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Up for Discussion: Street Photography: A Few Myths and Misconceptions

Today we have another guest post and this time it’s from Sharon Morris.  She first approached me about the magazine on Facebook with a suggestion for a name, which turned out to be one that we couldn’t use, unfortunately.  She was interested in writing so I suggested she do a guest post and here it is.  It is on Street Photography, and I’m sure you will find it interesting.

Street Photography: A Few Myths and Misconceptions –

I cut my photographic teeth on the streets, falling into it instinctively, only after starting did I begin to follow other street photographers and read the myriad of thoughts about it online. Occasionally, or more than on occasion, I would find myself frustrated with espoused rules, particularly when they conflicted with my own experiences This post is an attempt to address a few of the commonly held furphies I’ve seen perpetuated by photographers of all styles and street photographers themselves about the genre. I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Leanne to set a few things straight… from my humble point of view… around this challenging and often controversial form of photography.

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Lets start with the two most common issues I see presented by non street photographers,

1) It’s an invasion of privacy – You should check when entering any country what the local laws and customs are regarding public photography, that’s a sensible practice and culturally appropriate. In Australia the law is clear, if you are in public view, walking down the street for example, then you are not afforded any right to privacy, and I am legally entitled to take a picture of you. Now just because I can doesn’t always mean I should, and that subjective judgement comes down to each photographer. Personally I believe in professional integrity as a photographer and respect for your ‘subjects’ should be paramount. Furthermore you can get yourself into legal bother if someone asks you to desist from taking their picture and you continue. Charges such as Disorderly Behaviour can be laid as a WA man found out in 2013.

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2) You require a Model release – A model release is required when an image is intended for commercial purposes such as to flog beer or burgers. No model release is required if you intend to show or sell the image for its own sake. Again though there’s no guarantee you won’t find yourself in a legal minefield if the person in an image decides to challenge your right in court, but it’s my understanding that as of this week, in this country, there is no imminent change to law in this regard….yet.

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3) Gear Matters – Not really. What matters is that whatever gear you choose is the most comfortable for you to use and accomplish your aim. Many street photographers will advocate for small cameras with a prime lens around 50mm. They believe using a compact is the key to being unobtrusive, which is paramount in grabbing candid shots. However I think the key to getting candid shots is to be quick as well as discrete, and there are many ways to do this, each person needs to work out their own style, but one way that’s most useful for grabbing a candid photo is obviously speed. This means having the camera you are most familiar and comfortable using, not necessarily the smallest. I shoot with a 6D and zoom on the street most of the time, I know it well and find it helps me to look like a tourist.

Fremantle street  (1 of 1)

freo

4) You Need to Get Close – Again, no. Bruce Gilden is well known for having a style that is literally ‘in your face’. There’s few others who manage to pull off this approach and probably more than a few who have been on the receiving end a right hook for trying. It’s not necessary to good street photos to be up close and personal. Those who use a prime lens often need to be, but there are plenty of wonderful togs out there using a zoom to give a sense of space and place to their images.

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5) Have to Have People In Them – Nope. Evidence of people who have since left, scenes from a deserted street,  suburban landscapes are all part of this diverse genre. The classic mono shot in the busy city centre is but one of the many styles of street photography around these days. Three of my favourite Australian photographers illustrate this point beautifully. Trent Parke with his haunting rural like suburbia shots, Narelle Autio’s wonderful beach series includes spectacular underwater scenes and Melbourne based Jesse Marlow in his latest publication ‘ Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them’ has many stunning images that contain no humans.

– On a quick side note, the three photographers mentioned above all reproduced the images described in colour underlining that street does not have to be black and white.

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6) Background and Composition Don’t Matter – A personal bug bear of mine. I see some photographers who think because they went into a public place and took pictures of people walking around their work is done. While’ it’s true that is street photography in a literal sense, it aint necessarily good street photography, unless you got really lucky. If you look at the best street photographers both past and present, their images are technically wonderful, as well , they often have a narrative, a moment of serendipity, humour, connection or emotion. That doesn’t happen by accident. Although some luck and good timing is absolutely an element of many great shots, a lot of thought in terms of background and composition often go into street pics, just like any other photographic style. Light of course is also powerful in terms of creating mood. This is why street can be so challenging, you don’t control the environment, it is constantly moving so you have to work in an ever evolving space of cars, people, lights and so on. You still need to take into account distracting aspects in your background by positioning yourself accordingly.

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street

That’s almost enough for now, but there’s many other points of conjecture, such as whether or not street should try to be aesthetically pleasing . Personally I think the best street photos can be as beautiful and captivating as a portrait or landscape. See the wonderful work of Marius Vieth as an example. The best street shots are unique in that they catch more than the day to day mundane, they often have an engaging playfulness. For me one of the best contemporary examples of this is London based street photographer Matt Stuart. Like the others mentioned above his work  encompass the elements of photographic skill, beauty and years of persistence, while breaking the stereotypical mold of older street styles.

The only hard and fast point I’d make about street photography is – if it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Facebook

Flickr

Website – Sharon Morris

I would like to thank Sharon for taking the time to write this post for us and I hope you will thank her as well.  There are some links above so you can go and see more of her work.  She has also given me some more links to some of the photographers she mentioned.

I am going to put all the photos from above in a gallery as well so you can look at them individually.

98 Comments
  1. What a terrific and intuitive article about shooting street, Leanne. As a newbie to street myself, I’ve believe very much as Sharon does when she say’s…”it can be as beautiful as any portrait or landscape”. Well said and I’m glad she dispelled many of other rumors.
    Thank you for having her as a guest writer :-))

    April 24, 2015
  2. Susan Portnoy #

    Great post. Thank you Sharon for sharing. Thank you Leanne.. as always. 🙂

    April 24, 2015
  3. that’s way different from the legal side here. Although, you can take a photo on public ground, you have no right to publish it in any way, expect the photographed person is / was part of a public event like a procession or so. Thus, you almost always need a model release.
    And, a mall isn’t ‘public ground’! The only exception from this rule is, when people are unintentionally part of the photo i.e. you photograph a landscape and suddenly a person pops out and ‘disturbs’ the scene.
    As far as I know, the street photography genre is illegal in most parts of Europe nowadays. And a violation of the privacy (published a photo without a model release can be brought to court and results in extremely high punishments depending of the kind of the publishing – except you did it as part of you job as a journalist)

    April 24, 2015
    • HI solaner,
      I’m not sure where you are, but many street photographers are based around Europe where it is not illegal. I think this is a very common misconception and from time to time legal challenges around this crop up that create uncertainty. I would be very interested to hear where you are.

      April 24, 2015
      • I’m in Germany. And here are several law suits against photographers having published their work. to take photographs isn’t illegal – but publishing them, regardless if commercial or on private sites at the internet.
        Currently, we have a law suite against a street photographer based in Duesseldorf, not far away from me. And, here is currently a debate on this. Lawyers and photography related organisations came to the result, that these decision are relevant for the whole EU.
        I’m also following a street photographer from Switzerland, who publishes completely anonymous, because of the restrictive legal situation in Switzerland.
        Very hard days!

        April 24, 2015
  4. lumenuniverse #

    I pretty much agree which is why i don’t really care if people see me smoking joints in public and want a picture i’ve been danceing a jig for the damn intelligence comunity if you can even call them that they should be at peace or something but alot of people dont like the constant cameras either and that can be conflicting.

    April 24, 2015
  5. Interesting post. I do a lot of street photography, I always carry my camera with me. I post some to a group on facebook. There a lawyer has given us this advise about photographing the public (most of the group are in UK).

    “There is no prohibition on taking photographs of members of the public, nor a prohibition on putting them online.

    I would caution against putting anything online that involved personally identifiable information, such as, say, a red trousered hipster getting out of a car where the number plate is visible.

    I would generally favour only putting photos online taken in a public place. Tubes, bars, shops – all public, subject to the taste caveat, below. I would not publish a photo of someone taken inside their garden or other private space.

    I would only publish photos that would not cause distress. Taking a photo of someone in a hospital, a Doctor’s surgery, at a funeral or in a church would fall into this category. What PP calls “good manners” (outmoded concept!) should be one’s guide.

    Publishing sexually explicit photos – no. Persons engaged in acts of public drunkenness – yes.

    I would not “tweet” a photo of a member of the public, but inside a closed Facebook group, I’d submit the risk of an irate complaint is next to nothing.

    Where one ought to be careful is in the commenting on photos. Saying someone “looks like Rolf Harris” is OK. Saying someone “looks like a paedo” probably not. There is a defence to defamation of “fair comment”.”

    April 24, 2015
    • All good points jimholroyd365. Thanks for adding them.

      April 24, 2015
  6. Great post, very helpful – thank you Sharon and Leanne! 🙂

    April 24, 2015
  7. Thank you Sharon for a very good write up. Thank you Leanne for bringing it to us.

    Street is one of the styles that I enjoy shooting. I can relate very well to many of Sharon’s points. I walk around with a Nikon D700 and a 28-300 lens. Most of the time people don’t pay much attention, especially when shooting in New York. I’ve had wonderful success photographing musicians. In many cases, they are so into their music that I can catch their eye for a moment, point to the camera and get a yes nod in return.

    Most of my street work is black and white, but I agree that there can be wonderful street images in color. It all depends on the image,subject and what you want the image to show.

    I also agree with you, Sharon, that the basic rules of good photography always apply. Yes, composition matters, yes lighting matters. These are the things that differentiate “those” cell phone shots from serious photography.

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi John, I looked at your website, some great street shots there.

      April 24, 2015
  8. Street photography is something that I’d love to do often. Unfortunately, in this part of the (Arab) world, taking pictures of random people is not liked by many – so best avoided 😦

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi singhcircle, I completely understand that some places around the world are very difficult to shoot publicly. However I would encourage you to try street without people if possible, as I say above, scenes of urban areas, night scenes of empty streets, architecture, abandoned buildings etc. Look at some of Jesse Marlow’s work and you’ll see lots of wonderful images without people.

      April 24, 2015
  9. Reblogged this on Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog.

    April 24, 2015
  10. Hey there,
    I was just thinking about starting with a bit of street photography or at least a bit more shots of people doing stuff, but in Germany we are currently having issues with that- as our local laws and regulations say the Portrait right (Recht am eigenen Bild) is a basic aspect of privacy.
    You have to get a (written) permission before taking any pictures. Written to make things clear and provable. When you picture architecture only theres no problem but when one Person or a few are in focus there has to be a permission. Even if they are out in the street and in a public place. If you could remove the people and the image stays the same (with the same meaning) there won’t be a problem but in street photography very often the people make things unique…
    Be aware of publishing any picture without permissions, some people here in Germany are quite aggressive when it comes to photography- there were cases of photographers having to pay fines up to 500€ (per picture/ case) for picturing someone in the upper right corner, back behind the main motive… Some of us get quite hysterical when it come to rights and regulations…

    If you picture someone to show his or her helplessness or someone in a possibly harming situation- like some homeless guys on the street for social critics and stuff like that or a drunk guy lying in some corner, just taking the picture is against the law and might be prosecuted, when you are seen by government officials or CCTV. Not publishing but just taking it. This law was meant to save jung guys from being pictured while being beat up but street photography is really tough in Germany. I chose to walk past this regulations and picture people from behind or blurred or their reflections but that is not really what makes up good images…

    I hope this is at least a bit helpful for those wanting to do street photography in Germany. Don’t be afraid of asking, I sometimes just take my shot and ask afterwards, because the moment was to be captured. If the people on that picture disagree with being published, you just delete it and everything is okay, if they are okay with it there might even be a nice conversation and a new follower and reader.
    I’ve just read my way through 15 articles and posts and the half of the laws according to this but it isn’t understandable at all, like any kind of law in Germany. When in doubt let it go, don’t publish, don’t picture. We seem to be the strictest country with this…

    Yours, Mary

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi marysmirror, Yes i have heard there are some issues in Germany at the moment, the street photography community are watching how this proceeds with interest.

      April 24, 2015
      • Oh well- We are all watching it, there were protest, there were petitions and in the end nothing happens and they do whatever they want to 😉

        April 24, 2015
  11. I’ve just started photography and this article along with its extensive photos are going to be really helpful. Thanks a lot.

    https://knowherephotography.wordpress.com

    April 24, 2015
    • Thanks and best of luck with your photography journey Rishabh.

      April 24, 2015
  12. Interesting aspects to a particular form of photography.

    April 24, 2015
  13. An extremely interesting article to read.

    April 24, 2015
  14. This was an insightful post. Love the photograph of the boy shaking the hand of the street artist in gold.

    April 24, 2015
    • Thanks pearlz, that was one of my first street shots.

      April 24, 2015
  15. Appreciate sharing the interview with Sharon. She provided a good bit of information and cleared up the whole getting close thing. I’ve always wondered why can’t you use a zoom lens for “Street photography”. I think I’ve been able to capture some decent images using my 24-105 and even 70-200. But I’ve been hesitant to call it Street photography because of articles I’ve read that says it’s done with a fixed lens.

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi Marcus,
      All the images in this post were shot with the 24-105mm. If you’re shooting on the street and the pics are not staged, then it’s street 🙂

      April 24, 2015
  16. Caz #

    Thanks, this is really interesting reading. I am just starting a street photography project in London and this has given me something to think about – as well as some photographers to take a look at!

    April 24, 2015
    • London is a wonderful city for street photography Caz, Matt Stuart, linked to above, is in London.

      April 24, 2015
  17. Very useful post and not just for street photographers!

    April 24, 2015
    • That’s a high compliment Peter, thank you.

      April 24, 2015
  18. Great post

    April 24, 2015
  19. A very thoughtful and though provoking article – thank you! I have been at the receiving end of adverse comments when I submitted so street photographs for inclusion on the site of a group of street photographers – comments that didn’t help me improve my photography. I did my own research and came to very similar conclusions to yours. I also realized that some people don’t want you to become as good as they feel they are yet one of the greatest joys is seeing other people’s work and getting new ideas.

    Many people make pronouncements about rules for street photography but I agree with you – it’s your vision and your message about what you see and the skill and art is in using technique to communicate it. That to me is the primary rule and if you get a response from people who get something from your pictures, that is the greatest reward for any photographer in my view.

    Many thanks – always enjoy your articles.

    Sheila Macdonald

    April 24, 2015
    • I like your point, “it’s your vision and your message about what you see and the skill and art is in using technique to communicate it. ” sheilamacd, and absolutely agree.

      April 24, 2015
  20. lensaddiction #

    Point #6 is SO IMPORTANT, I see a lot of very average street photography and its because the composition has been poor in relation to the background. ALL of the image counts, and it all adds up to the greater whole.

    Street photography isnt my thing but I appreciate good examples, I did very much like the one of the boy shaking hands with the statue artist, that was quite lovely.

    April 24, 2015
    • “All the image counts” – YES 🙂

      April 24, 2015
  21. Thanks Sharon for the tips of street photographing. Thanks Leanne for such a good choice of photographer for this week.

    April 24, 2015
    • Hope you can put the tips to use and hit the streets cattan2011.

      April 24, 2015
  22. Reblogged this on Giai01's Blog and commented:
    xem

    April 24, 2015
  23. Thank you Leanne, and to Sharon, for this informative post. The legalities of photographing people (and buildings) are really difficult to find information on, so this is great. I eventually found the Arts Law Centre of Australia web page ( http://www.artslaw.com.au ) which has good information in relation to this.

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi DBisley, yes that article is informative, you’ll note we included the same link above 🙂

      April 24, 2015
  24. wow.. I didn’t realise laws were so tough in other places. I guess we’re lucky in australia. When I went overseas, I just took photos of the streets.. to capture the essence of the cities I visited. It would be so tough if you needed consent forms for them all. Thanks Leanne & Sharon.. Great work 🙂

    April 24, 2015
    • Livonne it’s always good to check when entering any country but most tourists all over the world take public photos and are essentially participating in street photography. Very rare for people to get into bother unless of course they are being obtrusive or disrespectful.

      April 24, 2015
  25. What great tips. Thank you, Sharon.There are so many people on line taking “street” photography that I thought I would try my hand at it. I mean, how difficult can it be if everyone is doing it. Well, I agree if it’s easy you’re probably doing it wrong. Anyone can point and shoot. But to tell a story with good composition and lighting? Well, best leave that to the professionals! I will try again. And again, though. Until I get it right!

    April 24, 2015
    • Emilio it is challenging, but worth persisting as it teaches you so much about light, composition, background, focus, seeing detail etc. Best of luck in your endeavours.

      April 24, 2015
  26. wonderful article, thank you. Just mentioned some of these points myself, it’s nice to see some clarity on street ‘etiquette’, as for some of us there is a lot of confusion out there

    April 24, 2015
    • Yes Julz there is a lot of confusion unfortunately, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      April 24, 2015
  27. Splendid article! I do concur completely! Thank you so much for sharing!

    April 24, 2015
  28. I may add that here in Japan, the safest and most peaceful country in the world, many people do actually enjoy being taken. When writing for a blog or an article I make a point to check if publishing the pic is OK in obvious cases. One thing I’m careful about though: taking pictures of children without the parents’ knowledge, one of the few no no here.

    April 24, 2015
    • dragonlife Japan is one of the few countries that seem to tolerate the close up street photographer more than most others. There’s some quite prominent Japanese street togs around at the moment.

      April 24, 2015
  29. Could not agree more with her points. Great photographs. Thanks for sharing

    April 24, 2015
  30. great post and very engaging street scenes! I don’t do that but I must try it sometime!! The images are so alive and yes playful!! Thank you Sharon and Leanne for the introduction.

    April 24, 2015
    • Do give it a try at least just once ‘the dune mouse’ 🙂

      April 24, 2015
  31. Great article. Would like to see more stuff on Street Photography. Thanks to Sharon

    April 24, 2015
    • Thanks Thailand Everyday, stay tuned for more street photo articles when the magazine launches.

      April 24, 2015
  32. Rebeca #

    Composition is always important, in every photo! It is the reason why your picture will be beautiful and unique. Thanks for the article!

    April 24, 2015
  33. Great article. I am never easy about candid street photography. The one thing i do definitely avoid is children.

    April 24, 2015
    • Photography of children is a tricky topic, I completely understand why you avoid taking pics of them.

      April 24, 2015
  34. Thank you so much for this post. Very informative.

    April 24, 2015
  35. Reblogged this on mishaburnett and commented:
    Some interesting thoughts on an artform I really enjoy.

    April 24, 2015
    • Thanks so much for the share MishaBurnett

      April 24, 2015
  36. A hodgepodge of thoughts in response to an interesting read…
    Rules are never rules without an enforcement mechanism. There are no real photographic rules, even the rule of thirds should be called the suggestion of thirds. That said, if a photo contest or FB group or any other gathering chooses to define street as BxW or must have people, you play or go away. There is always an other group/contest to join.
    I have been told some of my landscape photography isn’t landscape because a person or animal was in it, somewhere. Ok. For them that is truth, not for me.
    IMHO – some of the best street photography out there is being done with camera phones on Instagram, EyeEm, etc..

    April 24, 2015
    • You raise an interesting point in that a certain genre should probably have some boundaries in terms of definition or separating photographic styles can become meaningless, yet on the other hand, photography as art will always push the parameters of it’s definitions. So the question remains, how far can we push the boundaries of a genre before it’s slips outside it? Tough one.
      I agree there’s some great camera Phone stuff happening.

      April 24, 2015
  37. What a great article! I especially liked the fifth point about not having people in the shot. I will explore this further in my street shoots. As for the zoom…Haha! I got a 35mm prime exactly for this reason! You should’ve written this earlier. Thanks for sharing. One love 🙂

    April 25, 2015
    • You’ve set yourself quite the challenge with the 35mm prime Damo, good on you.

      April 25, 2015
  38. Very interesting. I’m sure I know where the last photo, of the man sitting up at the barrel, was taken! I’ve been there with you.

    April 25, 2015
    • Hi the eternal traveller, the last shot of the man was taken at an old pub in Fremantle, ‘The Sail and Anchor.’

      April 25, 2015
      • Of course, Sharon. I forgot in my excitement that these photos are yours and not Leanne’s. They are all lovely.

        April 25, 2015
  39. interesting article, sharon/leanne. thanks for sharing.
    i always have this nagging concern with (1) when attempting street. where i sense the need, i will signal/ask the subject for a ‘go’ as i find some folk wish to maintain privacy or are concerned their photo will be misused on the web. but by doing this, the ‘street’ moment is lost 😦 .
    ken

    April 25, 2015
    • HI ken, i don’t think street photography suits everyone. If you are self conscious, worried about what people think (which is not unreasonable) or unsure of what or why you are shooting then it becomes stressful and not very productive. I do find for me shooting street requires a particular mindset.

      April 25, 2015
  40. Great article. And thank you for the links! As I was reading, I was wanting to go look up those photographers, and you made it easy to do so. 🙂

    April 25, 2015
    • Hi Nicci. I hope you get as much pleasure from the linked- to artists as I do.

      April 25, 2015
      • Yes, they are amazing!

        April 27, 2015
  41. Bruce Gilden.

    April 25, 2015
  42. I believe that Sharon nailed the most crucial part of street photography when she wrote that professional integrity and respect for your subjects is important. Without those components it isn’t photography.

    April 26, 2015
    • Now that’s an essay topic right there 🙂

      April 26, 2015
  43. Tola #

    Reblogged this on In My Mind It Makes Sense and commented:
    These shots are amazing.

    April 29, 2015
  44. I enjoyed this article, and agree with so much of it. I love street photography!

    May 1, 2015
  45. Great article. After reading all these statements about how difficult it can be to take public photos and publish them, I am glad I am in the US, in New York City. These aren’t issues and if a shot is taken in public, you can do whatever you need/desire with the photo. Seeing how restrictive some countries can be has just push me to be more proactive in street photography. Thanks for your article.

    May 1, 2015
  46. Leanne you have such a great eye, awesome captures and a wonderful insight. I really enjoy taking a look at what you are doing. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    May 2, 2015
    • Thank you Heather, that is such a nice thing to say. I’m glad you like what I’m doing, and you’re welcome.

      May 2, 2015
  47. I enjoyed reading this and viewing all of your amazing photos. I have so much to learn about photography and it’s always wonderful finding straightforward, honest, information like this from people who are experienced in the field.

    May 5, 2015
  48. Leo #

    I find most of my candid shots very easy with a cell phone that has at least 10mp`s and a 4X zoom. It is difficult with a 50mm lens if you want close up candid in the street. I have taken some with the selfie lens, having my back to the subject and taking the photo over my shoulder. this way it looks like you are photographing in the other direction and the subject stays at ease, the only problem is that the quality on selfies is not so good.

    May 5, 2015
  49. Adrian Krucker #

    Very informative … haven’t been on the street for a while, but this article whets my appetite to go out there again! Thanks!

    May 6, 2015
  50. Great article thanks Sharon, really insightful.

    May 6, 2015
  51. Nice

    May 14, 2015
  52. 🙂

    May 16, 2015

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