Thinking About Street Photography

DSCF2671(Fuji X100T)

Despite being active with fitness photoshoots lately (with some amazing models I’ll be blogging about soon), I’ve been thinking a lot about street photography.  I have been out on the streets of Vancouver and Seattle shooting as much as possible and, when I’m not shooting, I am usually reading or looking at images.

I’d like to start off by saying I am a student of street photography.  I am exploring, experimenting, studying the works of others, and trying to figure out what it is that compels me towards shooting on the street.  I am in no way a subject matter expert.

DSCF7460(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens)

There are a variety of definitions of street photography, but the one that speaks to me the most is from street photographer and educator Eric Kim:

“Street photography is capturing the beauty in the mundane” 

We are usually so busy in our lives, moving from one place to the next, that we often don’t take the time to appreciate the world around us.  Street photography is about seeing that beauty.

Street photographer Robert Doisneau said:

“The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”

And, Henri Cartier-Brensson, who some consider to be the father of modern street photography (and was a co-founder of Magnum Photos), said:

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”

There is truth to this.   The key is to train your eye to see what is around you, and to be ready to react quickly when you do see it:

DSCF7452-Edit(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens)

Life on the streets can be beautiful.  It can be ugly.  It can be all things in between.

Famous New York City Magnum street photographer Bruce Gilden once said:

“If you can smell the streets, then it’s a good street photograph.”

DSCF2679-Edit(Fuji X100t)

People are almost always at the heart of a good street photograph.  A lot of people new to street photography, however, find it difficult to engage strangers, to talk to them, to simply take their photograph candidly on the street.

For myself, I have always been an outgoing person, probably due to my history as a professional musician and 2 decades of working in emergency health care.  Despite that, however, I was a little timid when I started.

These quotes really helped me to find my confidence:

“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.”  –  Bruce Gilden

“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” –  Alfred Eisenstaedt

DSCF7437(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens)

Coming to that understanding, that I photograph people on the streets because I am genuinely interested in them, helped me find my stride.

If you are going to give the viewers of your photographs a sense of place though, if you want them to “smell the streets”, you need to be close to your subject.  Wide angle lenses are usually the name of the game, rather than sniping from a distance with a telephoto lens.  Magnum co-founder and famed war photographer Robert Capa said:

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” 

Every picture in this blog post was taken from within 6 feet of the subject.  It helps create that sense of place and being.  These photos were taken from 2′ away:

DSCF2692(Fuji X100T)

DSCF2691(Fuji X100T)

Some final thoughts:

 I shoot formal portraiture often.  I bring lights.  I work with remarkably talented and beautiful people.  I control the scene, work collaboratively with my subjects, and create images that (hopefully) make them happy.

The street is different…

It is spontaneous.  It is beautiful.   You have to train your eye to see, be ready to capture a moment, and not be afraid to interact with people and be right in the middle of it.

If you do it enough you will be rewarded:   Both as an artist, and as a person.

Cheers,

Ian

p.s.  All images in this blog post were taken with Fuji cameras: Either the Fuji X100T, or the Fuji X-T1 with the amazing 35mm F/1.4 lens.  Mirrorless cameras are small and quiet… allowing you to work your way into a scene without drawing attention to yourself.

8 thoughts on “Thinking About Street Photography

  1. Joe says:

    This is one of my favorite types of photography also and I too am a student of this style. Some of my favorite images were taken by the people you have mentioned in your post Ian. Some of the contributors on my collaborative photoblog Monochromia – http://groupexpo.wordpress.com have taken some great street shots also.

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