What EXACTLY is Street Photography?

One of the increasingly popular genre of photography is Street Photography as more and more articles have been devoted to it lately. But why has it gained so much attention in recent times? One of the possible explanation that I could think of is that with the advent of cheaper DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras in the market, the number of people picking up photography has also exponentially increased too . And when the number of hobbyists and beginners alike increases, what other better way to practice than simply to head out onto the streets? It is accessible, convenient and is always full of surprises.

However, the more I read on the articles on the topic online, the more I realised that the photographers' world is divided on as to what exactly constitutes under street photography.

Must it always be in Black & White? What about colour then?
Does Street Portraits considered as street photography?
What exactly counts as being on the Street? Markets? Train subway stations?

Naturally, as a result of the ambiguous nature of this genre of photography, many people are split when it comes to matters on it. The hardliners often will shoot down one another claiming this or that does not count as a street photography and all of these divisions are doing more harm than good to the beauty of street photographySo I am writing this article not to add fuel to the fire but rather to bridge the gap between all the different sides that there is, for the love of street photography.

To start of, I will not provide my own definition of this genre because it is in the nature of definitions that often divides the community. Instead, I will lay out a list of principles that I believe street photography, no matter how differing its definitions can be, should abide to. Street Photography should:

  1. Be taken in an uncontrolled environment. It does not matter if you shoot literally out on the streets or in the alleys of a local market, the element of not being in control of the subjects around you is central to this genre of photography.
  2. Document the lifestyle around you. It is about capturing fleeting moments or interesting subjects in their natural environment rather than staging a scene to fit your own personal objective.

Based on these two principles that I believe is widely practiced too, you can slowly come to your own definition of what is street photography. If you feel that colours will do a better job in documenting your surrounding as opposed to the traditional black & white, then so be it, go ahead and shoot in colour. If taking portraits of strangers on the streets in a spontaneous moment helps to convey the story of the place, then sure please carry on!

To conclude, I did not write this article with the intent on picking on any sides or taking sides either. Instead, what I am trying to put across to you is that the beauty of Street Photography must not be tainted by the constraints of definitions. Hence, to replace these definitions, I have provided my own principles of street photography as an anchor point that can be applied to all types of street photography. Hopefully with a clearer guidance on what street photography really is, we can reduce all the bickering and practice more on our crafts.

P.S: This will be the first post within a series that I will be writing on about the topic "Street Photography." So, do stay tune for the upcoming posts as well!

  • Post 1: What is EXACTLY Street Photography?
  • Post 2: Black & White vs Colour in Street Photography.
  • Post 3: Street Portraits in Street Photography?
  • Post 4: Composition and Subjects in Street Photography.