The Street Photograph

Single Street Photos


People Watching

The single shot is the most popular of all the different types of street photography.

Street photography can also be a collection of similar themed images, a sequence showing an unfolding story, or a documentary of people and events. These are all projects that are completed over time though. The single image (the one hit wonder) is probably the most popular type of photograph that street photographers create. But is it really just a single image? Does one stand by in a scene and wait for the “decisive moment” to press the shutter release? No, I don’t believe it is.

Colorful Text Messages

It’s easy for us to think that is the case, very easy. We see exciting images everyday and then we go out with our cameras and try to find the same moment we saw in a photo. We try to find the same set of circumstances but come up empty handed not because we couldn’t find it but because we missed the moment that occurred right before us while we were trying to emulate someone else.

Colorful Thoughts

Further, we miss it because we think it is possible to catch it right at the instant it happens. Here’s the news though, it doesn’t happen in a single click. It happens by taking many photos in a scene and later, discovering which was the right moment according to your or someone else’s goals. There could be several moments, some that you might not even see until you have a chance to look at each one on it’s own.

Take a look at the two images here. Both could be exactly the right moment. In fact both are exactly the right moment depending on the context they are put in (even if the context is made up based on what the image is saying.) It all depends. The titles help reinforce the image. If there were not titles, you might say the one on the right with the man looking at me is the better of the two. Maybe it is. We tend to gravitate toward photos take where you can see the person’s face but again it depends. What I didn’t tell you is these weren’t the only two photos I took in this location. I probably shot 10 or more before choosing these two.

Evening Ride

Back in the day when we used enlargers and chemistry labs, many of those decisive moments were decided by looking at a 1 1/2″ image on a contact sheet. Imagine trying to make that decision today looking at just thumbnails on your screen. Think about how difficult it must have been back in that time to see that from a contact sheet. Take a look at the color image at right with the colored bars and you’ll see what I mean. Unless you look at the enlargement, you’ll miss the true meaning of it. Who do you think is watching the people? Do you think it was me, the photographer? Look at the enlargement.

The decisive moment may have been selected by an editor or a lab tech who printed the image. Sure the photographer may have taken the shot but someone else might have decided which was going to surface to the public. The photographer may have taken a hundred images of which there may have many perfectly decisive moments but only one came to the public’s eye. The others may have fallen out of favor because compared to the best one that met certain goals, they were inferior but under other criteria, they may have been better than the chosen image.

People Watching

The point I’m trying to make is, you can’t look for just one moment. You have to look for many. Shoot lots of images so you have a lot to choose from and a lot of near misses (as is most of the cases.) It’s not just one click of the shutter. To find “the moment” you have to photograph lots of them. Don’t think for a minute that every click is a keeper and, don’t be afraid to trash all the files that miss mark.

Below are a selection of some of what I call my one hit wonders. Click an image for enlargement or you might miss the meaning.