If you’ve perused Street Photography on 500px or a Street Photography group on Flickr you’ve undoubtedly witnessed the cliché that is Internet Street Photography. A weird shadow behind a subject? Subject standing in front of a funny billboard or poster? Streak of light on subjects face while the rest of their body is in the shadows? Homeless person sitting or laying on the street? Old wrinkly face? Check, check, check, check and cliché.
Hey look, I’m not saying I’ve never taken a similar shot or that you shouldn’t. In fact, these type of shots are a great way to get started… they are the low hanging fruit. These shots have been done so many different ways that taking one feels almost as if you’re dropping dough into a mold.
There is a reason these shots are so prolific, people see shots like this with hundreds of likes and instead of exploring their own vision they succumb to the desire to gain “likes” or “followers” on (name your social media poison of choice). If you’ve tried this approach you’ll quickly find that peoples interest in this type of photography is waning. You can only see so many of the same type of shots before you begin t feel as if it’s all a bit trite.
My hope is that you find the information below useful in realizing your creative vision in a unique and engaging way. My intent is not to say that if you take these types of photographs you’re a bad Street Photographer, rather this article is meant to improve on concepts that are so very common in the Street Photography world.
Faces In A Crowd
This is less of a cliché and more just boring Street Photography. I’m sure the photographer had some sort of subject or event he or she was trying to capture but come on… A bunch of faces in a crowd is about as interesting as looking at your photos from your last family vacation.
Ask yourself if there is something within the frame interesting enough to make a viewer stop and really look at the image. Is there a story being told within the frame? Does your image stand on its own or require a back story of some sort? A great Street Photography shot should not need you to follow it around explaining your “vision” so others can appreciate it as much as you do.
If you want to create interesting photographs in a crowd think about how you can isolate your subject. Rarely is a crowd the sole interesting subject in a photograph. Things like color, lighting, and framing can all improve this shot beyond the normal cliché shot.
Tread lightly. Nobody can tell you why you photograph what you do but if your goal is to garner likes on social media with images of people sleeping in the streets or otherwise just having the worst time of their life you’ll disgust more people than you impress. On the other hand, if your goal is to draw attention to the plights of homeless people in order to invoke change or elicit action from viewers then more power to you.
I like a good silhouette as much as the next guy but come one… How many more images can we make of a random silhouette walking into the sun or out of a tunnel into bright daylight? I’m not saying silhouette photos can’t be dynamic, on the contrary, I think when done correctly they can create some really great Street Photography. Think about what is going on around your silhouette, is it evoking a feeling or mood? What is the “Decisive Moment”?
Adding layers to your composition will greatly improve a photo beyond a cliché. Things like steam, fog, reflections, framing or leading lines all improve a photographs composition.
Bright color is an eye catcher, amiright? What could be cooler than someone walking past a funny billboard or colorful graffiti? Nothing, 5 years ago. These are some of the most overdone Street Photography shots you’ll see on the internet. It’s one of the easiest shots you can make and I’m sure that is why it’s so prolific.
Think about layers, the same rule applies to taking photographs in touristy places… If you are someplace where millions of photographs have been taken before what would you do to make your photograph stand out? What is the decisive moment? For me it’s a series of events in combination with the background. I like to capture unique subjects as well as unique movements or interactions in front of interesting backdrops. Without some sort of unique interaction the photo falls into my cliché category (and yes, I’ve taken/take my fair share).
One of my favorite colorful background photos I’ve taken lately was shot in Soho, NY. The timing was perfect and the moment was fleeting… preparation met opportunity.
Old Wrinkly Face
Fair warning, you may hate me if your portfolio is overflowing with old wrinkly faces. I really can’t think of a less interesting photograph these days. Don’t get me wrong, they were really interesting years ago when people started uploading them by the dozens to the internet. I’m tired of looking at your Nana or Papa looking back at me all sad eyed and wrinkly.
Back away from the Clarity slider in Lightroom or wherever you are processing your geriatric subjects (is this Agism?). Back away from your subject and capture their environment. Create a photograph that conveys a story to viewers as opposed to a glassy-eyed old person, with heavy contrast and clarity, staring back at them.
Street Photography does not have to mean random shots of random people in a random crowd. Strengthen the composition of shots like these by adding layers to your composition and look for fleeting moments. If you plan on taking a photograph that has been done a million times why not aspire to take the best version of that photograph rather than fall behind everyone else. Think about what makes your photograph different, what sets it apart from the millions just like it.