Diane Wehr Street Photography
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Dedicated to Street

A Street Photography Blog

No Rules, All Right

 
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Good composition is important in street photography. However, composition rules are made to be broken in this genre. I think that makes it hard for general photographers to critique street photography. At the very least, there is a learning curve for them to set their expectations. So go ahead, break these rules:

Your pictures do not have to be level.

 I am pretty much a fanatic when it comes to level horizons. For the most part I want wall and window lines to be perpendicular in my pictures. Because it matters to me, I go to a fair amount of trouble to achieve level pictures.  For example, I choose to use some of the valuable real estate in the viewing screen of my camera for a level, which is an option that my camera offers. In post processing on my iPad with Snapseed, one of the first tools I use is the Rotate tool, which automatically levels the image to some line in the picture. I may or may not accept the rotation, but it is always of interest to me. The nature of street photography, however, is often “get it while you can.” Better an un-level picture than no picture at all. And get this, sometimes you intentionally take pictures on the diagonal, either for artistic reasons or, when shooting in a small space to get the whole person in the frame.

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Your pictures do not have to be in perfect focus.

Perfect focus is an art form in macro photography. If you are a macro photographer, you will possibly use the technique of focus stacking, which is stacking multiple identical pictures, which differ only by the point of focus, into one image either in-camera or during post processing. If you are a landscape photographer and you are trying to get the foreground in focus, you are counseled to focus about 1/3rd of the way into the scene so that you have a perfectly focused foreground and background. If you are a street photographer, you try to get faces in focus, but, once again, getting the picture trumps getting the perfect focus. Sometimes you deliberately take an unfocused picture in order to convey movement.

This child’s face has soft focus. I do not think it was the shutter speed since that was 1/640 sec., which is usually sufficient, especially for someone walking toward you. The aperture was f/6.3. I think I focused on the woman’s face and there was not enough depth of field for the child’s face, because he was a good bit in front of her. I wish I had focused on the child, then most likely the woman would be in focus. You will get significantly more depth of field behind the focus point than in front of the focus point. In the big scheme of things, it does not matter. This picture is one that I like and it has been well received by viewers.

This child’s face has soft focus. I do not think it was the shutter speed since that was 1/640 sec., which is usually sufficient, especially for someone walking toward you. The aperture was f/6.3. I think I focused on the woman’s face and there was not enough depth of field for the child’s face, because he was a good bit in front of her. I wish I had focused on the child, then most likely the woman would be in focus. You will get significantly more depth of field behind the focus point than in front of the focus point. In the big scheme of things, it does not matter. This picture is one that I like and it has been well received by viewers.

You can have awkward backgrounds.

In general photography, one goal is to not have poles or really anything “growing out of” people’s heads. That was not possible with this picture, but it did not worry me in the least.

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You can both over expose and underexpose.

Landscape photographers work hard to get the maximum dynamic range (the range of light and dark in a picture) without blowing out the highlights or washing out the blacks. I do not think that is at all the goal of a street photographer. Certainly it is not my goal. I always try to expose the face of my subject properly. If the rest of the picture is overexposed or underexposed, oh well.

You can see in the histogram at the bottom of the picture how underexposed this picture is. All you need is some good light.

You can see in the histogram at the bottom of the picture how underexposed this picture is. All you need is some good light.

All of this being said, street photography is deceptively simple, in part, because there are no iron clad composition rules. There is one rule you should not break, however, and it is what makes street photography incredibly difficult. You must tell a story or convey a message.

Exercise

Review a few of your street photography images and identify composition rules you have broken, then compose a short statement of the message you were trying to convey or the story you were trying to tell. If you post a photo that has a story that you are particularly proud of on Instagram or Facebook, please add the hashtag #dbwstreet so that I can see the post.