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What makes a street photo special?

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by pniev, Feb 5, 2016.

  1. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    Jun 10, 2013
    While looking at a variety of street photos, I could easily identify those that I liked, those I did not like, and those that did not do much. But I had difficulty explaining the "why". So eventually I wondered what makes a street photo special.

    So what, in your view, makes a street photo special?
     
  2. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 SC Top Veteran

    538
    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    Andrew
    First - my tried and true statement - probably tired as well as people are probably tired of hearing it.

    This whole thing of photographs is subjective. So take the rest of this as my subjectivity and my personal reasons on why I finf the street photos I take successful and I apply the same to others.

    There must be a story told. Each image can stand on its own to tell a whole story, or tell parts of a story within a series of images. it all depends on the subject.
    Framing. There must be a good framing of the scene.
    Composition. Composition must make sense for the image.
    Subject matter. Does it make me feel anything. Forget the "is the exposure correct, framing, composition...does the image move me in some way, does it make me feel? And by that, I mean anything. Happy, sad, mad, whatever....but if I don't get an emotional reaction from it in some way....it's just ho hum and I pass on it.
    A lot of the feeling comes from our personal life experiences.
    05-10-2014_Df_shortnorth_DSC_1053-Edit.

    For example, the image above. Some people could care less about this image, but if you are a dog owner/lover then it hits you in a special way.
    For me the dog steals the show. Even though you have all these people having a conversation and doing their thing, the dog is still the center of attention. It mad me happy and gave me a chuckle when I saw the scene unfold and knew I had to capture the moment.
     
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  3. SnapDawg

    SnapDawg Rorschach Test Pilot

    651
    Apr 18, 2014
    Canary Islands
    Ken
    Maybe I didn't get you right but if :
    and ...
    and ...
    ... why not get any closer instead of including all those details that do nothing to support your center of attention?
    No offense meant, just trying to make sense of what you've said above ...

    qcyxqj59.
     
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  4. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    Jun 10, 2013
    Thanks for your views, Andrew. The photo (with the window with the advertisement and the man with the yellow coat in the middle) that you recently posted in the street thread immediately caught my eye. It was that "tension" between the yellow and the background that made it special to me.

    Ken: interesting angle! if I understand you correctly, you would add another criterium: "context must support the main subject/message"
     
  5. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 SC Top Veteran

    538
    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    Andrew
    A good point to be sure, and your suggestion of the crop is a good one. As you probably have experienced shooting street photography, sometimes you only get one shot to get the image you see coming. The dog stayed like this for a few seconds. Enough for me to get exactly 2 frames before he started meandering between the legs of the people in the group. Would I have loved to have gotten a closer shot. Sure, but It just did not present itself on that day.

    Also, I'm not so sure the tighter crop would have been as successful. The dog with all the people's legs loses the context of the image in the sense that I have no sense of place. Sure, you would know it is in the "street" somewhere, but the wider composition gives you a sense of the activity of the day, the weather conditions. You could look up the Hubbard Bar and Grill and find out that it is in Columbus, OH Short North Arts District.

    Again all a very subjective interpretation from both of us, neither being more right or more wrong than the other....just different. Your comments are most welcome and appreciated, thanks for participating.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2016
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  6. drd1135

    drd1135 SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    I'll chime in concerning this image. One of the big decisions with street shots is how much of the surroundings and context to include. A close crop like the one suggested would give a nice shot of a dog surrounded by a crowd of legs. The original shot gives faces and a setting. Here's the dog out with a group of folks out on the town. It has a slice of life feeling to it and you wonder what the people and the dog are thinking about, talking about and doing.
     
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  7. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    I think for me, there has to be a story or the potential for one.
    Random people doing random things on the street does not move me. The "decisive moment" does not come as often as one might hope.
     
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  8. Richard

    Richard SC Top Veteran

    564
    Feb 1, 2013
    Marlow, UK
    Nor me, and too often those random people are shot from close range at unflattering angles and slightly out of focus.

    Some street photography I like a lot, as I know how difficult it is to get right.

    -R
     
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  9. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    It's gotta have SOMETHING, but it's hard to say exactly what. Sometimes a story, sometimes an interaction between people in the shot, sometimes an interaction between the subject and the camera, sometimes a juxtaposition, sometimes humor, sometimes drama, sometimes just a particularly interesting looking person or group of people. Sometimes a great composition will make a shot without much content really good anyway. HCB's iconic curved staircase with a cyclist going by is such an image - there's no real story there, just a guy riding his bike, but the composition is so damn great that it doesn't matter. During a pornography case before the Supreme Court many years ago, one of the justices was asked if he could define pornography. He said he couldn't give you a specific definition but he knew it when he saw it. I feel the same way about good street photography - there are a lot of way for a street shot to work or not to work - I just look for whether it works or not. And obviously, it's in the eye of the beholder...

    -Ray
     
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  10. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    Jun 10, 2013
    Thank you for this further refinement. Random people doing random things is a good angle to take into account. The story, the interaction, the juxtaposition, humor, drama, etc (perhaps I may add tension and contradiction/opposites) help turn random into a moment.

    Yet, I do have great difficulty in looking at my own photos and to assess whether a particular photo is interesting or not. Some examples:

    This one had always interested me while others think it's not interesting at all and just a random photo of some people or it's too busy. I have difficulty in saying why I like it when I saw this scene:

    [​IMG]

    I could not really figure out why I liked this scene. Currently I am inclined to think it is because it illustrates the cultural melting pot. Three - what seems to be - superfit, energetic women in fitness outfit interactin; a man who is younger, has a totally different clothing style and is lost in himself and his music; a market run by people who have a totally different lifestyle than the man and the women. And the FedEx truck representing the "everything can be delivered at your doorstep" world. Is it an (obvious) story? Dunno. Maybe not. But I liked it and that's why I kept it. And I am still unsure why...


    This is another example: one old man, surrounded by 2 people and 3 pine trees on the left and 3 people and 2 pine trees on the right and 1 statue in the middle. The old man is looking at his environment, the young women are paying attention to their phones, totally unaware of what is happening around them. There is no total symmetry which would make it interesting, so I wonder if this is a keeper or ready for the trash.

    [​IMG]


    And a third one, that I initially liked (I waited until someone passed and looked) until I saw later that there are also other persons visible, so that ruined the moment for me. Besides, it is a type of scene that you can see everyday around the web. Although I kept it, it is not a special moment.

    [​IMG]

    I am curious what your thoughts are. Are these just random shots of random people or a bit more?
     
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  11. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Well, at a fundamental level, the shot has to be visually interesting and pull you into what you want the viewer to be seeing. In my mind, your first and third do this - the second one strikes me as a photo of the landscape that just happens to have some people in it, but the people don't really make an impression on me at that distance. The first one sort of tells a story, as you've outlined, a bit of juxtaposition. And the third doesn't have a lot of storyline, but it's a nice composition, with the tunnel leading you to the light and the guy walking through the opening. No story or juxtaposition or close enough to really focus on anything ABOUT the guy, but a nice composition that leads you to look at him. The third one is sort of like the HCB photo I mentioned above, the first is more the kind of thing I tend to go for, with an interaction among people and their environment. The second I wouldn't classify as a street shot particularly because it doesn't pull me into the people, but just looks like a nice close range landscape... The people add a touch of life, but aren't really the story...

    -Ray
     
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  12. drd1135

    drd1135 SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    This is crude but I think a good "street shot" triggers imagination. A still shot is an instant in time and people naturally want to extrapolate past and future. In the shot above, we wonder about relationships and plans. In the HCB cyclist shot, we wonder where he's going and get a sense of mission and maybe adventure. I've always thought that good "street shots" inspire a story as much as tell one.
     
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  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Never thought of it that way before, but I think that's a brilliant analysis. When I think back on various street shots I've liked a lot beyond any obvious composition or subject matter, what it makes me wonder about beyond the limits of the moment are what do it. True in my own shots and true in many many other folks' shots I've liked over the years. Something that really makes you wonder about the lives of the people who you've gotten to know for a split second.

    I knew there was a reason I keep hanging out around here! ;)

    I just went back quickly through a few dozen of my own street shots and, damn, you nailed it! There have always been shots I thought I should like but never quite did and others I couldn't find any particular reason I did like, but I couldn't shake them - and that's the key ingredient. Damn, a bit of a revelation!

    -Ray
     
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  14. snkenai

    snkenai SC All-Pro

    Oct 5, 2010
    kenai, AK
    Stephen Noel
    I've never really done "street". I'm not comfortable putting a camera in my friends and family's faces. I always feel very much like I'm going to be the subject of strong suspicion, if I point my camera in the direction of people in public. Explains why my photography is almost always of static subjects.
    But, I also don't really care for wading through a bunch of street pictures. First, I'm not really a people person ( how's that for a person in the ministry for nearly 45 years!). And, as has been described already, too many published "street" pictures just don't have a "story", past, present, or future. Also, most of the time the pictures are posted in B&W, because it's the popular "thing", or because they won't stand up in color. I love a really good B&W picture. But, it does not say, "today" for me. B&W to me shouts yesteryear, when photography was still in its childhood, like black and white TV.
    But, If you post one or two really good "yesteryear", shots, I will still enjoy and appreciate them, and your effort!

    I guess this is just exploring my thoughts, thinking out loud? This thread has stirred some personal introspection. Old dog new ......
     
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  15. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    Jun 10, 2013
    "Inspire a story" is a great way of describing it!


    Sent from my iPad using Photographers Lounge mobile app
     
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  16. greyelm

    greyelm SC Top Veteran

    844
    Oct 1, 2011
    London, England
    Time. Street photographs get better with age especially when they reflect the period during which they were taken. The popularity of "discovered" photographs is partly due to this.
     
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  17. drd1135

    drd1135 SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    Vivian Maier is an almost too obvious example of this.
     
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  18. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    -> Chris Arnade
    IMHO, one of the best because he gives you a narrative story behind the person in the image....
     
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  19. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 SC Top Veteran

    538
    Feb 6, 2015
    Central Ohio, USA
    Andrew
    I'm not a people person either, but you don't need to be to get good street photos. You do need to understand people, be able to see a scene before it unfolds and then get the most out of it that you can. If you feel apprehensive about it, I recommend finding another street shooter and go along just to see how it all works. The buddy system is no just for swimming! LOL

    Regarding B&W - I love the look of a good black and white. For me, using B&W is a creative tool. It should not be used in order to try and "make an image better". IF he image is good, it will stand up to color or black and white. I use B&W in order to direct the view. Some times, if the scene has a lot of color, people get mesmerized by "all that pretty color". If you take that away, you are forcing a perspective of analysis of tones and shapes. Other times B&W can absolutely kill an image. Like this one. The background is already a monochrome, but having the color of the guys jacket and his gesture in contrast to the gesture of the models in the ads behind him just feel right.
    01-31-2016_EM1_shortnorth_P1310285.
     
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