ABC's of Street Photography Inspiration

The ABC's of Street Photography Inspiration was an undertaking I started last year (2018) as a way for me to better understand my own work habits and tendencies when photographing candidly in the streets. This collection was never intended to be a how-to or guidebook on street photography, nor does it intend to be preaching from a position of higher authority on the genre, but rather serving as a source of inspiration when the creative well is dry. This is ultra condensed at the moment but I plan to keep adding to each item as I have time. I hope it can be of some use to you all!


A

Alignment

Jack-Simpson-22.jpg

Alignment

“Align elements of the foreground and background to create unique visual effects.”

B

Backlight


william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_64.jpg

Backlight

“Seek out bright backdrops that create silhouettes of your subject.”

C

Congruence

william_j_simpson-portrait-photographer_3.jpg

Congruence

“Look for similar shapes, colors or repeating themes that can be grouped and arranged in the frame.”

D

Detail

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_6081.jpg

Detail

“So often we observe street life from several meters away. Instead move in close, set your camera to macro and look for interesting details.”

E

Emotion

jssp_book1_DSCF1726.jpg

Emotion

“Search tirelessly for scenes of emotion. Some of the greatest photographs ever made have a strong emotion as the core focus.”

F

Fill The Frame

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_1.jpg

Fill The Frame

“Composition can make or break a photo. Pack the entire frame with content, emotion or other dynamic elements to draw the viewer in.”

G

Get Graphic!

Jack-Simpson-1.jpg

Get Graphic

“Use lines, shapes and forms to bring harmony to the frame. No rule states your shots have to include street life or people.”

H

Height

william_j_simpson-wedding-photographer_20081.jpg

Height

“Photographing from high angles such as rooftops and balconies can add drama to your images. Find ways to include geometric elements such as the curvature of staircases into your composition.”

I

Idiosyncrasy

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_28451.jpg

Idiosyncrasy

“Look for peculiar, distinctive and unique characteristics in your environment. Seek to compose your photographs including those idiosyncrasies as a primary or secondary subject.”


J

Juxtaposition

Jack-Simpson-17.jpg

Juxtaposition

“Placing items together side by side for comparison or contrast.”


K

Kneel

jssp_book1_WJS27277.jpg

Kneel

“Take a knee and change your perspective. Low angles can add drama or gravitas to your subject. Placing your camera on the ground and aiming it upward can also produce interesting results.”


L

Layer

jssp_book1_DSCF4052.jpg

Layering

“Compose your frame with content in the foreground, middle and background. Focus on a stationary subject and wait until other subjects come into frame.”


M

Motion

william_j_simpson_2126.jpg

Motion

“To capture motion, lower your ISO and adjust your shutter speed to below 1/60 a second. Experiment by setting your camera on a stable surface like a curb or ledge and lock focus on a stationary subject so that all moving elements in frame will blur.”


N

Narrative

WJS28517.jpg

Narrative

“Aim to capture photographs that leave room for interpretation. String together a series of photos in sequence to tell a story.”


O

Opposites

william_j_simpson-portrait-photographer_25195.jpg

Opposites

“Can you find opposing subjects on your route? Look for stark contrasts whether it be characters, emotions or colors.”




P

Purpose

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_9055.jpg

Purpose

“Ask yourself: what is the purpose of this photograph? Humor, social commentary, great lighting, interesting occurrence? Always strive to create photos with meaning.”


R

Reflections

jssp__DSF6035.jpg

Reflections

“Puddles, car mirrors, store fronts… the possibilities are endless with reflective surfaces. Utilize them as a way to add layers to your image.”




















S

Shadow

william_j_simpson_27997.jpg

Shadow

“Utilize hard light & darkness. Look for shadows and their interplay with surfaces in your frame. Shadows give a subject anonymity and can create mystery.”





















T

Take Risks

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 12.50.41 PM.png

Take Risks

“Get Close & fill the frame with detail. Photos taken from afar have less emotional impact than those taken close up. In sticky situations simply smile and keep moving.”






















U

Uncommon

jssp_book1_DSCF5923.jpg

Uncommon

“Seek out the uncommon. Much of your route will include common stationary objects, people just walking around, and generic subject matter. Seek out those uncommon and fleeting moments in your surroundings.”























V

Vanish

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_2.jpg

Vanish

“Be confident and fluid with your movements to avoid being detected. Don’t telegraph your intent to your subject. Carry your camera close to your face, shoot & move. When lowering the camera after the shot, don’t look at your subject but rather off to the side or above them.”
























W

Wait & Watch

Jack-Simpson-25.jpg

Wait & Watch

“Find and interesting setting, background, or unique light to serve as the stage for your photograph, then, simply wait for the action or subject to come into frame.”

























X

X Marks the Spot

william_j_simpson-portrait-photographer_8033.jpg

X Marks the Spot

“Use your camera’s grid lines and experiment with placing elements at the intersection of two lines to add interest and balance to your overall composition.”

























Y

You

william_j_Simpson_street_photographer_22373.jpg

Be Yourself

“Be yourself, take the photographs you want to take and not what you think people want to see. Learn from the masters and then branch out. Routinely hitting the streets to shoot will allow you to develop your own vision and style.”



























Z

Zen

william_j_simpson_21309.jpg

Find your Zen

“Find your Zen. Photography is a sword best sharpened by practice and experience. Focus your practice not on the winning shots but all the countless failed shots. Trying and failing will make you better and learning from those mistakes will prime you to better photograph life’s moments when they appear in front of you.”



Alignment

One of my personal favorite photographic tricks to employ is the use of alignment or juxtaposition of two or more elements in frame. I can attribute this to my inherent obsessive compulsive desire to always want to bring some order into a scene. It is one part of my personality that readily comes through in my photography. Whenever my wife and I are sitting at a restaurant I’ll catch myself folding a straw wrapper into a perfect square or aligning used sugar packets until there is equal space between them. Little nuances like this tend to manifest themselves behind my lens as well.

Another reason I enjoy this technique is that there is the potential for something interesting that can be coaxed out of almost every line and shape in the environment. Seemingly mundane settings with the right angle and alignment can produce very harmonic results. Another plus is that it is a great way to exercise the eye and a completely non-confrontational form of photography in the street, (although you will get funny looks while you compose the image… notice the absence of people in my personal examples below)

Next time you are out, my suggestion is to comb your environment for geometric shapes - lines, circles, squares, and angles. Once you spot a line, find another and connect the two (keep in the mind, lines are frequently not in the same geometric plane but they can still be juxtaposed by moving the camera forward or backward) the more opposing geometry you can manage to connect the greater depth your photograph will have.

The Well Worn Path Kills Creativity

One of the traps I seem to fall into quite often with street photography is walking the well worn path and expecting to find inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, beauty can manifest itself around every corner & cross walk, but as a place becomes more and more familiar to us, our brains tend to dull the repetitive stimulus. Case in point: your first apartment. It probably smelled like a Denny’s dumpster in the summer but you never really noticed. I’m half joking but I do think it’s a good way to make my point; as your brain receives the same daily stimulus, it becomes your baseline as your senses adjust; the same goes for your visual environment.

Yellow Car, William J Simpson, 2017

Yellow Car, William J Simpson, 2017

For me, my route is always up Market Street, hang a right on Stockton and down into China Town. Same storefronts. Same signs and landmarks, and often times I find myself in China Town having not pressed the shutter once! That’s called auto pilot folks and when it kicks in you are no longer observing. Your mind is assuming what’s next, both subject & setting. Break this habit on your next walk! Head down the “boring” street - every initial reaction, do the opposite - leave the bustle of high traffic areas and see what presents itself on unfamiliar avenues. In my opinion, having a clear head free of expectations or end results is the best mind state to be in when creatively photographing on the street.

On the contrary, photographing the same stretch of real estate over the course of years can be an awesome long-term project idea. What’s old will become new again as fashion, technology and trends are constantly changing - see what you can produce by setting some long-term photographic goals on the same corner or part of town.

Anticipating the Moment

When I first started shooting street photography there was little to no pre-visualization involved when composing a shot. Whatever would catch my eye the trigger was pulled, often times in rapid succession; if I made or missed the subject it was purely by chance. As time went on and my style slowed considerably I began to become a much more patient photographer, grasping what it meant to anticipate and capture that decisive moment in the street. 

Multiple elements in motion around the subject (circled in blue) that almost seem to frame the center focus point. The frame is filled and is fairly balanced. I'm anticipating the scene to clear out in order to minimize the distraction. The elderly gentlemen to the far left and far right are the slowest moving elements in the frame.

Multiple elements in motion around the subject (circled in blue) that almost seem to frame the center focus point. The frame is filled and is fairly balanced. I'm anticipating the scene to clear out in order to minimize the distraction. The elderly gentlemen to the far left and far right are the slowest moving elements in the frame.

The same shot after just 2 seconds have elapsed. The focus still remains on the subject but now we have an interaction. However the frame is now unbalanced without heavily cropping to exclude the girl and man toting his luggage on the right. Perhaps in this instance stepping forward or sweeping to the left would have produced a more balanced result.

The same shot after just 2 seconds have elapsed. The focus still remains on the subject but now we have an interaction. However the frame is now unbalanced without heavily cropping to exclude the girl and man toting his luggage on the right. Perhaps in this instance stepping forward or sweeping to the left would have produced a more balanced result.

So what types of moments are we trying to anticipate anyway? Here's an example: there's a large rambunctious dog held on a taught leash by his owner as they wait to cross the street. In the crosswalk 2 pigeons are absent-mindedly picking at some discarded food. So here, we have our potential moment: a dog is about to enter into the crosswalk and will most likely lunge at these birds, it is up to us, the photographer, to choose our vantage point, the angle, the aperture, the focal length, then wait and anticipate! 

Another example, you witness two people motion to each other and begin walking towards one another... a diligent street photographer should anticipate what may take place between the two once they close the gap: a hug, a handshake, a kiss, a fight ...some form of interaction that can be defined as a moment - those instances are what we are looking for.

But handshakes and hugs are boring you say? Agreed. nothing is preventing you from experimentation and having a little fun with it. So let's say you see a guy repeatedly tossing a water bottle into the air and catching it casually with one hand as he walks toward you. You start to recognize the pattern of tossing. You have many options here depending on your personality and shooting preference... should you:

a) snap a photo the moment it leaves his hand to make it appear the object is floating?

b) wait until the bottle is airborne and step towards him causing him to look at you while a water bottle randomly hovers in frame?

c) move quickly as he tosses it positioning yourself at a low angle and shoot the man and bottle from underneath?

...my point is the list could go on & on, the street is filled with moments you just have to anticipate them!

My personal philosophy is that a street photographer should always have more in common with a skilled sniper than some Rambo type machine gunner jackass, spraying a whole roll in hopes to grab something meaningful out of the chaos. Often times moments will be missed either because the shot was taken too quickly or too late but as time goes on and your skills develop (and as you become more familiar with your camera's capabilities) you will start to capture photographs at the intended moment more frequently, with greater accuracy. Anticipation is the game!

Color or Black & White?

I’ve often been conflicted about the use of black and white for my own street photography, especially in an age where technology allows us the ability to capture such brilliant colors with stunning accuracy. I think street photographers eventually tend to gravitate towards black & white because of the perceived nostalgia or added “authenticity” that it has. We look to the street photography pioneers such as Henri Cartier-BressonBrassai, or Vivian Maier and crave to reproduce that same classic look and feel.

StreetHunters.net has a great article by Digby Fullam on the importance of color in street photography. Read the full article: here