Taking Street Pictures: The Art of Discreet Creativity

Taking Street Pictures: The Art of Discreet Creativity


Street photography is often considered as a discreet art. To put it in simple words, it is an attempt to capture an evolving world around us, through our lenses, while staying completely out of sight. Street pictures are usually captured at a moment’s notice and require patience, intuition, an eye for the ‘moment’, and familiarity with the equipment in hand. One of the greatest exponents of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson had once famously told, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” Thus, in order to take great street pictures, a photographer, essentially, has to be gifted to be able to anticipate a moment and be ready to capture it on his camera even before it happens.

At the right place at the right time

street pictures

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Almost anyone can take pictures with a camera out on the streets, but it takes a lot of patience and skill to come up with street pictures that really tell a story. A personal favorite of mine is a picture taken by Cartier-Bresson of a young boy carrying two bottles of wine in his arms. The boy has an air of triumph around him; his face hardly conceals a grin which tells a story. The picture tells us more than simply the abilities of Cartier-Bresson to capture a moment like that candidly. It tells a lot about how good he was with framing, and his near psychic abilities to be at the right place at the right time.

Photographing children

street pictures

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Children make great subjects for street pictures, especially when they are just being themselves. Cartier-Bresson took some of the best street pictures one could ever come across of children at their playful best. Unfortunately, today, with the many dangers that are associated with taking pictures of children, you’re bound to face some opposition. The best way to approach would be to get permission from the parents and reassure them of the purpose of the pictures.

Staying out of sight

In order to take great street pictures you will need to take the concept of candid photography to a completely different level. As a street photographer, your first lesson is mastering the art of ‘invisibility’. By that, however, it is not implied that you look for the magic potion that can make you disappear, rather to find ways as to how you and your camera can stay out of the sight of your subjects while you photograph them.

Knowing your equipment

Cartier-Bresson was associated with Magnum Photos, an agency that he helped establish. He used many lenses when he was shooting official assignments, but had a particular fascination for the 50mm. This helped him to master that lens and almost use it as an extension of his eye. Being familiar with one’s equipment is important in every type of photography, as it helps in reducing the time to get the settings right. One can simply adjust exposure or change the ISO without ever taking one’s eye off the viewfinder.

Knowing your rights

One final note about street photography is knowing your rights under the law when photographing, and staying within the domain of public property. This is important, as it can mean all the difference if you’re pulled up under suspicion of doing something illegal. There are rules in every country regarding photographing people and their properties. Generally, in the US, if you’re photographing people in a public place and there is no malicious intent in your work, you’re free to take street pictures of anybody or anything. Paul Lewis from The Guardian newspaper in the UK, however, had a near confrontation with the British police when he tried to photograph some buildings in London in an attempt to see the kind of response that he would receive (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2009/dec/11/photographs-police-anti-terrorism-laws ).

He nearly got himself dragged to the station charged under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. However, the interesting thing is all these happened only days after the London police received a directive that street photographers meant no threat and they should not be stopped. It is thus best to know your rights and the stipulations of the law of the land before indulging in street photography.

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