Four Simple Guidelines To Avoid Street Photography Traps And Clichés 304 days ago


Like it or not there are a few traps photographers can fall into when starting out in street photography. Often, shooting clichés is a great way to help ease a noob into this fascinating genre, but the real skill is in self-regulating your frames so that your photograph doesn’t just become another cliché and is, instead, something unique and engaging.

Overall, the standard of submissions we see at Urban Picnic Street Photography is high; just take a look at the Image Pool to see the general quality of photographs people are putting up for approval. However we do see a lot of similar images re-occurring, which is why we have decided to put this brief guide together.

Many of the following points are up for debate but for those starting out in street photography we hope this simple guide covers a few traps to avoid on UPSP. It is not designed to put you off submitting your work, but instead offer some constructive pointers for when you next go out shooting. We’ve broken them down into four areas.

Four Simple Guidelines To Avoid Street Photography Traps And Clichés   street photography

1. Unacceptable

There are certain images that we simply delete or ignore if they fall into these categories. They’re pretty easy to avoid and they’re covered off in our rules.

- watermarks
- borders
- extreme post-processing
- homeless people or beggars
- anything staged

Fortunately we rarely see any of these at UPSP. Most are obvious but please pay particular attention to the last one. Street photography is about capturing fleeting, decisive moments and staging a shot is not being true to yourself or to the viewer. Over-processing takes away the realism whilst avoiding homeless people and beggars is respectful and adheres to an established, unwritten rule in the street photography world. Whether you agree or disagree with any of the above points is moot, this is our position on UPSP.


2. Try To Avoid

In this section we highlight classic clichés that don’t really do you any favours. They may be areas that help you get into street photography but really you’re probably better off avoiding them… unless there is something exceptional about the shot:

- street performers
- random people walking across the frame with no connection or theme
- posters and other artwork used as a background, especially large faces
- portraits of people smiling at the camera

Street performers offer an easy, contrived set-up and, as such, garner little respect with many in the street photography world. For further discussion on the subject of street performers, take a look at this thread:


3. Acceptable Clichés

In this section we highlight ‘acceptable’ clichés. By this we mean images that can look great but are themes copied from other photographers, and themes we see a lot of at UPSP. We won’t necessarily penalise you for these but the trick with any of the following is to offer your unique interpretation of them:

- under-exposed, late-afternoon shots highlighting body parts
- shadows and light
- balloons covering people’s faces
- zebra crossings and other road markings coinciding with stripy clothing
- reflections in shop or café windows
- a photo of people taking photos
- people on mobile phones
- pets on leads taken from street level
- people frozen in mid-air jumping into a river or the sea
- people sitting opposite you on trains
- shots taken from a high PoV looking down on empty spaces with one person walking out of shot
- dismembered body parts coming into or going out of frame
- pigeons

Whilst we’ve categorised these as ‘acceptable’ they are still clichés. The ‘shadows and light’ sub-genre is probably the most uploaded to UPSP, but don’t forget the likes of Ray K. Metzker were producing beautiful black and white images using shadows and light before most of us were born.

As you frame your shot your job as a street photographer before pressing the button is to think “is this going to be another cliché or am I about to capture something truly unique?”.


4. Get Extra Points!

Finally, want to impress us and everyone viewing your work on UPSP? Do any of the following and you’re onto a winner:

- Produce something unique and never-been-seen before
- Make us laugh out loud
- Force us to double-take and examine more closely
- Make us revisit the photograph many times
- Make us spend time trying to work out how the image was taken
- Make us wish we’d taken the photograph
- Prompt viewers to comment positively on your work
- Get your work selected for our flickr group




None of us like rules and restrictions, especially when it comes to forms of expression like photography, but as you develop your street photography skills and become more familiar with the genre, you’ll learn the clichés to either avoid or develop. We hope this simple guide helps identify some of those areas.

If at any time you feel unsure about your work, we run a critique thread on our flickr group. We encourage street photographers to post up and comment on each other’s work that didn’t make the selection for the UPSP website.

UPSP Image Upload

UPSP flickr group

UPSP critique thread

UPSP on Facebook



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Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying "unmanipulated" scenes, with usually unaware subjects.




  1. September 21, 2013  10:57 pm by Warrick Moore

    Interested in your reasons for "posters and other artwork used as a background, especially large faces" as something to avoid.
    Also who was the author of this piece ?

    • September 22, 2013  5:24 am by Jamie Furlong

      Hi Warrick. Backdrops are easy and accessible; all that is required of the photographer is to stand and wait for someone to walk past the image and hey presto, you have a visually powerful shot. Relying on someone else's efforts (the artwork) to create that visual impact, however, doesn't demonstrate much originality. Take the example above. It's a woman rummaging through her bag with two large faces looking towards her. It has impact due to the large faces, but what is the relationship between the poster and the person walking past that makes this unique? If the person walking past had been an old man with a dog, a child with a balloon, or a group of teenagers, would it have had more or less visual impact? What makes the woman with the bag so special, and how are the large heads making the moment?

      It is possible to do clever or amusing things with backdrops. Take Mary Cimmeta's cheeky 'Magnum' shot. She's poked fun at an already sexually provocative image by showing us what it 'really' means to eat a Magnum. The joke works on more than one level and it required some timing and positioning to get it across. It's not the best justification for acceptable use of backdrops but I've probably looked at that poster a thousand times myself and never saw the context Mary offered in her shot. I certainly won't be able to buy another Magnum from an ice-cream vendor without thinking of this photograph.

      All I was suggesting in the article was to think carefully about the frame. Detach yourself from the photograph you are about to take and ask yourself "how is this going to offer a different perspective, to be unique?" If you are using visual prompts like posters, make all the elements in the frame work together and make sure it is a decisive moment that you and no one else saw.

      Don't let this stop you from sharing your work, this was simply a guide. We're not here to make the rules but we did want to offer you an insight into how we think here at UPSP and help you exercise your photographic skills. We hope you found it useful.

  2. September 22, 2013  1:20 pm by Warrick Moore

    Thanks for the reply Jamie.

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