5 Mistakes when Editing Street Photography

We are all guilty of occasionally over-processing our images. Street photography can be subjective, and we have all experimented with our pictures. However, traditional Street Photography involves minimal processing and is a genre steeped in tradition. Going overboard on processing creates an unrealistic image that fails to reflect reality, which is the essence of any strong street photograph. Here are my 5 editing hates.

Selective blur

I have started seeing this more often and find it incredibly ugly. I am guessing that it could be done well in Photoshop, but even then, why do it at all? Street photography is about seeing the whole scene; this is why ‘f8 and be there’ is so widely referenced. If you do want to highlight a subject, then use a shallow depth of field. This technique is often applied when taking Street Portraits. The image below was shot at f1.8. The background would be quite distracting if I did not throw it out of focus. If you want the background blurred, then it is usually best to get it right in camera!

Image taken at f1.8

Over-sharpened images

Ever seen an image that has been sharpened so much your eyes feel punctured just looking at it. Sharpening, clarity, and texture are all tools that can help your image pop by adding contrast around the lines within a photo. Too much sharpening introduces problems, including digital noise, haloing, and an unreal look to the final image.

Selective colour

Screen grab: Schindler’s List

I have tried to find some examples where this is done well. However, it just is not my cup of tea. Steven Spielberg got away with it in Schindler’s List. Colour grade, by all means, but a red balloon in a B+W image had been done to death.

Too much contrast

Two different edits. I’m hoping most people will prefer the image on the right! The black and white version loses detail in both the highlights and the blacks.

High contrast black and white can look fantastic, but using the technique will not turn a bad photograph into a fantastic image. Cameras can capture incredible detail, sometime you need to embrace the grey areas and leave the details in. Make sure you do not blow the highlights of the whites in an image.

Not getting it right in camera

Photos are often over-processed to try and camouflage a poorly captured image. This rarely works, instead try to think of editing as a process through which the strengths of an image can be highlighted. Work on improving your craft through practice and study. Try to take a leaf from a documentary photographers book, a genre that allows for very little editing of an image. Lastly, look at some of the Masters of Street Photography, and observe how they have processed their images. The image below is not a documentary photo and would not be accepted by many as Street Photography. I used Photoshop to remove the front end of a white van from the bottom left hand corner. Steve McCurry came under fire for doing this with some of his most famous images.

A ‘Cheating’ photo?


There are dozens of programs available to edit a photo, and there are even more apps available for our phones. Processes which required technical editing skills with Photoshop are can now be applied with a finger swipe, and it easy overdo an edit. Look at building a support network of friends who will give you honest feedback, don’t feel that getting a dozen likes verifies editing choices!

Of course, feel free to disagree, or to add your own pet hate.

Take care and keep clicking, Chris.

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