A Reflection on Street Photography

 JUNE. 21, 2019

Cambridge - Partying at the Trinity Ball.

So, what is street photography? To the novice photographer trying out this genre it may seem just being in the street and taking photos. The more you get into this fascinating area of photography though, the more you realise how difficult it can be to take photos that elevate your work above just a street view.

Street Photography doesn’t even need to be in the street but can be in other locations such as industrial sites and things such as a ferry as shown in the photo below taken on the car deck of a ferry.

Ferry Car deck 3.

People in the street

One of the first questions one has is, should there be people in the shot? There are differing opinions on this but I think just taking the street is more of a ‘street scene’ rather than ‘Street Photography’ and to be street photography requires a person, or people to be in the shot. This adds another element to the shot and often requires you to arrive at a suitable location but then have to wait for a suitable person to walk into the shot.

One of the difficult aspects of Street Photography with people is getting over photographing people candidly which can often get some negative response from the subject. You can, of course, ask permission but I feel you’ve lost the spontaneity of the moment as soon as someone knows they are being photographed and then start to pose.

It's good to place people within the environment even when doing a close-up.


But is photographing people just walking along the street enough? I think not if you want to take your photography to another level. You can improve by looking for people doing something special or out of the ordinary. By catching a gesture, whether it’s a hand gesture, a turn of the head, or maybe just a look out of the frame that makes you wonder, what is going on?. It can also mean the position of the legs which indicate movement or that people are running at full stride to indicate some urgency in their journey.

Gesture can also be just a glance.
A gesture can be more pronounced and obvious.

Figure to Ground

In art classes they teach something called ‘Figure to Ground’. Its how to make your main subject or figure stand out by putting a light subject against a dark background, or vice versa. In photography it’s more difficult to achieve as we don’t have the option of creating our own backgrounds. We have to go out and find a suitable background to work with.

The best way of achieving this impact of contrast is to find a suitable spot where the sunlight is shining across a building with a shadow in the background. The shaft of sunlight illuminates the subject which is in contrast against the dark shadow background.


To get good results though means having to fool the camera’s light meter into seeing only that part of the photo that is important to you, being the area of the highlight. The camera’s light meter will try to just expose the whole view as varying shades of grey and the image will lack punch. You can achieve a good exposure by setting the camera to spot metering or using the exposure compensation adjustment on your camera. It can, in some cases, mean underexposing for up to 3 stops. You should then end up with a well exposed highlight area with dense dramatic shadow areas.


Areas of contrasting colour can also be used to emphasise the main subject. Sometimes just pushing up the saturation and clarity of the photo can make a photo pop.

Taking photos through restaurant windows can be quite effective too. The colour saturation and vibrancy can be raised to give a better effect.

Selective focus.

How much should we blur the background using a larger aperture? I think it’s important to set the subject in the environment. If you completely blur the background then there is no indication of where it is.

The most important thing though is to get out there and practice. Be patient, learn from your mistakes and don’t expect to come home with lots of perfect shots.

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