Sep 182013


Leica M9, Leica 9-P, A:2, S:1/1000, ISO:160

Leica M9, Leica 9-P, A:2, S:1/1000, ISO:160


What is Street Photography?. Due to the recent Photo Contest  titled (Street Photography in Oman), I received a lot and a lot of entry, but big chunk of them was not exactly falls under the category of Street Photography. Than it hit me, that maybe I should write an article about it. Also I don’t blame them, street photography is very tricky to define, if you Google it you will find various definitions and every street photographer has his or her own definition, and of course for good reasons.

As for me, I started street photography when I bought my Leica M9 camera two years ago, and I was fascinated by the concept of this type of photography  and after sometime and going through various articles from very experience street photographers and seeing bunch of photos around, I believe I have what it take to come up with my own definition of it. Its very difficult to put the definition in words, but I will try. I will combined all what I have read, see and experienced in hopefully one Definition

Street Photography  Is that Spontaneous not staged photo that takes place in the Public places, where it involves people.  key words here are Spontaneous, people and Public places.

(1)    Spontaneous (Not Staged)

Its important to note that best street photos are the ones that looks as natural as possible, however there is a problem with that, even though they are considered street photo. But the winning photos are the one which look natural, but the photographers has planned for it in advance or waited for that what we call as DECISIVE MOMENT, as a result you end up with a photo that is stunning, story telling. So yes its spontaneous from the scene point of view, but from the street photographer not exactly, rather he or she took the time to plan for it. Or he or she was looking, always on alert to find that particular moment. Planning is not staging. Staging is where the Photographer involves the people in making of the photo. While Planning is only the photographer plans of when the right time to take the photo, which could involve waiting.



Fuji X100, A:2.0, S:1/1000, ISO:200

Fuji X100, A:2.0, S:1/1000, ISO:200

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, Zeiss 21mm Biagon, A:4.8, S:1/125, ISO:160

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, Zeiss 21mm Biagon, A:4.8, S:1/125, ISO:160


Fuji X100, A:4, S:1/640, ISO:640

Fuji X100, A:4, S:1/640, ISO:640


Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:1.4, S:1/60, ISO:250

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:1.4, S:1/60, ISO:250

(2)    People

If there is no people in the photo, then its not street photography. Some argue differently, but for me, a street photo has to have people in it, for many reasons. One, is that if there is no people, than it can   be any of the other type of photography (Landscape, Architectural, Wildlife etc). The trick though, is that  people should be in some sort of spontaneous action. For example, he or she can pose for you, but it should look that it was a spontaneous pose, rather than a portrait type of POSING.  Hence its safe to say all Studio Photography are not Street Photography, basically any photo that has some sort of Staged POSE to me its not street photography, its just another Portrait. For example

The photo of the old lady below, is street photography, because she didn’t pose, rather she just stay there overwhelmed of me taking photo of her.

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:2.0, S:1/60, ISO:160

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:2.0, S:1/60, ISO:160


However the photo below of this man with Tatoo, its a PORTRAIT, and not street photography,  simply because he is posing for me, so no state of spontaneously nor element of surprise.

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:1.7, S:1/350, ISO:160

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:1.7, S:1/350, ISO:160


(3) Public Places

And the last elements, the photo taken should be in public places, places where no any sort of restrictions, people can go in and out freely. So photos taken inside your home, wedding, parties all not street photography. And places like, mall, streets, subway station etc all within the frame of street photography.


Finally, its important to note, there are Bad Street Photos and they are good street photo. And like any type of photography, what makes it a winning photo is the effort the photographer took to get that photo, and as a result you ended up with a photo that more or less talks to you and tells a story.

I hope the above some how shed some light. Now I have question to you all, below are two Photos. PHOTO ONE  AND PHOTO  TWO. Which of the photo below is  street photography?. Are they both street photography, or one of them or none of them. And why?. Let me know


Photo One

Leica X2, A:5, S:1/125, ISO:100

Leica X2, A:5, S:1/125, ISO:100


Photo Two

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:2, S:1/1500, ISO:160

Leica M9, Leica M9-P, A:2, S:1/1500, ISO:160


  18 Responses to “What is Street Photography?”

  1. Well, you did a very good job writing on a difficult topic! As you probably know, there are some very snooty street photographers (SP) who insist that one must use a certain type of lens (often a 35mm), that street photography should only be B&W, etc. Me, I consider myself a street photographer, although I also shoot other things. I have a “nifty fifty” 1.4 lens, and I shoot in color. My favorite SP is the recently discovered Vivian Maier. As to your images, both “can” be SP, although I don’t like SP where the people are not looking at the camera. In the case of the first image, it “could” be SP, if you were walking past the lady, liked her colorful hijab, and the scene she was looking at. I have a similar shot taken in a boat with the sister looking out over the river at a mosque on the shore in Istanbul. As far as “posing” someone or not, etc., sometimes, if the subject notices me and I don’t feel safe or I feel I am being EXTREMELY intrusive on personal space, I will ask. I don’t consider that portraiture. I know SP who always ask, and ones like me who rarely ask.

    • Very well put Safiyya. Your comments are always insightful. I wont comment on the two photos for now, lets see what other say. But as far as posing is concerned, than I guess we can agree to disagree. Otherwise, when would one distinguish between a PORTRAIT or a Street Photo. See what I mean. Thanks again

    • Also regarding the Lens. I didnt want to talk about it here, I was hoping the reader would make up his or her own judgement. With 50mm or 35mm is best for Street Photo, simply because you are neary to the subject, which makes a more powerful story line, and not to mention it covers as much info in a single scene, which tells even a better story.

      • Sometimes I feel I have to practically get on top of someone to get the image, even with my 50. If I had a 35, I’d feel like a paparazzi, right in someone’s face!

  2. Both are street photos, though the first one is not strictly a public place!

  3. And thanks again for your wonderful tips!

  4. very good article, my concern is do we need to take people permission to take their pics?

    • Omama, indeed a 64000 Dollars question?. and the answer IS NO. The whole idea is spontenous and if you asked for their permission you loose that. Unless you want to do a Portriat. But for street, NO.Now is it legal or not?, I dont know. But you need to consider the culture. For example, for me I will never take photos of Omani female in the street, i will will take the male photos. But outside oman is different story all together

      • “considering culture” (as in Omani females) is the same as “asking permission.” Like you said, SP is about spontaneity. To stop and consider anything except your camera settings, composition, etc., starts to go outside of SP.

  5. I personally would consider both as SP, they have people, they are in public places and you catch them unaware, so they did not pose for you for sure. the write up of yours on SP is excellent !

  6. Well said. For me SP is most exciting. I consider SP should be pale but dynamically composed. Bokehing should be used properly bec sometimes it tends to be staged. The subject and the drama should only be seen by a deliberate eye and doesnt standout.

  7. Nice write up. Understood what street photography is and why so…

    I think the 2nd photo is strictly a ‘street photograph’. It has the ‘spontaneity’ which is the most important factor. Well it was taken in a street, so whichever way you look it is ‘street photography’.

    The 1st photo is not a ‘street photograph’ for the same reason. Although the person in the picture looks casual there is no spontaneous action, so to speak; to make it a ‘street photograph’. And you gave away a clue in your earlier comment, which I won’t discuss now as it would be a spoiler.

  8. Nice to hear about photography and a chance to win “stay at Barka Farm House”. Thanks for the motivation. My friends say I’m a good photographer but only i want to show it to others. I don’t have a good camera but i use their cam ;-( I’m happy when they say u clicked a good one, please one more 🙂

  9. From the viewer point of view, than yes both can be considered as Street Photography. However, if you look deeply one the first photo, its more of a staged rather than spontaneous. You can tell how the female was sitting, and as well where she sat, in exact position where the photo would balance with the background which is the mountain, hence a perfect rule of third composition.

    So that correct answer, the first photo is more staged than the second. Therefore its not SP, where the second one is a typical SP. But only because I took the photo and I can explain it now 🙂

    Well Done AbdulRahim

  10. Great article on Street Photography. There are some good points raised in the comments too. As you are based in Oman and I guess a lot of your readers are too, it is worth pointing out Royal Decree No 12/2011
    Issuing the Cyber Crime Law. Specifically Article 16 which states;

    The penalty with imprisonment for a period not less than one year and not exceeding three years and a fine not less than OMR one thousand and not exceeding OMR five thousands or by either penalty, shall be applied to any person who uses the informational network or the information technology facilities such as mobiles incorporated with cameras in trespassing on of families and individuals by the privity taking photographs or dissemination of their news or voice or video records even if it was true or aggressing the others with slander and defamation.

    Please be careful taking images of people and posting them online.

    I work as a professional photographer in the UK and as a Trainer in Oman. One of the things we have to teach is to be aware of the local laws and regulations.


    • Excellent Point Paul. I knew about it and I never knew the specifics. Thanks for point it out. As as said, people need to consider the culture and as you said the local laws

      • No wonder so many photographers in certain cultures are landscape or mosque photographers. I would have a really hard time there. Really. JAK so much for that, Paul; I passed it on to my other group.

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