Street photography around the world by Maciej Dakowicz.
The photos are ordered chronologically – from the first 2004 attempts up to the newest from 2014. Quite a few taken while out shooting with participants of my photography workshops.
What is street photography?
Most people say that street photography features people photographed public places in candid, un-posed situations. In my opinion this definition is too broad as it includes portraiture, travel or editorial photography, which might have nothing to do with the genre. Thus, the definition can be refined easily to define proper street photography by adding just one word – “a twist”. A little twist – something clever, funny, unexpected, surprising or ambiguous. Something making you scratch your head, putting a smile on your face or making you say “nice”. And of course the photo does not have to be taken in the street – it can be shot indoors, on the beach or in the forest, at any place where photographers can take candid shots. But what matters is that little “twist” making the photo work on a different level.
Unfortunately, these photos with a twist do not come often. So I don’t call myself a street photographer, I am just a photographer who sometimes manages to take a street photograph.
What are the key elements of a good single photograph? In my opinion it is the content, composition and light.
The content is most important. Sometimes a not perfectly composed and lit photograph still can be good, what matters is the message it conveys. Moments! Emotions! They matter. The decisive moment is one of the key concepts of the genre. It is this once in a lifetime opportunity. If it is gone, it will never happen again. It is a sort of apogee, the exact moment when something happens. The timing is crucial. An echoeing is another concept – putting visually similar elements in the frame. A circle here and there, a similar pattern on the wall and somebody’s shirt, a laughing person standing next to a poster with a smiling face – these similarities can produce entertaining images. Juxtapositons are slightly different – here we are looking for contrasting elements. So, a not-so-slim woman with an ice-cream standing next to a poster saying “stay fit”, a well dressed man walking past a poorly dressed one, a hairy guy and a bold one – these differences in the frame make the shot interesting. Ambiguity, or a mystery is another concept. Here we are talking about pictures that provoke questions rather than answering them. Each viewer can interpret the image in a different way. Sometimes situations are ambiguous just like that, but often isolating fragments of the scene from the whole context can create a mystery.
Composition is the way elements are placed in the frame, how they relate to each other. It greatly depends on the distance from the subject – usually the closer you get the more dynamic perspectives you achieve and you get that sense of being there, right in the middle of things. Then it is all about where the camera is positioned and when the shutter is released. Where and when. Here we often deal with geometry – using lines, curves and shapes while composing the image. Lines or curves leading to the subjects, shapes enclosing them. Here we can also talk about the depth of the composition and distinguish different layers consisting of the foreground, middle distance and background elements. Complex multi-layered photographs with multiple subjects are very interesting to look at, but due to their complexity they are rather appreciated by the photography crowd and not fully understood by the rest. You need to remember that simple is good. A simple, clean photograph with a strong content will most of the time have a bigger impact on the viewer than a complex, multi-layered compositional masterpiece.
Light is what illuminates the scene. It can be natural – coming from the Sun directly (giving us shadows) or diffused through the clouds. Can also be artificial – coming from a bulb in the ceiling or from a flashgun on top of the camera. A bad light or inappropriate handling of it can ruin the shot, while a good light can make it very special. Once you understand the light and learn how to handle it your pictures will be so much better.
When these three elements come together nicely in one frame you most probably have a great photo. Well done.
Here are some of my favourite quotes that apply to street photography:
“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
“The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters — small, small differences — but it’s essential. I didn’t think there is such a big difference between photographers. Very little difference. But it is that little difference that counts, maybe.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”…”Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the photo as a judgment that the photograph is good” – Garry Winogrand
“There is one problem for me if I try to shoot in the West. There’s an element of privacy . . . even on the street. You can’t go up to someone and put your camera in his or her face. You can sneak a photograph, but you can’t, you can’t intrude on the person.””Now, in India, you can do it all the time. No one minds. [And] every Indian person thinks of the photograph – the camera – as something before which he poses. So you might have shot several rolls of someone, you know, but that person… will not think that you have taken a photograph until he’s struck a pose.“ – Raghubir Singh