I was fortunate to have been an avid landscape photographer before I jumped head first into street photography. I say fortunate because before I ever pointed my lens at a human subject I had a firm understanding of leading lines, reflections, color theory, juxtaposition, the rule of thirds, and a long list of other composition builders. These are all things that, as you work on improving the strength of your street shots, you’ve got to keep in the back of your mind… The more you have going on in the back of your mind the less you can focus on simply watching for the right moment.
Whether you know it or not, you are using a lot of brain power when you practice street photography. You must anticipate, adjust, and execute for every shot you take. You’ve got to know where to be, when to be there, and how long to stay. Like chess, street photographers need to be three or four moves ahead of their opponent (subject) in order to capture the “decisive moment” or risk capturing something mundane.
Urban landscape photography can include the human element or it can be created without it. Either way, the focus is less on a person and more on the environment. With that being said, I often use the human element in urban landscape photography as a composition builder rather than the human subject being the main focus and using his or her environment to build a story.
By switching gears and putting the primary focus on the urban landscape as opposed to the person I have been improving my environmental street photography. Images like the one above are strong on their own, you could put just about anyone in the frame and it would still attract viewers eye because of the plethora of leading lines and interesting architecture.
By focusing on urban landscapes you can train your brain to see areas where dynamic images can happen with a little patience and forethought. I had driven over this bridge a few times and one evening noticed the lighting around dusk and thought to myself “that would be great with someone under it”. The rest is history. I’m not sure I’d have given this spot much thought had I not been so focused on finding interesting urban landscapes.
More Cow Bell!
Consider this… If an image works on its own, like an urban landscape image. Meaning there are no people in it, nothing interesting going on. Then if we add some interesting interaction to it, a dog balancing a ball on its nose or a person wearing an interesting hat, the image would become even more interesting. I call this the more cow bell effect (I don’t, I’m just making that up but I may start calling it that)… If you’ve ever watched Saturday Night Live, there is a skit where a band is recording and Will Ferrell is annoying the band mates with “too much” cowbell and when they stop you think the producer (Christopher Walken) is going to say “cut it out” but he says “Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!” Google it, I’ll wait….
That is how urban landscape photography can improve your street photography. By focusing on the environment around your subjects, the way and time light hits, the subtle color changes between walls, the shapes of the surrounding architecture, all lend to creating a powerful image. Street photography doesn’t have to be a spray and pray affair, you don’t have to head out wondering if you’ll capture anything interesting or simply come home with less hard drive space. Practice urban landscapes between your normal street photography and make a mental note of where and when particular areas look great. Revisit these areas and spend some time waiting for subjects to present themselves in ideal ways.
Do you practice urban landscape photography? Has it helped you improve your street photography? Or has your street photography improved your urban landscape photography? The egg or the chicken, which was first? Leave your thoughts in the comments area below.