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Street Photography Types: From Bruce Gilden to Doisneau

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Famous street photographers cover many photography styles.
Our article aims to point out a few of these types of street photography. This will help you with inspiration.
You’ll also figure out where your photos fit in the grand scheme of things.
black and white street photo of a man falling from a height headfirst - types of street photography

Unobtrusive

An unobtrusive street photographer doesn’t intrude into the personal space of their subjects. They tend to be a few steps back. They’ll capture more of the scene and surroundings than an intrusive photographer would.
By standing a little further away, they go unnoticed. They stand on the borderline of too close and too far away.
This draws the least amount of attention.
These photographers are the observatory kind. They’re happy to watch and not involve themselves too much.
Candid shots are the main ones here since the photographer blends in a little more. The images are more photojournalistic and documentary.
As the subjects are unaware or uncaring of the photographer, the images are realistic.
The photographers here can be more timid. They prefer to stand on the boundaries staring in.
If they become noticed, they either shy away or communicate with the subjects. Either with small physical flairs (a nod, a smile) or a few words if needed.
Subjects can feel the photographer’s presence. But they do not feel threatened, so they tend to leave them alone.
This is a great way to record people and their relationships with each other and the space they occupy.
Stories, events, journeys, feelings and mise en scene are all important here.
Master: Robert Doisneau
A candid shot of a couple looking at paintings in a shop window by Robert Doisneau - types of street photography

Intrusive

The intrusive street photographer is aggressive. They prefer to join the mix. The photographers are ‘in your face’ hoping for a reaction that they can capture.
They are brave, and a little crazy too. You can never be sure how people will react.
There’s less documentary quality to this style, as the photographer influences the subject. This usually means surprised expressions from those going about their daily lives.
They are fast on their feet. And they need to be aware of their surroundings. They’re always waiting for the right person to walk into their sphere of influence.
The results these photographers get are amazing. The expressions are priceless and often unique. Their purpose isn’t to record daily lives and a ‘truth’ to the scene.
Master: Bruce Gilden
a Bruce Gilden portrait of a man - types of street photography

Raw

Raw street photography is the ‘no holds barred’ type. Anything goes. There are no ethical or moral boundaries.
The interpretation and understanding of the photo is up to the viewer.
A composition isn’t sought after. And light and geometry are not important.
The photographer has a very lacklustre, if any, regard for the subjects’ feelings.
Homeless, drunk, or desperate people are the most common subjects. Even those who are in severe pain, dying or even the dead can fall into this type or style.
You might think of photojournalism here. But they do not have this context in mind when captured. Nor are they photographed for historical reasons. Or to help people change their lifestyles.
The images here are realism at its finest, or rather, its worst. Reality checks on how people live their lives, in no way, shape or form glamourous.
Master: Weegee
A WeeGee photography of a drunken man passed out in a doorway - types of street photgraphy

Fine Art

Sometimes, a street photography image can feel like a painting. A representation rather than an actual image of a real scene. This street photography focuses on pleasing, artistic captures.
They have a stunning combination of light, shadows, and contrast. And they show off shapes and forms. These images have the same impact as a painting.
This is where an incredible amount of time goes into setting up the camera to capture the perfect image.
If there is a goal, these shots are the ones you hang on your wall.
Master: André Kertész
Black and white street photo of a building under cloudy sky by André Kertész - famous street photographers

Geometric

Street photography doesn’t have to look at a public area to be fine art. It can also look at shapes and forms to create fine art.
Architecture finds its place at the front of this genre, as it offers a glimpse into a different time and area.
This was a popular form after the ‘swinging sixties’. Geometric patterns exist in structures, trees, lines, stairs, doors, and anything Architectural. These subjects align.
Here, the photographer spends much more time setting up the shot. They don’t snap away.
They may lie in wait for hours, for that one perfect person entering their frame. The human element is not the main focus here.
They exist to show a sense of scale and remind us that people exist in these areas. They are the cherry on the Bakewell tart.
Master: Henri-Cartier Bresson
Henri-Cartier Bresson photo of a man riding a bicycle - famous street photographers

Smart

If an image can be smart, it is something that follows the decisive moment to a T. These images set themselves apart.
They mix together all sorts of other styles, but the moment of capture is the important part.
These photos are the ones that make you wonder ‘how on earth did they capture that?’
They serve the purpose of blowing your mind. Either through repetition of people’s actions and expressions, or the opposite, through juxtaposition.
This is one of the hardest types of street photography. You need to spend a long time searching for these interactions. Working on your feet and being aware of your surroundings are key skills.
On top of this, they need to be well composed. The smart photographers have a camera strapped around their neck 24/7, ready at a moment’s notice.
They walk the streets their entire lives, and amass a huge collection of images. Many situations become missed opportunities. But the ones they capture are the most powerful.
Master: Garry Winogrand
A candid shot of a people hailing a taxi cab on a busy roadside by Gary Winogrand - types of street photography

Portrait

This is one of the self-explanatory types of street photography. The photographer goes out in search for people. They capture portraits in an uncontrolled environment. The focus is on the face, eyes, expressions, and never in a studio.
The environments could be a park, workshops, restaurants, and of course, on the street. The people pose, or are caught candidly.
The important thing is that these images show something of the person and their culture. Or something about where they live.
Each face has a unique look and something new to offer. Settings are very important. But the focus is on the person.
Master: Steve McCurry
A street photography portrait of a man in orange turban holding his mustache by Steve Curry

Modern

Contemporary and modern photographers attack scenes and situations a little differently. They need to show and take advantage of  all the new aspects that the street offers us.
This style brings together images that are a little more graphically charged. People aren’t the most important part. Textures and colours are strong, either wither through repetition or juxtaposition.
They also tend to come with a little hint of humour.
Light play, such as silhouettes are common. So is the idea of abstraction. This uses layers – people at different positions and distances in relation to the camera.
Advertising is rampant here. It gives us both the place and social commentary on where and how we live.
Master: Matthew Wylie
Matthew Wylie street photo of the tail of a yellow car

Abstract

Abstract street photography doesn’t serve to show us a specific place. They offer us impressions and feelings instead.
Reflections, blurs, shadows and colours are all used here. They create something outside the boundaries of realism.
Everything is appears in its abstract form. People become uncomplete silhouettes and buildings become distorted structures. Glass is a common tool in creating these images, so is light and shadow, and effects from weather also.
These images are difficult to craft. They depend on perfect balances of subject and composition. Even the best images from this genre can be misunderstood, meaning it isn’t for everyone.
They hold graphic elements which attract small groups of people and not for the mass.
Master: Saul Leiter
Atmospheric abstract street photo of markings on a wall by Saul Leiter
Now you’ve been inspired by the different street photography types, why not check out some of our other great street photography tips? Make sure you understand the Freedom of Panorama or how about using film for street photography?

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