Street photography is a controversial topic in Germany. There are certainly more popular genres in Germany and most of them prefer to focus on portrait or landscape photography.
For me street photography is the most complicated photographic field. Therefore, photographers who are actually not interested in street photography can also benefit from trying it out.
It trains the eye, takes you mentally and forces you to work well even under pressure.
How exactly you can benefit from it and what the challenges are in street photography, you will find out in this article.
What is street photography
First I would like to briefly describe street photography, as there are often different ideas. For some, every image that is created in public is already a street image and others describe very stringent criteria that must be met.
To make it easy for me there are only two criteria that a street scene must meet.
It must have been made in public. This does not necessarily mean on the street, but public buildings are also included or other events.
It must be candid. In order to have a “real” documentary character, the image must not be posed or influenced.
These two criteria are also used to describe the tasks of street photography.
Street photography documents public life at a certain point in time and reflects the zeitgeist. With the help of street photography, for example, the lifestyle of the 50s in New York can be modeled and good street photography enables the viewer to immerse himself directly in this time.
Photographers like Vivian Maier, Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz have captured the stories of their cities and with the help of street photography we can still experience them.
Fears in Street Photography
Now I would like to address the real challenges and why not only street photographers benefit from this type of photography.
Street photography requires that the photographer leave his comfort zone and be open in dealing with people. Photographing strangers and public situations sounds unusual at first.
When we think about it, we ask ourselves how other people would react to us, whether we would have to reckon with confrontations and whether we could even overcome ourselves to photograph freely.
A wedding photographer who has to photograph a wedding party of perhaps 100 people and who is the focus of attention there has to overcome a similar situation.
As a street photographer, it can also quickly happen that not everyone is positive. You have to be able to react confidently to these situations.
You have to be able to overcome your own fears and apprehensions if you want to hold on to the unconstrained life.
It should also be mentioned that these fears are largely unfounded and that we convince ourselves of the greatest fears. In my years as a street photographer, there was only one exact time that I was asked to delete a picture, there were no other incidents.
People even react more positively than expected. It can therefore be said that anyone who is still a little unsure about using the camera in public should try street photography.
Street photography is a very fast discipline. Unlike in a studio, where we can prepare the pictures very specifically and precisely, in street photography everything has to happen very quickly.
We see a situation that is interesting for us and then we have to capture it directly. There is no second chance to get this exact picture again.
The composition must therefore be created almost automatically in a few seconds.
Is the background restless? Are there any disturbing details in the picture? Does the picture follow the simplest rules of composition?
All these things have to be considered and implemented within a very short time.
After a while, this no longer happens consciously, but instinctively changes into the camera and the photographic gaze.
In addition, apart from this time pressure, the road is a real challenge when it comes to composition.
The street is not a sterile studio, but there are always new stumbling blocks that can “destroy” a good picture. Be it overhead lines of trams that sometimes run unfavorably across the picture, or that people are depicted who should actually no longer be in the picture.
Creative solutions are needed for these difficulties. New angles and settings have to be found within a short period of time that still get the best out of the existing situation.
Street photography therefore forces us to adapt to new situations and unfamiliar environments within a very short time.
Ideally, a picture should tell a story and trigger emotions.
Stories can either be told in a fairly abstract way or more directly. Be it because as a photographer you connect certain associations with the image and its content or because you want to awaken these in the viewer.
Similar to the composition, the story also has to be designed within a very short time so that it is understandable for the viewer.
The public is mostly a chaotic place where it is difficult to tell an isolated story. That is why many people find it difficult to take interesting pictures, especially at the beginning. They are usually too far removed from what is actually happening and absorb far too many irrelevant details that distract from the core and only confuse the viewer.
Patience and frustration
Even if the previous challenges are mastered regularly and are actually no longer a problem, street photography is still unpredictable.
As street photographers, we have no control over whether something interesting happens to us today, or whether we are just unlucky and the weather doesn’t really play along and we can’t take a picture.
Every street photographer experiences this frustration and there are times better and sometimes worse months, but it is also important to learn to deal with these lows. To motivate yourself again and to take photos, even if you may not have the best feeling of going outside, is also one of the challenges you have to master as a street photographer.
All of these experiences as a street photographer can also be useful for other photography disciplines. Whether as a wedding photographer who needs the necessary courage to assert himself at the wedding, or the architecture photographer who gets nervous when other people watch him photograph the buildings.