Monday, May 5, 2014

The 10 Rules of Street Photography

This post was inspired by several recent online discussions attempting to define street photography. While there is no universal definition and everyone will have their own interpretation and methods, I believe there are a few general rules that virtually all will agree upon. 

I've listed them below, along with helpful examples (mostly historical photos by outdated practitioners) showing WRONG! techniques that photographers should avoid. I welcome reader comments and suggestions for other rules I may have overlooked.

Of course the most important rule (while obeying the ones listed) is to have fun! 

1. All photos must be candid. You must not interact with your subjects in any way before, during, or after the photograph. Subjects looking into the camera are expressly prohibited.


William Klein


2. Photographs must be made from eye level while looking through the viewfinder. Hipshots, behind-the-back, under-the-legs, through the button hole, drone, remote trigger, Google Street View, or any other unnatural view is prohibited.


Walker Evans


3. All photographs must depict the subject from the front. Backs and rear views are a sign of wimpiness and are thus prohibited. Robert Frank, a well known sensitive soul, often ignored this rule and his photographs suffered accordingly, as shown in the photo below. Not to mention it's from the hip.

Robert Frank

4. Portraits are prohibited. Why? Because I said so. Earlier, in Rule #1.  


Hiroh Kikai

5. All photographs must be made with available light. Flash, strobe, and any other physical alteration of the scene as found is prohibited.


Tom Wood

6. Posters are always cliché, and thus prohibited. 


Matt Stuart

7. The same with funny or ironic signs. 


Elliott Erwitt

8. Street photographs must depict people. But not street performers, buskers, homeless, or other common sidewalk denizens. Fish in a barrel. Prohibited.


Robert Bergman

9. All reproductions must depict the photograph as shot. Cropping signifies a lack of forethought and general weakness of spirit, and is thus prohibited. 


Henri Cartier-Bresson

10. The best street photos are generally shot with a fondly burnished Leica and wide-angle lens, preferably on hand-rolled Tri-X, while wearing a beret or fedora. Telephoto is prohibited. Large cameras are prohibited. Post-production is prohibited. And anything else I've forgotten to list here is probably prohibited. If a specific technique is in doubt, don't use it until you confirm it is ok. 

10a. Remember to have fun!


Diane Arbus by ?

91 comments:

Stan B. said...

As you well point out, there are as many styles and approaches as there are practitioners. And it's all so very (very) ludicrous when certain individuals or groups lay claim to the one true holy grail of so called street photography.

Obviously, some do it better than others, but it's one thing to tout and support this genre, quite another to narrowly limit its parameters. If street photography is to grow and stay relevant, it has to evolve- or die a very quaint and outmoded genre killed off by its own self imposed limitations.


"Street photography" was a term more useful in its democratic declaration that art can be made in the street by the people that occupy them, rather than by anointed artists in the luxury of their studios. It's a term of inclusiveness as opposed to exclusivity.

Blake Andrews said...

Stan, you'll be ill served on the streets by your spirit of accommodation.

Stan B. said...

NY born and raised, Blake. My open spirit of accommodation walks hand in hand w/FU if ya don't like it.

Marvin said...

Love it! This just made my day.

Anonymous said...

This is a joke right?

Blake Andrews said...

I'm not sure how I can make it any clearer. I've spelled out my rules above. I've explained exactly why they're urgently needed. Are they so hard to obey?

If accommodationists among us insist on a more inclusive definition of street photography, I can't be held responsible for their images.

JG said...

Hmm ... so this print that I recently won is defective, eh?

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-HDL7BbD_bBY/U1sPmG1TrrI/AAAAAAAASxA/n-3kcBn2MBw/s1600/tumblr_n12c9vVClB1s94v6ho1_1280.jpg

Now I understand why the photographer was giving it away!

Anonymous said...

show us your images that you deemed as RIGHT. we are keen to KNOW about it

guru nathan said...

Love it! (y)

Anonymous said...

Wow... This post has so little value it makes me wonder if it was written by Blake Andrews or some SP noob on a random flickr group.

Seriously? Posters and flash and backs and hipshots?

You could've waited a bit to write a decent post instead of posting a reactionary rant.

Benicio said...

I hate to be the one to point out the obvious here - This is satire.

Paul Treacy said...

No mention of scarves?

No scarves must be worn during the making of street photography. Wearing of scarves is an exclusive preserve of combat correspondents.

Richard Bram said...

Oh dear - my retro fashion sense has doomed me to the Outer Realms forever I have been observed wearing beret, fedora, and occasionally accompanied by a scarf on numerous occasions.

Why is it that the humor-impaired always post as 'Anonymous?'

Diarmuid McDonald said...

I couldn't agree more - people should definitely wait and think through what they read before writing their responses to things online. This would prevent anyone from any misunderstanding in future. Well said anonymous

Mason Resnick said...

Dear Streetie,

1. I ditched my beret years ago for a generic-looking baseball cap. Am I safe, or have I committed a street photography fashion faux pas?

2. I roll my own, but only in Colorado, and it isn't Tri-X. I know it's legal there, but I pushing it?

3. You forgot about the cardinal sin against Saint Winogrand: Never not tilt the horizons!

Anonymous said...

Well it's easy. Because such post is written under a veil of satire. So the only option one has is to agree and say how funny it is. Otherwise, one is accused of being humour-impaired; so let's stay anonymous, fully knowing the consequenses on that.

Now let me tell you why this post is not only worthless, but worse, lacks integrity. The issue that is referred to in the intro (the online discussions that led to the post, mainly candidness and portraiture in street photography) was discussed in all seriousness and led to a few verbal standoffs on Facebook. Blake Andrews took a distinct stand in these discussions. He declared, quite seriously, that people who sport the 'other' opinion on candidness, namely Nick Turpin, don't represent his beliefs or the beliefs of most people in in-public.
Now here he is, seemingly writing a light post, but in reality engaging in in-house ridiculing. Of course it's ok for him to make fun as it's his blog. But it should also be ok to say that this is not funny as it's not really satire after all.

So now, how about you good people act as better models for budding SPers and go take your fighting in-private?

Brian said...

Love this, as well as Bram's "Why is it that the humor-impaired always post as 'Anonymous?'" comment. Well done to both of you.

Richard Bram said...

I rest my case. Court is adjourned.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you're the funniest thing on this page.

mike peters said...

Damn, at least I can now rest comfortably knowing that I've been doing WRONG so right all these years.

noah said...

Amen :D

Emilio Barillaro said...

Dear Blake, you forgot a rule...pictures must be taken only horizontally! :D

Anonymous said...

I know, right?

mmmaree said...

haha love it!

martin waltz said...

great job

Jim Campbell said...

I would have read further into this but the big red "WRONG" over the first two examples caused me to start to skim. All example photos being the same, I lost interest.

Miguel Rozsas said...

Some comments are even more funny than the post itself ! There is a lot of ironic impaired people out there...

Starcheko said...

Would love to see Flickr group under these rules to participate.

Unknown said...

great read Blake

John Pitsakis said...

A classic even by Blake's high standards! And the comments, oh boy!

christian said...

Yes, the best photos are always made by those who break the rules.

Elaine Mayes said...

Are you for real? There is only one rule: respect for your subject.

Elaine Mayes

Gary said...

Don't forget to mention sunglasses. All people in photos shall not be wearing sunglasses in your photos.

Malcolm Ganderton said...

Well done Blake, it's about time someone wrote the definitive rules of street photography, love it.

CJ said...

Kids, especially your own, don't count. Did #1 cover that subject?

lauren wylie said...

Is this real?

lauren wylie said...

You've got henri cartier bresson as "doing it wrong", this has got to be a joke article.

Blake Andrews said...

Nothing like waking up to a shit-storm. Most of these comments are fun to read. But I must correct the anonymous poster who misquoted me. I never took any firm stand stand in other discussion threads or made the comments attributed to me. So while I'm happy to entertain most comments, even from anonymous posters, my open spirit of accommodation walks hand in hand w/FU if ya don't like it. Or something like that.

dudley206098 said...

i am on the street, I take a photo therefore it is a street photo !
so many funny comments here. i would love to see their work.

Ludwig Keck said...

Aaarrghh! My Leica is burnished, I got a wide-angle lens, even Leica cartridges and located a source of Tri-X film, but my wife won't let me wear a beret. So am I forever banned from street photography?

Travel Street Photography said...

Have fun, and forget about the rest of the rules!!!

Regards from www.travelstreetphotography.com

Rob-L said...

Some of these comments are more fun than the original post!

Also, please add one more rule: Street photography must literally take place on a street.

Carlos C said...

I love this kind of sarcasm/provocation. Prohibition... what else?

Anonymous said...

The only thing funnier than the actual post is some of the comments. Made my day :-)

shadowsandrust said...

Rule 11: Don't take yourself so seriously. If you did not get this was satire, wow. That's sad. But if you did get it and were still offended, see rule 11.

Jeff Lewis said...

No digital camera.
Must have BIG beard.

matty said...

47 comments!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I just wasted 10 minutes reading all this crap!

Anonymous said...

You missed out Rule 11:

Focal length used must be 35 (or 50mm or 55mm) or less otherwise it's not street photography.

Wrong image:

Martin Parr "The Cost of Living" and macro shots (using Canon 60mm macro with ring or on-camera flash) e.g. "Badminton House, Badminton Horse Trials, Gloucestershire, England. 1988" (and many others of his).

http://www.thegreatleapsideways.com/?p=1840


Saul Leitner “Taxi” (1957) (and many others of his).

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/11/postscript-saul-leiter-1923-2013.html#slide_ss_0=1

Phillip Qin said...

Hahahaha what a joke...

simon said...

This was a great joke. Loved everything about it, however you are wrong with 10a (which should be 11 by the way, ugh). Photography is serious business. What do you think we are? lomographers?! but seriously. good post.

6 ft white rabbit said...

I think it's safe to say you've reach a certain pinnacle of satire when you manage to get people angry in their efforts to prove the very point you started out to make.

Anonymous said...

Rules by 'iron-fist' ruler....thank you very much...you make me laugh...

pepeye said...

In the event that you accept the suggestion about prohibiting scarves, I'm gonna need a waiver for being in Portland.

Marc Paull said...

I thought the article was very amusing, some of the replies however are hilarious!! So many people seem to have a defective humour gene.

Kristers Porietis said...

The only rule is: "There are no rules".

Fotogma said...

http://armstrong-millar.photography/albums/london-unseen/
I would be interested to hear what people think.

John

Willem said...

Too funny

You forgot that camera's other than Leica are strictly prohibited ;-)

One of the things I like about street photography is that there are no rules. There are just good photos and (lots and lots of) bad photo's....

Tom Firme said...

I never to any rules of shooting..experimentation is the key..especially w/digital...delete it if you don't like it..pose if you feel like it..it's still on the street ..right???

randy said...

Man, i disagree with most of that post. I am wondering what is left if you were to follow it so it does sound like a farcical entry. Especially the lecia part. Anyway if this fellow is supposed to be something of a known streetphotogher, i am glad i dont know him....Unless he was joking on the whole article which in that case, :You got me"

EMC2 said...

Oh. Really? O'Reilly...

A.K.A. SAM said...

You tell em Stan B!

I interact with almost everyone I photograph. It's a big part of the whole experience for me and has made for an interesting journey.

Stan B. said...

AKA- If that's what works for ya, have at it; different situations and people (in front of and behind the lens) can require different approaches- long as ya ain't a douchebag.

Blake Andrews said...

I appreciate all of the comments, everyone. Keep them coming. They're very thought provoking and fun to read.

In response to some commenters who questioned whether or not this is a serious post, the answer is a definitive YES. Street photography rules are no laughing matter, and certainly far too serious a subject to satirize.

The rules were written with much care and consideration. I stand firmly behind them. But of course I can't take credit for them. I'm lifted by the wings of my predecessors, the street photo pioneers of yesteryear who worked tirelessly to define the art, and to help determine what is and what is NOT ok. With their guidance it's my hope that may finally eradicate the scourge of improper practitioners.

Anonymous said...

Sorry sir but I disagree with you.
Theses are my street photography rules
1. Photography should be fun. You should be enjoying it or else stay at home.
2. Respect your subject.
3. Do not photograph any suffering ie homeless, people who are physically or mentally impaired in any way, beggars etc.

Jeff M said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your rules. Thank you for cataloging them. I shall either transcribe them to my Moleskine for quick reference or perhaps jot them down in bullet point format and tape them to the back of my camera.

One quick editorial consideration-- Leica should be in bold, no?

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU BLAKE!!!! Now I have a a whole new set of rules to shatter!!! Oh, fun, fun, fun.

John W

Anonymous said...

But what about glaciers?

Robert Roaldi said...

Thank you Paul Treacy, I didn't know that about scarves. Amazingly, I still manage to learn something new, well, almost every day or so.

Kosch said...

I am pretty sure you forgot to mention the rule about the fact that all street photography must be in black and white. If it's in color, you may not call it a street photo, merely a snapshot.

Anonymous said...

I read this piece with interest, thinking about how these rules apply to much street photography that appeals to me. I like looking at street photography, but I have a heck of a time shooting it. Inhibitions. Now, I may go out, with these rules in mind, and see what there is to see. Seriously, and not as a have-to. Others' reactions to the article interested me, too. Bill W.

Raymond Vasquez said...

That's true.

Raymond Vasquez said...

I checked your winning shot. Not to shabby. I even downloaded and made it my Home screen on my moto g. Word. Keep pushing the envelope.

Michael Ferron said...

#1 a good photo is a good photo.
#2 a good photo is a good photo.
#3 well you know.
liked this. TY :)

Col said...

What if you use a Leica T that has been hand buffed in the factory by a highly qualified German technician for 45 minutes rather than burnished through hard use? Is that cheating (like buying distressed denim) or is a pre-buffed camera an acceptable substitute for burnishing for dentists and lawyers who are too busy with their day jobs to be out shooting on the streets giving their gear real life patina? These are important matters.

Anonymous said...

I just don't care about anything, i take all the photographs i want, from any subject and with any camera i like. There are no rules.

JP de Ruiter said...

Great article. Except for rule 5, which is 100% correct.

Marta Pass said...

I agree ;) Rules are made to be broken

Gary said...

Pure genius. Absolute genius. I'm extremely jealous I didn't come up with this myself. Way to go Blake.

John Krill said...

I have this big, old, cowboy hat with a snake skin band that I wear whenever I'm out doing street photography. People stop and stare at the hat and forget there's a photographer underneath it. Have gotten some great shots with that hat.

Anonymous said...

I liked that photo

Raymond Vasquez said...

Blake- I'm a novice "street photographer", I have creative vision, and dabble in variety of arts. These rules that are composed are not difficult to achieve at all. I think what everyone possibly is NOT understanding that "street photography" is fairly a new genre of shooting. There are truly no rules, Its not wrong, yet it isn't right either. these rules that are formulated, and when ALL RULES are followed will produce a consistent theme, or mood if u will to the shot taken. A "street formula." I believe you have innovated and are crafting your own stlye of practice.
The streets are litterally crazy, filled with cars, people, noise, neighbors, and fiestas etc.. Etc.. Harnessing the streets to achieve the desired photo in the minds eye is difficult for any photographer. (And I mean EVERYONE). These are actually Great Guidelines. And from artist to artist WE are ALL very self critical on our own work. Finding what works and TYPING them down in written text with visuals is a whole other obstacle. I SINCERELY BELIEVE that what you have here is a style within a style of photography. . Thanks for the guide. Cheers to You

youcancallmeAl said...

nick anonymous seems to be a tad prickly today.

Paul McFarland said...

We're being reactive here rather than proactive. When did the word "street" become so sexy? I'm bored hearing about street art (formerly known as graffiti), street food (formerly known as shite you eat after getting drunk) and street photography (formerly known as photography). What next? It won't be cool enough to be a person? I'll become a street person who does street pisses and street shits when I'm not street fucking or street fighting or street drinking or street drugging and street dying. Climb aboard before the rest of the bourgeoisie stop living in houses and come join us cool street people.

Tim Auger said...

In the spirit of your original post, 'composition' should play no part; at least some part of the shot should be blurred; and the general implication of the subject matter (if, by some mischance, there is a subject) should be pessimistic.

Anonymous said...

Stick your rules where the sun dont shine. God, I hate people like you.

Anonymous said...

Try HCSP!!!

BTW I'm not "Anonymous" - he/she is some other bloke.
I'm just not using my identity.

Valery Titievsky said...

Very nice :)
See my photos on the wrong link :)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dotfoto/

Anonymous said...

You are not a street photographer if you belong to HCSP, are pretentious and in a click!

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. Thanks, Blake.

Ulf Kindler said...

I agree - interact with everybody pending on spiritual approvement while cruising.