The Difference Between Open And Closed Ended Street Photography

The article below is an explanation why I don’t give my photographs interesting titles anymore.  I feel that giving a title to a photograph takes away from the viewers experience.  You can read on to see why.

There are arguably two types of photographs in Street Photography; the ones that tell a definitive story and those that are open for interpretation.  For example, if I showed you a photograph of a woman walking her dog with an interesting shadow you’d be looking at a fairly definitive shot, a shot that doesn’t invoke much imagination.  An open-ended photograph, on the other hand, leaves the viewer wondering what in the world is going on.  When someone looks at an open-ended photograph they are able to put themselves into that situation and interpret the scene based on their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  I find open-ended photographs to be a far more interesting and engaging experience for myself.

0315_untitled_036If you look closely you can see the man coming out of the door has a smile on his face, like someone just told him a joke.  The other man’s face can’t be seen, he is quickly walking away as if he needs to be someone five minutes ago.  What was so funny?  Where does the man in the hat need to be?

0315_untitled_188Why is this little girl sitting in the shop window?  What does she think of having her photo taken?  Photographs like these, where someone is someplace you would not expect to see them invokes the imagination.  Had I titled this image Girl Waits In Window While Mother Talks the mystery would be gone, you’d know exactly what was happening and why…  Your interest would wane.

Open and closed ended photographs could be compared to open and closed end questions.  A closed end question is simply a question that can be answered with a concise yes or no.  An open-ended question can be answered in any number of ways, it’s open to interpretation.  Does that make sense?  (Closed)  What do you think of that?  (Open).

16825480032_f166fdb299_oWhat is going on here?  Is she marching for some sort of cause?  Is she simply leading a group of tourists and the umbrella is what helps them find her?  Is she the daughter of Mary Poppins?  The photograph makes the viewer stop and think for a minute.  The truth about the photograph is I have no idea what she is doing, it was a split second between when I saw her and when I pulled my camera up to take the shot.

0315_untitled_083-2This is an example of a more closed end photograph.  We can see exactly what is going on, the only thing that is a question is what is she thinking at the moment she saw me take her photograph.  Spoiler alert; she was actually a great sport.  She smiled, laughed, and said hello.  Closed ended photograph is not synonymous with uninteresting…  They can be quite engaging as well.

0315_untitled_071As a sort of side not, when you obscure a persons face you create a kind of mystery.  Without being able to see ones expression or facial features the viewer is left to imagine what the person looks like and how they are feeling.  This type of photograph would also be considered open-ended.

The photograph below is a good example of a closed ended photograph, something that takes very little interpretation.  The image is like many other images that have been taken before it, of a subject walking towards the camera in the city.  There is still interest in the fashionable clothing he is wearing and the fact that he is carrying a purse, something that’s out of the ordinary.


I think creating open-ended photographs, photographs that leave room to be interpreted and imagined, are more difficult but ultimately more interesting that a closed end photograph.  The primary reason I don’t give interesting titles to my images is that if I do create an open ended photograph the title can influence the interpretation the viewer has, thus taking the imagination out of it.  At the end of the day, any image that gets viewers to engage it is a successful image.

What are your thoughts on open and closed end photographs?  Leave a comment below.  You can visit us on Facebook by clicking here.  Follow DecisiveShot by entering your email in the box on the right and clicking Subscribe.