Oxford School of Photography

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Principles Of Moments: Thoughts On Street Photography

As always Faded+Blurred comes up with the goods, this article on street photography is worth your time

One of the things I’ve noticed lately is that the term “street photography” gets batted around willy nilly to describe any given scene that happens to include people in any sort of urban environment. Random people in crosswalks? Street photography. Commuters on trains? Street photography. Person drinking coffee, either walking down the street or sitting at a cafe? Definitely street photography. Oh, and umbrellas…lots of umbrellas. So, what does the term really encompass? For many photographers, if you were to ask them about iconic street shooters, one name that would inevitably make the list is Garry Winogrand, which is ironic since he actually rejected the label. “I hate the term,” Winogrand said. “I think its a stupid term, street photography. I don’t think it… tells you anything about a photographer or work.” Personally, I find nothing wrong with the term, and I completely understand the need to categorize or compartmentalize various genres of photography to provide at least some sort of context. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to label every photo of random people on a street, road, or avenue in any sort of urban setting as street photography, anymore than calling a photo of Uncle Bob or Aunt Mildred snapped just before sitting down to Christmas dinner should automatically be called a portrait. Sure, it may be, but just taking pictures of people doesn’t put you in the same category as Avedon, Penn, Karsh or countless others. Photography is a craft, an art. In my opinion, it comes down to vision and intent and whether you use a camera phone, a DSLR or a vintage film camera, there are principles (note that I didn’t say rules) that once understood, will allow you to make better, more engaging photographs.

Coincidentally – or maybe not – the guardian recently posted a feature highlighting the wonderful work of award-winning photographer Antonio Olmos. In the post, Olmos presents a gallery of images and offers tips for making better street photographs. What I find interesting is that virtually all of the things Olmos references – exposure, composition (leading lines) and light can, and should, be applied to all areas of photography. These are concepts that every serious photographer should not only learn but practice and indeed focus on. These things make the difference between snapshots and photographs.

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While men carrying bed frames and riding bicycles is interesting, this photograph is all about the light. The flare from the sun anchors the scene while the dramatic long shadows drive the viewer’s eye into the image.

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Rule of thirds, plain and simple. The boys’ feet off the ground implies motion and energy and the negative space at left gives our eyes somewhere to go. Wonderful.

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Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me, but I love when negative space is used well. In this image, the wall becomes a canvas of sorts, bathing the subject in a beautiful warm glow.

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Books We Recommend
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Street Photography Now
Vivian Maier: Street Photographer
Extraordinary Everyday Photography
Humans of New York

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