How to Give Your Street Photography Real Impact with Themes and Projects

Image showing a street photography theme titled Language Is A Virus with four thumbnail images

© Joe Farrell

You want people to see the world the way you see it.

You want your work to be interesting and relevant.

You want your work to get the time and attention you know it deserves.

Give your street photography lasting impact by creating projects, themes and titles that drive viewers to focus in on your work and share your vision.

Thumbnail Mush

Graphic showing a confusing layout of street photography thumbnail images

Thumbnail Mush

When you look at people’s photographs [ or your own ], are you really seeing the work and the creative vision – or are you just seeing thumbnail mush?

Page after page after page of thumbnails…

There are no stories being told.

There’s nothing to differentiate one shot from another. Nothing to connect one shot to another.

There’s nothing to separate the great shots from the good shots – or the good from the mediocre.

So you pick a shot, any shot, and mutter a few platitudes: “Love your work…” “Great composition…

Or you dive for the Back button and click out of there as fast as you can.

It’s mush – you know there’s probably good stuff in there, but you can’t pick it out.

 Give the People What They Want…

Image showing a street photography theme titled The Space Between with nine thumbnail images

© Joe Farrell

People love stories – we want to hear about, and see, patterns and connections. We want to learn about the world and make sense of it – from our own experiences or from the experiences of others.

After a long day on the plains, or in the office, chasing antelope and steering clear of the sabre-tooth tigers we sit around the fire and tell each other about the things we saw – and did – that day.

That’s why we like looking at photographs – and it’s especially true for street and documentary photography.

Get Your Photo Brain in Gear…

Graphic showing ten song titles that could be used to inspire street photography projects


This is a list of ten song titles pulled at random from my music library. Keep these phrases in mind and take a look at your archives. Do they give you any ideas for grouping shots together or ideas for a theme to go out and shoot?

Make your own lists of words, phrases, song or album titles, lines from your favourite author, old sayings, catchphrases – anything that fires your imagination.

Spend some time with this list – play with it. It will spark off ideas for places to shoot, situations or experiences you’d like to explore with your camera or new ways to group shots from your archive.

An exercise like this can jolt you into seeing creative photo possibilities you might not otherwise think of.

A good day shooting in the street is always an exercise in “mixed-up confusion”.
You get a shot of two men and a dog on a trampoline, another one of a woman playing the tuba in the subway and one of ten people on unicycles eating ice cream. I did say it was a good day!

They’re all good shots but there’s not much conecting them other than the day you shot them or maybe the city you shot them in. And that might be OK. But you can bring order to the confusion and maybe sharpen your street shooting senses by going out with a title, a phrase or even a single word in mind.

You’ll still get the good random shots but you’ll also be tuned in to your theme. You will see shots, connections and patterns you might have missed before.

Get the Best From Your Archives…

Image showing a page of street photography thumbnail images marked with red marker

© Joe Farrell

You should constantly trawl through your archives looking for those connections and patterns – with your themes and titles in mind.

Some shots you put to bed six months ago might just spark with your best shots from today, giving you a whole new story or theme – or setting you off on an exciting, challenging long term project.

So get your photo brain in gear. Think about how you can create projects and themes that interest you as a photographer and a storyteller. They can be a series of five photos or thirty five. They can be shot in a day or they can be long term projects. It’s up to you. And you can be working on several stories or photo projects simultaneously.

I guarantee you’ll end up with a lot more keepers, more engaged viewers and a lot less Thumbnail Mush.

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