Humor & Story in Street Photography

Everyone loves a laugh. I think that’s safe to say as a generalization, because a joke is a story. But not all documentary and street photography can be comical. But some just are–that’s life for you.

I spent a day in New York City and was walking through and saw this scene below unfold. I usually don’t bother to photograph when I see people photographing themselves, shooting selfies or setting up group shots. I’ve seen it too much. It’s kind of a cliche photo for street photographers to post. It’s nothing new.

Unless it’s something new.

This photograph I made four exposures because I could tell there was one person seeking attention. One star in the making and I had to photograph that energy. That joy. After those four frames, the moment was gone.

Yes, he’s making jazz hands!

What we are often looking at while making photographs is story. And often that story shows itself in contrasts–when two opposites of some type are thrown together, The Odd Couple essentially.

Now there may be times when a photographer would just shoot this scene without noticing the boy showboating, and hopefully they’d find it in the edit. But it is a winning photograph, because it does show contrast. And it’s funny with the rest of the family being perfectly bland as expected and one person standing out, shining a light, bent knee on one toe, making jazz hands. He’s the focus of this photograph. But without context, without the photographer, making them pose, it doesn’t work. It has to be seen in context. Manhattan for a background certainly helps, too. Maybe he’ll end up on Broadway!

We are telling stories with our photography and asking for our viewers’ attention, requesting them to spend time with the story we promise is worth seeing. Which is why a photo of someone walking across the street, holding their phone, doing nothing noteworthy is an out. So, I got it in focus, who cares, it lacks a story.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Choose the photographs you show carefully, because your viewers will remember the story, and whether it was captivating or boring, and worth coming back to your work in the future.

This is interesting because it has a story. Who knew you could have pigeons eating out of your hand?
This is boring, a woman passing by a mural. So what, says nothing. She hasn’t even a strong expression. It’s an out.
This could be a documentary photo for my Roy Stryker project, but it’s not much of a street photograph.
This is Storytelling. The viewer can surmise the young girl doesn’t want to leave her parents for summer camp. There’s a story in a photo. It has emotion. Conflict.

In Hollywood, they say, “You’re only as good as your last movie.” Meaning, you have to constantly deliver. No excuses. Show your best, then do it again. The same is true for street photographers.

Don’t show doubles. Don’t show doubles. See how that feels? That’s repeating yourself and boring. Make the strong choice and show one, you’re the storyteller. Same with posting one in black and white and color and asking opinions from viewers, hey, you’re the photographer, the storyteller, you make the choice.

Show me a photograph with a strong story, a point, and you’ll have me coming back for more. Less is more. Show little but your greatest work. Beats lots of mediocrity that loses your audience every time.

If the moment can get a chuckle, well, all the better!

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Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

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