Why Your Street Photography Image Doesn’t Make Me Feel Anything

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The other day, Julius and I were going through images and submissions the site when we stumbled upon a submission who had a couple of impeccable images that were plagued by one big problem. The pillars of street photography tell you things like “F8 and be there”, “Get closer”, or “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” Yes, it’s true, rules are meant to be broken but not when it comes to capturing emotion and intimacy in an image.

But as we kept sifting through the images, we felt the same thing: the photographer wasn’t close enough to their subject. We both feel this often for many photographers we come across.

I’m going to put it into a big perspective here:

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– The Objective: Get the shot that makes someone say “Wow” or grabs their attention and elicits an emotion. No questions asked, go get it.

– The plan: Go out there and shoot.

– The gear: You, a 35mm equivalent or 50mm equivalent lens, and a camera. Heck, use your phone; it can do more than good enough of a job.

– How it goes down: You get to the subject, and you get closer, and closer, and then you start to snap away in order to not be seen but still finding a way respect their distance and personal space. You come back and don’t try to get closer because the person gave you a bad look and you got scared and intimidated.

Now answer this question: did you get the shot? No.

But you were scared? Guess what, you still didn’t get the shot.

But you didn’t want to invade their private space? And you still didn’t get the shot.

See where we’re going with this? In the end, absolutely no one cares to hear the story about how you almost got the shot and how you screwed it up except for other photographers who want to troll the hell out of you. We (the people who weren’t there and to whom you are showing your images to) want to see the photo and be captivated by how incredible it is.

What could you have done? Maybe waited to take the photo and gotten closer then snapped the image? Controlled your body language and breathed a bit more to calm yourself down?

In the end, what matters is the result. No photographer ever sold a photograph based on the story alone, they sold it based on how incredible the moment was because that’s all that people care about. It’s your job as a photographer to get closer to your subject and develop a sense of intimacy. This goes double for documentary work where you need to develop a rapport with subjects and not take pictures for a while until they become very comfortable with you.

Photography involving people is about human relationships, and intimacy in a subject captured in such a way that get the viewer to react is what your goal should be.

You just need to think creatively.