There are 2 ways to do street photography. Problem is, only one of them produces good images. First is the Easy approach. The easy approach is to use a long lens and shoot the action that is happening across the street. The easy approach also allows you to shoot images like this where the subject has her eyes closed. I can shoot sleeping people all day long without breaking a sweat. Too bad all the pictures would suck.
There’s also the Difficult approach. The difficult approach involves getting close to your subject and shooting with a 24mm or 35mm lens. It also involves shooting people who are actually doing something and are possibly aware of your presence close to them. When you shoot in these situations you don’t have much time to compose the image, adjust exposure or even focus. You have to nail the shot in an instant. You take a lot of bad photos, but the good ones will be much better than anything you’ll create using an easier approach.
When I explained this to my sister she totally disagreed. She argued that the only reason I think a good shot has to be “difficult” is because of my own warped perspective. I see value in struggle, so I logically assume you have to struggle to create strong art. I was raised Catholic you know, so suffering/struggle is part of my being. For a moment I thought she had a point, but the more I thought about it, the more I concluded I was right and she was wrong. This happens most of the time that I think about discussions I’ve had with people
For me, the easy shot doesn’t work because it is something that we are free to stare at when we see it in our everday lives. When the action is across the street, you are free to stare and study the scene at your leisure. Likewise when you see that person sleeping on the subway, or when you see a deranged or homeless person on the street. You can sit and stare at it all day. You can take in all the details and really study the scene. Consequently, when someone shows you a photograph of that type of subject it’s not interesting because you’ve had opportunities to study it in the past.
However, the images that make up the difficult shot, are different. If you see a couple arguing, or even a couple making out on the street you can’t stop and stare. You’re afraid the guy is going to confront you, or maybe you’ll just look like a perv. Imagine you were walking the boardwalk on Coney Island at midnight and you came across the scene below. Would you stop walking and stare? Would you take in all the details about the interaction between these people and what they are wearing? Chances are you wouldn’t. You might want to, but you’d look pretty odd staring at 2 women kissing…so you glance and keep on walking.
But when you see a photograph of that moment you do have that opportunity to sit and stare and soak in all the details in a manner that you couldn’t do if you came across the actual scene taking place in the street. That quality greatly increases the odds of the photograph being an interesting one. This principle of seeking out and capturing a difficult scene is one of the guiding principles that I use in my street photography.