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.
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.
- 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: http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/discuss25/
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
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 http://www.flickr.com/groups/urbanpicnic/discuss/72157635277489067/
UPSP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UrbanPicnicStreetPhotography