What is Street Photography?

Black and white street photograph of a man and a woman looking at a photograph of Clint eastwood in a market stall

Clint © Joe Farrell


Street Photography is about actively seeking out, and saving, some of the billions of split second interactions that go on all around you, all the time.

Sometimes, if curiosity, chance and skill come together, you may preserve 1/200th of a second that has something meaningful to say about the world.

Your photograph of that fraction of a second, can shine with warmth, humour, emotion, achievement, failure, nobility or absurdity.

It can illuminate some shaded corner of our experience and our time. That’s the challenge and the joy of street and documentary photography.


Black and white street photography of workers at a seed station in Butajira in Ethiopia

Seed Station, Butajira, Ethiopia © Joe Farrell


But what makes street photography different from portrait, landscape, still life or any other kind of photography?

For me, the elements below are the essence, the soul and the lifeblood of Street Photography.

These are the situations I’m trying to tune in to, and isolate from, the white noise of the street…

Infographic showing the elements of good street photography

The vital part of all this is “interacting with / in relation to”.

You can shoot landscapes, architecture, still life and portraits in the street – that doesn’t make it street photography.

To be worth anything, street photography has to be about the life, and the heart of the street.

You have to seek out and catch the moments when two or more things spark off each other — the split second when 1+1 = 3.

That takes commitment, attention and a good pair of shoes.


Black and white street photograph of a small dog looking out from a car during a picnic

Picnic Dog © Joe Farrell


Street Photography is a serious, creative art with a long and inspiring tradition.
It’s not about taking a camera out to the street and — hesitantly or enthusiastically — banging off random shots.

It’s about going out with a camera, and being part of the street – documenting the world with insight, compassion, empathy, creativity and wit.

That’s why it’s so powerful when it’s done well and so dispiriting when it’s done carelessly.

If you want to be a street photographer, and do it well, then maybe it’s worth thinking
about what it is [ and isn't ].

Your work can only get better if you do.

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