About Street Photography

You often hear people saying that street photography is oh so trendy at the moment. When you tell someone that it is what you like to do, they often react a bit like "Oh great, isn't that what everyone does?". You know what, here's how I see it: Street photography doesn't exist. It's just photography and you sometimes happen to be on the street. No need to pigeonhole it!

You can even be  below  the streets! Is it below-the-streets photography then?

You can even be below the streets! Is it below-the-streets photography then?

As soon as cameras became pocketable and affordable, people have been using them to take pictures on the streets. Not only was it plain and simply fun to do, it was also a great way for travelers to show the whole world to friends and family. Edward Steichen's impressive exhibit "The Family of Man" (one of the benefits of living in Luxembourg) is a collection of photos that completely encapsulate what photography as a wholeis all about. I would go so far as to say that what most people do today on Facebook, Twitter, and all of their social networks is basically the same thing, the main differences being that firstly, most of the photos in the exhibit are, ahem, nearly always pleasing to the eye, and secondly, they most often have a very striking message, a distinct feeling or they tell a clear story. But the essence of the pictures we all take in our everyday lives stays the same: we take photos because we think that something is interesting. And that's all there's to it!

Then again, it's not all that simple, because there's many different reasons for something to be interesting to someone. People like to take family photos because their family is important to them. We take photos on our vacations because we think they might be interesting to our friends. Then there's vocational photographers. They take photos because they are important for their clients. Some photographers become world-famous because they took photos of the most important events in history. Depending on the point of view, all those photos canbe important in one way or another.

There's so many things happening in everyday life, you just need to be there to capture it.

There's so many things happening in everyday life, you just need to be there to capture it.

We rarely think that everyday life could be the subject of interesting photography. Because we think that it's, well, just not that interesting! And that is precisely why I love to take photos of those everyday situations. When you push the shutter and thus transfer what you see, framed and frozen in time, into a precise composition, you extract it from the whole chaos around you and force the viewer to focus on this onething, and think about it. We don't usually do that! We see a big mess around us and try to concentrate on what is important to us at this moment, but thereby, we miss so much interesting stuff! With a camera in hand and ideally some time to spare, your attitude in these situations changes. You are actually able to let it all in, to open yourself to it, and actively search for those interesting things. And I just loveto reveal them!

That's also why I refuse to call it a "genre". It is just trying to find the remarkable, special moments in everyday life situations, capturing and interpreting them. The interpretingpart is extremely important, because we all see very differently. Not only would we all choose different subjects but we'd all compose differently, use other techniques, accentuate other details. To understand what I mean I'd recommend to take a look at some of Henry Cartier-Bresson's photos and see how he integrates people in their environment, some of Garry Winogrand's work and how lively and people-centric his pictures are. Then Bruce Gilden's images and how he often uses the camera and the flash as a means to get people's reactions and, as a result, those very expressive faces. You'll see that it is as if you were visuallylistening to completely different languages. If that makes any sense.

I love how in street scenes like this one, you can see so many people simultaneously minding their own business! It's like telling half a dozen stories at the same time.

I love how in street scenes like this one, you can see so many people simultaneously minding their own business! It's like telling half a dozen stories at the same time.

I think that people have simply forgotten that taking photos of interesting stuff is just something we like to do. There's no such thing as a "revival of the genre", it was never gone in the first place! That doesn't mean that photography hasn't changed or evolved over the years. The reason for that, in my opinion, were the DSLR and digital photography as a whole.

I mentioned how people in the last century began to take their cameras wherever they went. Well I think that something similar happened with the digital revolution. Instead of taking photos with their old film cameras, people began to embrace this new technology as soon as it became widely accessible. At the beginning though, we mostly traded quality for convenience, because digital photography in the early days wasn't really there yet. What happened next was digital cameras rapidly getting much better, but at the same time also way bigger, heavier and clunkier. Smaller cameras did exist, but their quality was really nothing to brag about. DSLRs on the other hand where for many people just too intrusive and conspicuous to take them on the streets, so that taking photos of people suddenly seemed more threatening, on both sides of the camera - way more so, than it did with the smaller rangefinder cameras of yesteryear! Before the digital era, SLRs and rangefinder cameras where on a par regarding image quality, so it was just a matter of people having different needs and other ideas what the handling of their camera should look like. But now with digital photography taking over, suddenly the only cameras with really good quality where DSLRs, because they boasted comparatively huge sensors.

I don't think I would have taken this image with a DSLR. Guy looked grumpy enough already!

I don't think I would have taken this image with a DSLR. Guy looked grumpy enough already!

And here's what's happening at the moment, which people tend to interpret as the trend of street photography: two handful of people wearing hipster hats bought some old Leica film cameras and take pictures in the streets again! Just kidding, film's dead, and for good reason too. No, what's really happening is that digital cameras with great quality are getting smaller again! For a few years now, camera manufacturers have begun to see that mirrors aren't inevitable and that sensors don't need to have the size of 35mm film. Smaller chips can be just as good! A few years ago this was another story, but now, I honestly can't tell them apart if you show me photos from my little Fuji X-T1 or the Canon 5D Mark III. I'm not really a pixel peeper and I'm sure you probably could find some differences between them, but I ensure you, it wouldn't be anything mentionable in any real life situation. The benefits here just by faroutweigh the tradeoffs.

You sometimes need a little luck when you're shooting in the streets, but interesting things happen all the time.

You sometimes need a little luck when you're shooting in the streets, but interesting things happen all the time.

So people are just doing what they always did. They take photos of what's important to them. Not because of any trend, but because they have the tools they need to be creative.

Thanks for reading! What do you guys love to shoot the most? Let me know in the comments and don't forget to share this article on your networks!