Visual Sociology Street Photography

Saigon, 2017

You are a visual sociologist with a camera.

Dear friend,

What is a street photographer? My idea: a street photographer is a sociologist with a camera.

Why shoot street photography?

Saigon, 2017

For example, if you shoot street photography I assume you do it because you are drawn to people. You are drawn to capturing human beings, their souls, and the constructed man-made human environment.

What is “sociology”? To me it is the study of society, human beings, and communities. If you’re interested in understanding society, you’re a sociologist.

Your camera is your research tool

Saigon, 2017

Therefore in the context of street photography, you’re using your camera as your research tool.

In sociology, we often go “into the field” with a notebook and sometimes voice recorder. But in street photography, we go into the streets with our camera and intuition. We record, document, and analyze what we find interesting in the streets.

What is “Visual Sociology?”

Saigon, 2017

Visual sociology to me is the hybrid of street photography and sociology.

The cool thing of you considering yourself a “visual sociologist”– it isn’t just photography. It is studying, analyzing and seeking to understand anything visual.

Visual things: photos, videos, architecture, abstract images, etc.

Also, if you just see your camera as your sociology tool, you don’t fetishize the camera. The camera is just another research tool. Important, but not the most important thing.

As a visual sociologist, your most important tool: your analytical eye.

What do you find interesting, unique, absurd, or fascinating? What leads you down a certain road or path? That is what dictates who you are, and where your personal research goes.

Don’t take it too seriously.

Saigon, 2017

Even sociology is a new field. And to be honest sociology isn’t really a “science” like physics. It is just a philosophical way of seeing the world, and having a hunger of curiosity for understanding other human beings better.

Sociology is just another tool, or lens of seeing the world.

Visual Sociology Assignment Ideas

Saigon, 2017

So friend, as a visual sociologist, what are some things you can do?

1. Analyze your own neighborhood:

what is the income disparity in your neighborhood? What wealth, class, or differences exist in your own neighborhood, city, or town? Use your camera as a tool, and document these differences and similarities.

2 . Document gentrification:

Saigon, 2017

Gentrification is rich folks that take over a neighborhood and kick out poor people. For example, I have the “taco test”– how much did a taco cost before and after over a period of a time? In the Mission in SF (24th and Mission) a taco used to cost $1.50. Now it is $4. You can do this also with the prices with a cup of coffee.

So with gentrification, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is just a change. And as philosopher Heraclitus says, “All is in a perpetual state of flux, or change.” But it is sad when a lady who has lived in a neighborhood for 40 years can no longer afford the rent, and has to move.

So ultimately, your photography project can document the gentrification change– and create your own opinion.

Do you see gentrification as good, bad, or something in-between and grey? Show it through your photos.

3. Urban landscapes

Kyoto, 2015

You can also document social change through urban landscapes. I know in Toronto, my friend Neil Ta is doing a good job of documenting changing neighborhoods, like Alexandria Park, and collaborating with the city of Toronto to archive his images of the changing neighborhoods.

If you live somewhere or near somewhere where you see a lot of construction and destruction, document that for 2-3 years. Then maybe publish a book, magazine of your 20 best images. Or have a small coffee shop exhibition with 7 images, and invite some folks from the neighborhood.


Berkeley, 2015

See yourself as a visual sociologist, and document your own world.

The best way to be a photographer is to photograph what is personal to you.

Don’t just go into a poor neighborhood and photograph the poor and sad people. Maybe the rich people in your own neighborhood are the most miserable of them all?

For more street photography assignments, pick up a copy of STREET NOTES for on-the-go inspiration and direction.


Street Photography 101

Tokyo, 2012

If you’re new to street photography, start here:

Street Photography Inspiration

Beginner Street Photography Articles


Get started in street photography:

Definitions in Street Photography

How to Shoot Street Photography

Street Photography Equipment

See all equipment articles >

How to Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography

See all articles to conquer your fears >

Intermediate Street Photography Articles


Take your street photography to the next level:

Advanced Street Photography Articles


Find deeper meaning in your street photography:

Street Photography Tips & Technique


Learn how to shoot on the streets:

See all street photography tips and techniques >

Street Photography Guides


In-depth guides on street photography:

Street Photography Equipment


The best equipment for street photography:

See all equipment articles >

Street Photography Editing and Workflow

How to Start a Street Photography Project

Learn From the Masters of Street Photography

Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

“He without a past has no future.”

If you want a distilled version, read the free ebook:  “100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography.”

Free Downloads

See all free downloads >

Free Street Photography Ebooks


Distilled information on street photography:

For more resources on photography, Start Here >

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top