Anatomy of a Street Photograph

It’s sometimes instructive to see the creative process at work and delve into the anatomy of a street photograph.street photography of couple holding hands

Beginners (and for that matter more advanced street photographers) often fall into the error of mainly taking pictures from one orientation. They stand, bring their camera to their eye in the landscape orientation and take the picture.

A useful tip is always to consciously consider other views – it’s easy to look up and down and you’ll find more interesting photographs that way.

Just as useful is to look back in the direction you’ve just walked. You can see the world in a different direction this way.

I was in London and below me, over some railings, was a cafe. The above picture really presented itself without any waiting or pre-composing. I had maybe less than 10 seconds to get into position and snap off 4 or 5 shots.

It’s easy to get caught up with the technical side of cameras. If I’d studied the scene for a few minutes, tried to set the iso as low as possible in conjunction with a slow shutter speed, the moment would have been gone.

Instead I seemed to instinctively “know” that this was a good photograph in the making.

So…why does this photograph work ?

Firstly the picture ratio lends itself to the image and the subjects balance the image at either end.

This is reinforced with the main areas of interest – the 2 heads and the hands in the middle.

They’re also, of course, mirroring each other almost perfectly, as lovers often do. Symmetry like this is always appealing to the human eye.

There are also the curves – the back of the chairs lead on and into the the arms. Do you also see the curl in her hair repeating the curves of the hair ?

And finally, it’s an intimate moment, reinforced by the viewer looking into the bag of shopping.

Now…it would have been easy to sit down one the morning and plan this out on a pad of paper, and then pay two people to pose exactly as I wanted, but that isn’t the point of street photography !

Paintings can be meticulously planned over many years which can lead to all sorts of interesting comparisons. This can be contrasted with a study of the mean time spent looking pictures hanging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was only around 27 seconds.

To me this reinforces the unconscious nature of photography. Your mind can analyses and be moved by compositions very quickly on a subliminal level. A street photographer has to refine this ability and respond instinctively to pleasing arrangements..

Looking closely at the anatomy of a street photograph helps us see how to arrange these elements.

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