to posse, make sure you are clear about that.

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About Chris Wilson

I'm an English as a Foreign Language teacher in Krakow, Poland in my spare time I love taking photos. This is my blog.

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