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Photographic Style

Street Photography: defining street photography flies in the face of its free liberated nature. There is no exact formula to the art and science of street photography, though a shared trait of its practitioners is the ability to see the unusual or capture the remarkable from the everyday landscape of our day to day worlds. Broadly speaking, street photography refers to any photograph created in a public space. Settings vary from the urban to rural environments and may also focus on parks, malls, parades or any other urban center or celebration. Photographs may contain the people that populate these spaces or they may be artistic captures of the environments without human subjects. Each photographer is free to find their own significance and to define their own work. The methods of shooting vary as much as there are ways of seeing. The pace and energy of the environment will create the conditions for shooting as well as the serendipity which is at the heart of the medium. Life is a series of moments just waiting to be captured.

Sanitary Landfill

Sanitary Landfill, 1990
Santa Cruz, CA
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center, Gift of the Artist
1998.16.89

Gelatin silver printing has been the most popular print process of the twentieth century. Gelatin silver print paper is comprised of three layers. Silver particles are suspended in gelatin on the top layer of the paper, the light sensitive portion. The middle layer is comprised of a white base. Machine processing of photo paper opened up the field to a greater number of amateurs. While developments in factory coating of paper improved the quality of images by producing increasing brilliance of highlights in images.

Differences between documentary photography and street photography: Photography.com places street photography into the larger category known as documentary photography, because it documents a snapshot of the photographer's world, as opposed to a specific subject. It is possible that street photography may contain a social or political message, though the photographs will typically speak more as a kind of ironic statement about the everyday.

Documentary photography produces images that are used as historical documents rather than a fine art context. Documentary photography is generally credited for its use of passionate persuasion with the hope of creating social change. The Great Depression in America produced a new wave of photographers who documented both rural and urban conditions.

Bus Stop

Bus Stop, 1992
Santa Cruz, CA
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center, Gift of the Artist
1998.16.101

Photojournalism photography focuses on current events. This type of photography attempts to capture a viewers emotion and attention compelling them to investigate the story. Ethical guidelines of this type of photography call for the presentation of events as they occurred without manipulation. Editing or altering images with computer software is considered taboo. In contrast, the process of street photography is more similar to a mirror that captures and reflects small glimmers of everyday life. Photojournalism photography’s prohibitions against manipulation through choice of lens, light settings, or even in printing do not apply so strictly in the case of street photography.

Artist Al Palm (Now Known as Olaf Palm)

Artist Al Palm (Now Known as Olaf Palm), 1969
Santa Cruz, CA
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center, Gift of the Artist
1998.16.1

Subjects: Street photography is not reporting and instead of a series of images a single strong image stands alone. The selection of subject matter is as varied as the ways of seeing. Street photography is about seeing and reacting to that which most people only register on a subconscious level. This leaves a great deal of room when selecting what to shoot. It may be helpful to think in terms of what not to include in your composition. This in the moment reaction and response is the zen of shooting. When shooting people it can be helpful to think like your subject and really consider their behavior, stepping outside of one's self and becoming one with the camera. This will allow the split second choice that will produce the dream like, surreal, or fantastic quality of street photos.

Pacific Avenue at Cooper House

Pacific Avenue at Cooper House, 1973
Santa Cruz, CA
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center, Gift of the Artist
1998.16.27

Keeping this in mind the choice of subjects matter will dictate the best approach. Blending into the action of the street will reward the careful observer who studies the scene waiting for the perfect moment to capture. Becoming a participant in the scene will mitigate how much space or closeness between subjects and the camera. Some techniques can assist in shooting subjects. Shooting from the hip means using the camera without the viewfinder. You can guess the distance and set your camera according to distance scale.

Composition: Form is the primary factor in street photography, and it dictates content in order communicate a photographer’s concept or tell a story. In this way form and content are wed together. Referring back to the ethos of street photography is the best guide for composing ones shots. Strong composition will create impactful content and vice versa.

Surf

Surf, 1962
Santa Cruz, CA
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center, Gift of the Artist
1998.16.1

Equipment like tripods, lenses, filters, lights, etc. are best left at home. These heavy bulky items take too long to set up and may remove you from the flow of the street and put your subjects on guard, making you miss those memorable moments worth capturing.

Technique Editing Considerations - Darkroom and Digital Techniques: While street photography itself is a system of visual editing, the question of how much manipulation is allowed is an issue in the age of Photoshop. Keep in mind that a shot taken on the street is not the same thing as street photography. A street photographer is an editor of time and space.

Darkroom processing or use of an outside photo editor does not raise ethical issues about manipulation. For those with much patience, working in a darkroom allows a great deal of control over the appearance of black and white photographs. Dodging and burning will allow you to achieve and/or correct highlights and shadows.

Street photography images have a dynamic tension between the internal need to speak as a record and the desire of the photographer to use his or her creative vision to edit after the event. For some, removing a distracting background is too much while for others removing a small distracting element, like a hand or a sign, is appropriate. These are issues that are still being debated among the street photography community.

The contrast between light and dark in a picture is ultimately determined by the personal preference of the photographer. In the language of art, painting, drawing, and black and white photography, light and dark are emotion. Making adjustments to contrast will either heighten or soften the impact of your work. Adjusting contrast can be achieved using a variety of filters and there are many commercial grade photo editing programs available for free on the web.

Tips:

• Prepare to shoot hundreds of frames to find a few gems
• Trust your intuition--does an image grab you, move you, or capture your attention?
• Learn from the pictures you reject, editing is as much a part of the initial process of capturing images as well as the post production process of selecting and preparing images