What is street photography? | Ming Thein

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Sometimes, I think I’m a bit of a masochist. I actually like to shoot difficult subjects, and increasingly of late I’m also starting to write a lot about difficult topics. Today’s article seems like a very simple question to answer: what is street photography? The more I try to nail it down – and I spent a considerable amount of time on this before the Finding Light workshop – so I would know what to cover, and more importantly, what my students would expect me to cover. The first point of confusion comes when you try to decide what is ‘street’ and what isn’t: what about public spaces? What about museums, galleries, fora etc? Stairs? Restaurants? Hawker centers? Public transport, like the Underground? And here’s another question: does street photography always have to have human subjects in the frame? And when does street photography turn into travel reportage? You can see how this becomes confusing. I’ve decided that in general, the genre is loosely defined around several broad guidelines (at least for me; your mileage may vary). Let’s take a closer look at these.
 
Street photography is unplanned.
If you’re controlling any of the elements in the scene, then it starts to become a conceptual or even outdoor studio shoot – posed models in public definitely do not count as street photography: the photographer knew (or should have known) exactly what poses, look and lighting he wanted before beginning the shoot. (You certainly wouldn’t hire a model and get shooting permission if you had no intention to shoot there, would you?) There is also a reactive element to it – spontaneity and the ability to anticipate are both critical tools for the street photographer. You really never know what you’re going to get on any given day, and that’s what draws photographers to the genre: a never-ending source of material…
 
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