What is Street Photography?

If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.

Bruce Gilden

Number 1. You have to have a person in a photo to make it a street photograph.

I often post my pictures on the google+ site Street Photographers. It is a great site, but insists that there must be a strong human element in the shot. However, I think there are many elements that fall into the area of ‘street’.

street-photography-1-of-1-8Nothing says ‘street’ more than a row of parked-up bicycles.

2. Street portraits are on the margins of street photography.

This claim is made by David Gibson in his wonderful book ‘The Street Photographers Manual’. It is a great book and he probably knows more about Street Photography than I ever will, however, I believe that portraits can be the core of street photography. Can you smell the street on a well-worn face, or the smiling face of a child at play? I think so.

Check out the work of Bruce Gilden for some really inspiring street portraiture.

USA. Columbus, Ohio. 2014. Bonnie in the Bottoms neighborhood.

USA. Columbus, Ohio. 2014. Bonnie in the Bottoms neighborhood.

Photograph by Bruce Gilden

3. You have to use a high f.stop.

OK, this is not a rule but it is commonly given advice to people starting in street photography. Setting a high ISO of of 800-1600 and a f.stop of 8 or 9 ensures everything is sharp and in focus. However, using a shallow depth of field lets you shoot in darker locations and can help separate the subject from the background. In the shot below the lady was in front of a cluttered and dark alleyway. A shallow depth of field makes sure your eyes are drawn to the ladies expressions and not the details in the background.

street-photography-1-of-1-5Two laughing ladies, Hongshen Lu, Shanghai, 2016

4. You cannot have a ‘posed’ street photograph.

Oh yeah?  Tell that to Mohamed Bourouissa, whose pictures are 100% set up, but still  give the smell of the street! This is known as ‘staged photography’.


Photograph by Mohamed Bourouissa.

5. You need a small discrete camera for street photography.

Yeah, and I would like a Leica. However, the truth is that ANY camera can be used for street photography. Check out some of the work by Vera Lutter who turns whole rooms into one big pinhole camera!


Photograph by Vera Lutter

So there you have it. Street photography is both a genre steeped in tradition and one that is stomping ahead looking for new definitions and techniques. Different groups have different rules and ideas. Find a place you feel happy to hang out and post your pics.

Lastly, street photography is hard. I am happy if I have 2-3 shots that I love after a days shooting. Keep at it and persevere, don’t post pictures you do not love.

There are a couple of great books I used to aid the writing of this post, ‘The Street Photographers Manual‘, by David Gibons and ‘Street Photography Now‘, by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren. Buy them both, one piece of common advice is if you want to take better photos then buy books and not gear!

Have fun and keep clicking, Chris @ pagespics.com

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