OP Ed: Street Photography Sucks and Here’s How to Save It

We’re streaming daily on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and Spotify!

Street photography is a beautiful art form. Personally, the process of creating a truly authentic image is what makes it the best form of photography in the world. The more accessible cameras have become, the more the popularity of the genre increases. People love street photography not only because it’s the most accessible genre, but because the thrill of making a candid frame is so addictive. However, as time goes by and more minds enter the genre, it becomes over saturated. Now it feels like most street photographers are looking for the most impossible, most coincidental scene they can find, thinking it’s what makes for a good photo. It’s destroying the craft. Here’s why.

Street Photography from the Past

When we think of past masters (street photographers like Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand), they had one thing in common: simplicity. Evident through their photos, they didn’t overthink a scene or seek something entirely out of the ordinary. They connected to subtle moments, compelling characters, and everyday life. Most people would never consider their work boring. Even today, their images have value, allowing people to peak into the past and learn what life was like in previous eras.

The streets are full of interesting people. Everyday life, even at its most basic and mundane, is interesting in itself. If we can learn to appreciate the simple things in life more, we won’t constantly search for more.

Although many of the photos from the masters were simple, it doesn’t mean creating them was easy. To create an image with zero planning takes a lot of skill. Take a simple, candid portrait, for example. If you can take an image like that and make people want to look at it and stay with it for a while, that’s a huge success. Considering the time and thought that goes into other genres of photography to make a photo on the fly that people enjoy, it’s an incredible achievement.

Street Photography Evolving

Of course, like anything in this life, things evolve. But a common misconception people have is that they think evolving is akin to improving. That’s certainly not true. Like a kind person can evolve into a mean person, a good photographer can evolve into a bad one. So as street photography has evolved, I see people always wanting more. It’s as though the simple, subtle moments of everyday life are no longer enough. People want intense color repetition, coincidental moments, or abstract scenes that seem to defy the laws of possibility. Don’t get me wrong, when these kinds of images go well, they’re incredibly compelling. But when they don’t (and often they don’t), they look forced, weak, and cliche.

I honestly believe street photography needs to go back to basics. Again, creating any candid image that people enjoy looking at should be fulfilling enough.

Because of this evolved idea of good street photography, so many people feel frustrated by the artform. They want to be the one who creates the most unattainable street photograph: always aiming for something nobody else has, and something that will set them above the rest. But that’s like playing the lottery; you hope for it all, but more often than not, you end up with nothing. In this instance, you spoil your own experience, which is a shame because street photography is an enriching practice.

Scale Back

Image by Pierre Crocquet

I honestly believe street photography needs to go back to basics. Again, creating any candid image that people enjoy looking at should be fulfilling enough. And there shouldn’t be a constant need to outdo each other or chase something unattainable.

The streets are full of interesting people. Everyday life, even at its most basic and mundane, is interesting in itself. If we can learn to appreciate the simple things in life more, we won’t constantly search for more. We won’t need to go through the cliche, the overdone, and the over thought. Instead, we can make strong photos in their most simplistic form and learn to enjoy everyday life in its purest form. I think we will then start to appreciate and connect better to the craft we love so much.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.