Why Are Street Photography Rules So Confusing?
How can you as a beginner cope with all these ridiculous street photography rules?
If you’re totally confused by the seemingly conflicting teachings of different street shooters, don’t worry.
In this blog post I’m going to help you find your way and maintain your sanity as you learn street photography at your own pace.
We’ll take a look at the following puzzling street photography rules:
What Camera Is Perfect For Street Photography?
Do You Shoot Candidly Or Ask For Permission?
To Crop Or Not To Crop?
Perhaps the most puzzling rule in street photography is that there are no rules.
Yes, there are no rules. And yet street photography has so many rules.
Absurd, isn’t it?
OK, calm down now.
You see, street photography is an art. And as such it is interpreted differently by different practitioners. This means that you also have the right to define it the way you understand it as an art form. Or, as your art form.
For example, if I ask you to define street photography to me you’re only going to give me your take on it. Your version of street photography.
That’s what happens with other street shooters out there. They define street photography according to their own understanding of the craft.
Hence the confusion.
There are no set rules. But there are many rules set by many people.
I hope you understand.
Let me try to clarify some of the clashing street photography rules so you can decide what street photography means to you personally.
Ridiculous Street Photography Rules
On The Best Or Perfect Camera For Street Photography
As you search the Internet for more information about the best camera for street photography you will find the term Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Or its opposite Gear Avoidance Syndrome.
These terms symbolize the never-ending battle that you’ll have to wage and win to maintain your sanity as a street shooter.
The answer to the question: ‘Which camera to use for street photography?’ brings up some of the most baffling statements.
Depending on who you ask, the answer might be:
Use your iPhone or any Smartphone you have.
Use whatever camera you own right now.
On The Subject Matter
If you photograph a stray dog and categorise your image as a street photo, some people will agree with you but others will disagree.
This is because the ‘rules’ say that street photography should only show people. According to this school of thought, a dog does not qualify as a subject for street photography.
You might be tempted to ask: ‘what are proper or suitable subjects for street photography?’
Again, the answer to this question will depend on who you ask.
The purists will say:
“Street photography is about people.It must show people. There should be a person or persons in your street shots. Rui Palha said: ‘Without people my pictures won’t exist.'”
The Modernists will say:
You must at least show proof of humanity.
The picture of a dog on a leash or with a shadow of someone walking the dog will qualify as a street shot.
On Candid vs. Posed
Talking about people, do you shoot them candidly or do you ask for their permission? And do you pose them?
Let’s ask the purists:
“Street photography must be candid. It must be unposed. The subject must be completely unaware of the fact that they’re being photographed.
This is why street photography is synonymous with photographing strangers in a public place or space. No talking or eye contact. If there’s eye contact, it must be spontaneous or accidental and unprovoked.
Talking to your subjects, posing them and making eye contact will turn your images into street portraits.
The Modernists’ Point of View:
“It’s all about connecting with people. Meeting strangers and making friends. It’s about good-fellowship. In this case it’s perfectly OK to make eye contact, talk to your subject and pose them if that’s what you want.
Whether you call this street photography or street portraiture doesn’t matter.”
To Crop Or Not To Crop?
Obviously cropping has its advantages and disadvantages.
Some photos will definitely benefit from cropping. But cropping can also ruin a picture if it’s done excessively.
If you decide to take a street photography workshop with some of the most respected photographers today they might teach you that cropping is not allowed. No cropping.
This teaching applies where the aim is to help you improve your composition skills. It forces you to think carefully before pressing the shutter release button.
Street photography is a very challenging genre. And sometimes things happen so fast that we don’t have enough time to react and frame the shot as we would like.
Therefore this cropping rule should not be regarded as Gospel truth.
Some of the photos on this page are cropped. Some so-called Masters Of Street Photography cropped their images.
How To Cope With These Ridiculous Street Photography Rules
1. What Camera to use?
Use whatever camera (or your smartphone) you have now or whatever you can afford and you’re completely happy with.
2. Candid or posed?
It’s up to you. In street photography you’re your own boss. You make up your own rules as you go. Remember you don’t have to please anyone but yourself.
3. To Crop Or Not to Crop?
This should be your personal choice. It’s your photo. It’s your art. You be the judge.
NB. In this blog post I used the terms Purists and Modernists. These words do not refer to any particular person. I’m using them to help you understand the different schools of thought in street photography circles.
I hope this piece has empowered you to take charge of your own art. But it’s also OK to learn from other people and take what makes sense to you while disregarding the nonsensical stuff. Remember you don’t even have to call yourself a street photographer. But if you like the term, why not?
Can you think of more street photography rules that you find confusing? And how would you explain them to a complete beginner?
Please share your wisdom with me in the comments section below.
If you’re a man or woman of few words and prefer the 140 characters of Twitter, please connect with me there and keep this conversation alive.
Till next time.