What Makes a Street Photo?

There are many street photographers nowadays. But what makes a street photo? It can’t just be anyone walking along the street–I can see that out the window. To me, there has to be a story (or it gets the viewer to create one). If there’s a story, it’s a street photograph. If it has no story, it might be a nice photo, but it’s not a street photo. Simple as that.

Here are a few from a short photo walk I did yesterday in Boulder. Photos that tell a story or make you ask a question, to answer yourself with your own story.

A knife and a cleaver on the street in Boulder. The viewer can’t help but wonder why they’re there, and who is the red-stockinged person on the bench behind them.
Certainly, the embracing couple is the point of this photograph, which gives it a story. But the people looking over at them, they add so much to the scene. They show interaction, similar to ourselves as viewers.
A street portrait. They were posing for each others’ cameras and I commented they must be famous, or soon to be, so, I asked for their portrait. They posed themselves. They’re so much alike (some viewers have asked if they’re triplets) yet each uniquely their own way.

Examples show what a street photograph is better than any words I can write. But when it comes time to deliver the photograph to the audience, they only know you’re making the presentation because you think the photograph has something to say. Something to see. A story to read from it.

This isn’t it.

Look, there’s a woman with red shoes and the North Face sign is red, and the bricks are red. Nope, nothing here. Just a bunch of people walking. Edit it out!

My mantra is, “Good photographers are good editors and only show their best work.” That means not every photo that’s in focus. (Focus is assumed.) Not every photo that has a person in it. (People are the very point of street photography.) But story. What’s the story you’re showing me?

Keep me interested with a good story. The others, save them but don’t show them. They might be valuable in 50 years for the fashion trends, but for today, they’re outs. They’re boring. There’s no story to tell.

Showing fashion trends is only important decades later when the dress style no longer resembles today. Then you can show it–it will have developed a story through the passage of time.

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