In 2009, street photographer Blake Andrews famously wrote a blog post stating that “99.98% of street photographs are crap” in response to Nick Turpin on street photography. You can read more on the subject here.
This got me wondering, what exactly differentiates a good street photograph from a bad one? People say that art is subjective, but when it comes to st reet photography (and other forms of photography), I find it uncanny that there is a general consensus in the street photography public what constitutes a good and bad street photograph.
Recently in the news, the British Journal of Photography recently awarded this image, “Man asleep on the Golden Mile, Durban, South Africa.”, by South African photographer Michelle Sank as the best single image category of its International Photography Award.There was a ton of unrest on the internet with some people calling the piece “a joke” and others calling it “rubbish.” Honestly when I saw the image, I was a bit turned off too. I didn’t see the strong merit of the image, when there were tons of other great photographs that were submitted.
In searching for the truth of what makes a good street photograph, I will chronicle some of the aspects that I have noticed of all award-winning and inspiring street photographs.
1. They capture “The Decisive Moment”
This has to be one of the most common-sensical points, however still an important one to note. What differentiates a great street photograph from a mere snapshot is the timing that the photographer has. If you look at the most famous street photographs from Henri-Cartier Bresson, they all exhibit a characteristic of “The Decisive Moment.” In other words, the timing made the image memorable. If the images were taken half a second too early or late, it wouldn’t have been nearly effective.
2. They tell a story
It is commonly said that “a photo is worth a thousand words.” Great street photographs tell stories. These images beckon the viewer to think more about the story behind the photographs and think questions like: “I wonder what’s going on in the image? I wonder who the people are in this image? What was going on in the photographers’ mind when he or she took it? I often even think that street photographers are not out there to take good photos, but to tell great stories.
3. They make the viewer feel like a participant
When shooting with a wide-angle lens and getting really close to the action, you make the viewer feel part of the scene. Too often many aspiring street photographers only stick to telephoto lenses which prevent them from getting this perspective. Furthermore in using a wide-angle lens, the perspective is in such a way that the viewer feels as if they are not just looking into the image, but actively participating in it. When a photographer uses a telephoto lens, the viewer feels much more of a voyeur.
These are just three of the points I noticed which make great street photographs (although there are tons more). So why not contribute some of your thoughts and leave a comment below?