What is your Street Photography Style?

Mar 28, 2018

I’ve been actively enjoying street photography for almost two years now. And as I pursue this challenging genre, I wonder if I have managed to develop my own street photography style, or if this is something I need to work on? Should my images have a similar feel to them so they will be recognizable as mine and stand out from the crowd? Is a photographic style something that is important?

What do I mean by a style? Sometimes when I’m scrolling through my social media feeds I see an image and I instantly know who took it. The artist’s style is as recognizable as their signature. I worry that my images are too varied. I love to experiment with different focal lengths and techniques. As a result, my images as a set aren’t as homogeneous as some other creatives. This can’t be a good thing, can it?

In my mind I see street photography styles breaking down into two broad categories having very different feels: documentary’ish, and kind of fine art! How do you like those for precise classifications?

The Documentary’ish Street Photography Style

I love the documentary, historical style of many of the great street photographers from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Artists like Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Helen Levitt, and Vivian Maier managed to freeze time. Their photographs allow us to time travel back decades without having to find a DeLorean to get there. The little details, like phone booths, clothing, and advertising immediately remind us what time period their photos were taken in. And the simple moments they have immortalized remind us how life was back then.

I am born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. And I love the work of Fred Herzog. He emigrated to Canada in 1952 from Germany and settled in Vancouver in 1953. Looking back on his colour images of the city take me back to my childhood days growing up here. Herzog’s photographs have had a big influence on how I see the streets.

To capture this style of imagery, I use a wide lens. The 23mm on my Fuji X100F is perfect for this kind of imagery. And I try to make sure the background compliments my subject and adds to the story I am trying to express.

A Variation on Documentary’ish!

Lately, I’ve been capturing images with a slightly different take on the documentary style. Instead of using a wide lens and large story-telling depth of field, I’m trying to isolate my subjects with a longer lens while shooting wide open. My Fuji 50mm f/2 is my new favourite lens for this type of work! This style of photography puts extra emphasis on my subject and places more importance on capturing a compelling moment.

Kind of Fine Art!

I find it ironic that when I shoot landscape and nature photographs, I am always concerned with dynamic range. I don’t want blown out highlights and blocked up shadows. But, this seems to be a style that is becoming more prevalent when it comes to street photography. I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with high contrast images. I will even boost my whites and highlights and pull back the midtones and blacks in post. I love it when I find pockets of shadow punctuated with beams of light. This style of street photography focuses on light and shadow. However, it is still important to capture an interesting subject and moment, just in a more abstract way.

So Does a Street Photography Style Matter?

While reflecting on this question, I decided that I do have my own street photography style. It’s a little mish-mash of everything! I shoot what inspires me and follow the light. I’m not afraid to try new perspectives or new gear. And, I’m wide open to learning new techniques. In fact, I’m quite interested in trying to use a pinhole camera and a DIY tilt-shift lens for some creative effects while photographing in the streets. My style will always be evolving. The odds are against me that I will become the next Vivian Maier. But I will strive to be the best Elizabeth Gray that there is, and I am happy with that! So don’t try and pigeon hole yourself with a label. Remember to always shoot what makes you happy!

Cheers, and hope you check back next week.