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I don't get it ...

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by stargate, Apr 29, 2014.

  1. stargate

    stargate Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 14, 2013
    Hi everybody.
    I do have a question about street photography.
    What is it that makes a good street photo ?
    I have the feeling (and I am possibly wrong) that the vast majority of street pictures are just snapshots of people walking around or just expressionlessly looking at the camera.
    What could the photographer be trying to show the viewer?
    Is there a way to quantify the good points I should be looking for?
    I surely have seen street photos that have taken my breath away. Some are funny, some are graphically intriguing some have amazing composition, but the majority seems so uninteresting to me that I begin to wonder if there is something wrong with the way I appreciate my hobby. I am not a photo critic (amateur or proffesional) but I have 40 years of photo experience and I like to try to appreciate all genres of photography whether they are the kind of pics I shoot or not.
    I understand that not all tastes are the same (and that is a good thing) and every one is free to like or dislike anything but I am the kind of person who thinks that if a lot of people like something, there must be something good in it and I would like to try to experience it too.
    So I am posting here, where all the fans of this genre gather, not to start a fight or create a nuicance, but to sincerely try to find the missing facts that will make me enjoy the nice photos of this genre too.
    Now if some people would chime in and give me some pointers, I would really appreciate it.
    • Like Like x 3
  2. fransglans

    fransglans Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 12, 2012
    a good street photo for me means that a message is given to me, an expression, mood, etc.

    But i think that the message needs to be clear.

    The message can be happiness, beautie (good composition, colours, lines structures etc), darkness, dispair, loneliness etc.

    I think like you that there are alot of snapshots out there...
    • Like Like x 4
  3. Danny_SWE

    Danny_SWE Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 30, 2013
    Sweden (Gothenburg)
    Agree with Frans.

    Sometimes also a photo might be posted just because the photographer thought that it was "cool". But maybe none of the viewer thinks that :)  difficult

    Sent from my Lenovo K910 using Tapatalk
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I think good street photography invokes some emotional, aesthetic or compositional intrigue. How you approach it is entirely up to you. Saying that, I personally dislike the "in-your-face" Eric Kim style of street photography. Not only do you alter the reality of the moment, but you just come off as a turd. There are times when you need to get into the face of the subject, but honing your skills of stealth, anticipation and just having good luck are the traits that makes good street shooters.

    My favorite photogs are the ones who balance compositional forethought while lacking internal safety mechanisms! Here in Los Angeles, there's a growing number of LA born and bred street shooters that I think are really good. Coming from the streets, they can navigate dangerous areas and deal with the crazies with a certain finesse that I find lacking from the "serious" shooters.
    • Like Like x 3
  5. ex machina

    ex machina Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 3, 2014
    Baltimore, MD
    Well, maybe you are just experiencing the 90% of everything is crap rule. ;) 

    I recently watched the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier and highly recommend it to folks interested in street photography, even those who just appreciate a good mystery. Her photos really speak to me and it's a fascinating story.



    Finding Vivian Maier is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later, is now among the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.

    Maier’s massive body of work would come to light when in 2007 her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side. From there, it would eventually impact the world over and change the life of the man who championed her work and brought it to the public eye, John Maloof.

    Currently, Vivian Maier’s body of work is being archived and cataloged for the enjoyment of others and for future generations. John Maloof is at the core of this project after reconstructing most of the archive, having been previously dispersed to the various buyers attending that auction. Now, with roughly 90% of her archive reconstructed, Vivian’s work is part of a renaissance in interest in the art of Street Photography.
    • Like Like x 5
  6. ex machina

    ex machina Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 3, 2014
    Baltimore, MD
    For me, street photography is perhaps more about capturing a moment than it is about technique; technical execution can be lacking in a street photo that is nonetheless compelling, but not in its opposite. I think Jonathan's usage of "intrigue" is right on target.

    I do sometimes wonder how much more of my appreciation of street photography comes from the era in which the photos were taken.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    It's probably a lot easier to say what makes a good portrait, or landscape, or documentary photo or any other sort of photo than it is to say what makes a good street photo and that's because portraiture or landscape photography or documentary photography or whatever else you're naming is a well defined genre. Street photography isn't well defined because it actually includes photographs that could also be classified as any one of those other kinds of photography. Street photography is less defined by what it is than by where it is shot. A good street portrait should be identifiable as a good portrait, and a good street scenic shot should be a good scenic photo. Both will be good "street photos" but the criteria for what makes them both good will not be the same, they will be quite different. There's really no single set of criteria which would define what makes a good street photo, there will be different sets of criteria for the different sorts of photos involved..

    In fact it's even hard to define what "street photography" is since some of it isn't taken in the street but in cafes, parks, buses and trains, in fact in any kind of shared public space you care to name. Some of it is candid and the human subjects are unaware of being photographed but it also includes photos of subjects who were aware of being photographed. A lot of it is available light but some street photographers employ flash, even flash directly in the subject's face. A lot of it includes people but some of it doesn't. Much of it is black and white but some of it is in colour. Take a look at what is included in any wide ranging collection style book of street photography and if you can find a single unifying feature for all of the images included in the book then I'd say that you're not looking at a wide ranging collection of street photography.

    I think a good street photo is a good photo that some people choose to call "street photography" as their primary classification of the image rather than calling it a portrait or documentary or landscape photo, but it will always be some other kind of photo as well and what makes it a good photo is what makes it work as a good photo in that other classification.
    • Like Like x 3
  8. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    There's something wrong with the way many people are happy to post rubbish as "street photography".
    Narrow it down to really good pictures and you're winning.
    Stick to "funny, graphically intriguing, amazing composition" like you say yourself.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Steven

    Steven Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2012
    It's very difficult to catch that "interesting" moment in time and place, so I understand if people post mainly their attempts at such. Otherwise that Street photo thread would be very short ;) 
    • Like Like x 2
  10. WhidbeyLVR

    WhidbeyLVR Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 14, 2014
    Whidbey Island
    I bypass the "random shots on the street" images quickly. I dwell on images which I find either (a) have great composition (which applies to any genre of photography), or (b) imply an interesting story about characters within the image. So dramatic or humorous interactions between people; or clever juxtapositions of people; or catching somebody doing something unexpected; or people with an aura of mystery, emotion, or unique character.
    • Like Like x 3
  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Agreed. Some of the comments in this thread seem elitist to me. The last thing we want on a photography forum is for people to feel uncomfortable posting their photographs. The bar should be set at what the photographer likes or finds interesting, not what they consider to be "great". Creating a portfolio is something else entirely, though. Different level of choosiness needed there than in a forum.
    • Like Like x 5
  12. JHM

    JHM Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 6, 2014
    Amsterdam area
    A good street photo for me is capturing that one moment. You can walk for hours and observe, shoot and than just one certain event shows up and you capture it. Priceless.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Street photography, as I understand it, is more a mindset than anything else. It's not necessarily the where, or the what, it's sort of nebulous - an "ethos" almost. You go out to capture a something that can range from architecture, people's interactions with architecture, people's interactions with other people, the lack thereof, the effects of proximity... or lack thereof, people's ingenuity, creativity, tenacity... I think a big part of the reason that it resists definition is that it's too big to fit. So we call it "street" because all of that can happen on the street.

    And you know, people these days aren't good at learning things unless they're easily quantifiable. I sort of personally blame that on the way we abandoned classical education, and education today is rigidly goal-oriented. Makes it hard to grasp things that aren't easily pinned down.
    • Like Like x 2
  14. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    You are asking some very broad and difficult to answer questions. Or maybe they are questions with many correct answers. Bresson looked for the "decisive moment" while Eggleston photographs the mundane everyday moments that make up 99% of life, but both are great.

    Anyways, lately I've been spending time on the site I'm linking and finding a lot of inspiration. Go to the right sidebar and start clicking on the "Learn From the Masters" links. One thing you will notice is that a lot of these masters don't call themselves "street photographers", and often dislike the term. Often they just call themselves photographers.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. peterpix

    peterpix Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 8, 2010
    So. Maine
    Peter Randal
    • Like Like x 1
  16. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    The Bassman
    You do get it.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Just like every other genre of photography, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Usually you have to sort through a lot of bad ones to get to the good ones.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I went through Vivian Maier's portfolio and I found a couple that I think show Maier's compositional forethought especially with the equipment limitations of the time. She really had a good sense of the rule of thirds, found stories in her subjects, worked shadow and light and also timed her shots with keen observation of the environment. There's also a shot I like that she took of Audrey Hepburn that showed a bit of paparazzi hustle!








    I wish she were alive today to take control of her work. I can't stand all the pretentious art critics ripping on her. I bet she would of dug the newest mirrorless bodies if she were still around!
    • Like Like x 9
  19. stargate

    stargate Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 14, 2013
    Well, some very interesting thoughts here. Thank you all for commenting. I feel better now that I know that at least I was not totally off in my assesments.
    However I have still a lot to learn, and the attached links in some of the posts offer a lot of food for thought and chances of better appreciation of street photography (although I have come to realize that many photographers do not appreciate this term). I found some of Maier's pictures simply fabulous!
    I am even being tempted to maybe try my hand at this :)  If I get something worth showing I will post it to get some feedback.
    • Like Like x 1
  20. PENpal

    PENpal Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Feb 15, 2011
    The last photo stands out as " The Best Selfie " of all time.
    • Like Like x 2
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