How Sharp Does A Street Photography Image Need To Be?

It’s all relative.  Unlike still life, landscape, portrait, and almost every other type of photography, Street Photography does not necessitate tack sharp images.  There is a direct relationship between the degree of interest within the frame and a viewers acceptance of an images flaws.  If you consider the fact that at times you’ll have less than a second or two to take a photograph from a relaxed position to firing the shutter you can understand why some images may not be perfect (unlike landscape where you can set up, use mirror lock-up, and take multiple images of the same scene until you get it right).

Pittsburgh 2015

Pittsburgh 2015

Obviously each person is going to have a different threshold for what is acceptable and what isn’t.  So how sharp does Street Photography need to be?  You’ll hear the word “acceptable” being thrown around quite a bit in Street Photography circles when talking about the sharpness of an image but there isn’t a real definitive guide to reference.

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It’s difficult to say “the fathers of Street Photography didn’t always shoot tack sharp images so it’s not required” because the forefathers also didn’t have the technology we have today.  They also predominately shot in black and white and it’s annoying to hear photographers use this as a reason they only shoot in black and white (photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson would have shot in color had it been easier at the time and he said as much in his book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye). 

I would argue that Street Photography is less about technique as it is about content…  In fact, I would say content trumps everything when it comes to Street Photography or Photojournalism.  If the photograph is slightly blurry and still tells an amazing story it’s acceptable.  However, if the photograph doesn’t tell a story then it could be so sharp it cuts your eye when you look at it but it would not matter, it would be worthless.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on getting your images as sharp as possible, all this means is you don’t have to throw away an image with a great story if it’s slightly out of focus.  It’s important to perfect your technique over time for the sake of perfecting your technique.  With that being said, even the most seasoned Street Photographer will take a blurry shot every once in a while.


In a nut shell, you don’t want your image to look like an abstract painting unless your goal was to create fine art.  Try to capture sharp images but don’t throw them away if they aren’t perfect.  If the story is there and the image is interesting share it, if the image doesn’t tell a story or is uninteresting then toss it.

If you’re consistently capturing blurry images that are unusable you may want to cut down on your caffeine intake try zone focusing or faster shutter speeds.  For more shooting tips you can check out my article Street Photography Shooting Techniques.

Don’t forget to check out the DecisiveShot Flickr page and share your shots with us over there.