Street Photography Is An Acquired Taste

From time to time I get asked what type of photography I enjoy, usually right before someone asks me to photograph them or their children.  When I tell them Street Photography I usually get a blank stare or a quizzical “Oh”.  Explaining what Street Photography is sometimes creates more questions than answers and the usual “I would never be comfortable sticking my camera in a strangers face” comment.  More often than not, when asked what Street Photography is, I think “you won’t understand”…  Because I know I didn’t.

Street photography, like wine, can be an acquired taste.  It’s not always something that you first look at and it instantly looks beautiful to you.  I remember the first time I tasted wine and I couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t just drink it before the grapes went bad.  Obviously I hadn’t acquired the taste.

The first time I looked through a street photography group on Flickr I was reminded of the first time I tasted wine.  All I saw were random photographs of random people in random places.  What is the point, I thought to myself, anybody can do that.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I wouldn’t have known a good street photograph if it jumped out and punched me in my peepers.

Good street photography, much like good wine, is enjoyed best by those with a mature taste.  The more you understand what street photography is the more you can appreciate it.  Once you see a good street photograph, and really understand it, it’s a lot like hearing a joke and getting the punchline an hour later.

All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.

– Elliott Erwitt

Street photography is smart, sarcastic, funny, beautiful, artistic, happy, and sad. Sometimes it’s all or many of those things all rolled up in one.  Sometimes a Street Photographer is subtle with his work, you’d almost miss the point if you didn’t stick around and really look at it.  Other Street Photographers are more pronounced when it comes to the story or punchline of their photographs.  Street Photography requires you to look at an image and ask yourself “What is he or she trying to say?” of the photographer.

The best advice I can give you for appreciating good street photography is to look, I mean really look.  Look for the hidden meaning, the hidden joke, the story.  The more you look the easier it will be for you to notice the more subtle elements that make a good street photograph good.  Of course, sometimes bad tasting wine is just bad wine…