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What Makes a Good Street Photograph?

How is it Composed?

Composition is one of the most important elements in any form of photography, however street photography lends itself to a more free and fluid approach to composition.

There are many models of composition you may have heard of already, for example the Rule of Thirds” or the Golden Ratio”.

There are more complex ways to analyse a photograph and extrapolate further theories as to why a photograph works”. This could be in reference to the use of triangle arrangements and patterns, or the number of subjects in an image or which subjects are shown in the frame or simply suggested.

I believe that based upon how I shoot on the street, composition is more about who and what is included in the frame and how I decide to frame it. I’m not convinced that photographers like Josef Koudelka spent all of their time searching for triangle compositions in his photographs as demonstrated by Eric Kim in this post.

A good eye for composition is learnt in time, trial and error will bring you to your own style of shooting. There are of course simple guidelines that can affect the perception of an image. For example including leading lines and odd numbers of subjects etc

Is there a Story?

A street photograph should come with no caption, it should tell its own story. What story does your photograph want to tell? It’s less about what you want to say, and more about what the image is inferring.

You can build stories within your images by including such techniques as juxtaposition, that is contrasting two or more elements against each other to show conflict, harmony or humour. You can selectively choose to obscure or distort a character thus adding mystery to your image.

These choices happen in a split second on the street. You may see a picture forming very quickly in front of you, you have mere moments to catch that one instance where all the elements come together and form your story.

Just like composition, story-telling comes with experience over time.

Is the photograph Organic?

To me, documentary photography should be natural and organic. I am not a fan of posed or staged street photographs. I certainly believe that there is a place for these kinds of images, however my personal preference is to maintain the cinema vertié documentary approach when photographing on the street.

An organic image, comes from the heart, it’s your desire to take that second in time and freeze it forever, there’s an emotion in that moment.

Does the photograph Flow?

A good street photograph should flow naturally, similar to the feeling of an organic image, a natural flow is how your eye scans the the image for the story. Where is our eye drawn to first? What is the next thing we notice? Where does our eye end up? The answer to these questions is what forms the story of our image.

A bad street photograph, has no natural flow. Our eye is confused which direction it should move to find the next element of the story.

This may be scanning a crowd of faces waiting by a pedestrian crossing, there may not be a stand out character and our eye is left wondering why the photo was taken? Where is the punchline?

Is it Original?

There is a treasure trove of history behind street photography. We have a bountiful supply of classic and historic street photos taken by some of the masters of street photography.

It would be naive to presume that we are going to take an original image every time we shoot, more often than not we find ourselves inspired by the photographers who have come before us.

Being inspired is not a bad thing at all, it is however easy to become comfortable copying something we are familiar with, something that worked before.

I believe that street photography is constantly evolving and adapting to how our modern lives function.

There is a feeling of nostalgia towards that classic era of street photography, however there has to be a movement towards a new ever changing form that pushes the boundaries and strengthens the medium.

This is my opinion on what makes a good street photograph. The wonderful thing about street photography is that there are no rules, there are endless possibilities and ways of telling your story.

What makes a good street photograph for you?

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