The Essense of Street Photography – Part I

Man with a fake leg reaches for money

The streets provide photographers with some of the best places to take photos. The reason for this is because the streets are filled with the real people that we all care to pay attention to or just walk right past. Shooting these provide your viewers with the opportunity to slow down and see a moment captured forever. The streets provide chances for almost every type of photography there is: be it sports, documentary, photojournalism, events, portraits, etc.

Author’s Note: This is part one of this ongoing series: These tips are provided to you after personal experience in New York City. NYC has some of the most liberal photography laws of any state. Check the laws and regulations in your state for shooting photos in the streets.

The Recession: It has Hit Us All Very Hard

Depending on who you ask, the latest American recession began around 2007. Since then the effects have started at the bottom and trickled their way up the socio-economic status line. Surely you’re bound to see the more financially well off people strolling around in their hot dresses, blazers and sporting the latest fashion trends. While these can make for some nice shots, one can see the effects of all the recession in the streets amongst the homeless, those begging for money or work, and in the faces of people all over as everyone (including critters) seems to be cutting back on spending in one way or another.

In the photo opening this entry, the man pictured was begging on the streets for money: stating that he was without a job and disabled because of his false leg (which he displayed). Someone threw a dollar in his direction, but it landed in dirty water. This shot captures the essence of the man’s struggle: despite the fact that it may be hard for him to do so, he is bending down to pick up a wet dollar bill just so that he can get a little bit further in life. It can be summarized in the phrase, “Every penny counts.”

Woman with cup

As a street photographer, it is important to capture people. This photo captures the fact that this lady, who was begging for money was just passed by an entire crowd of people. None of them had anything to spare, in fact they all just ignored her and tried not to make eye contact. This photo was recently blogged by the Blind Photographers. The black and white of this photo also adds a strong contrast to it, as stated by a commenter who says, “What a wonderful photo Christopher. Love the framing and the composition so much. The lady is in such light tones with the others much darker. A wonderful contrast!!”

Additionally, the people are blurred out to show that they are just another set of people that are passing her by in the distance as she continues to struggle through the hard economic times that have probably become worse for her.

Tip: Remember my post on turning off auto-focus? This was one of the photos I was going to use for that posting. It was in fact a, “Hail Mary” shot. I simply twisted the focus wheel, pointed the camera behind me (without looking into the viewfinder) and shot. This is because I didn’t want the lady looking at me while I took the shot. Try doing this, otherwise try hanging your camera at hip level with your hand on it holding it in place. When you think your subject that you want to capture is in frame then hold the shutter button down and make sure it is in continuous shooting mode. After some practice you’re bound to get the shot that you want.
A Cat in the Snow

This photo, taken back in the winter is a reminder of how harsh life is for the thousands of stray animals that are roaming the streets. Let’s think about it: since we are in a recession people are probably throwing away a lot less food. Instead, many people are actually freezing their food to prevent it from going bad (my mother does this as well as other people I know that try to live cheaply). Therefore, less food goes to waste. These strays will go around trying to get into your garbage trying to get at those scraps but since there are less of them around, they have to work harder. Granted, there are always restaurants and corporate garbage piles for these animals to raid but they have to work harder for the food. On top of that, keep in mind that a cat like the one pictured above has a litter to feed.

There are lots of other ways to capture the recession through still images. Since it is summer, homeless shelters are filled with people. But many are still stubborn and don’t want to leave the streets.

Shooting and capturing the recession on camera isn’t easy though, and doing it will require some mental preperation before you release the shutter button. Think about framing, the elements of photojournalism (in this case the intimdate, unusual and emotional), and how you’re exactly going to achieve the shot based on your area’s own photography laws and your own safety while taking the picture.



  1. Michael says

    There are really cities in the US where you can’t take photos on the streets? Free country my ass.