Of all the most recognised genres of photography, street photography is possibly one of, if not the hardest to define.
Landscape, portraiture, wildlife, wedding, architecture, sport – all of these are very easy to define, and to an extent at least, have some distinct good-practice guidelines which will, if followed, help to produce good results. Street photography, for me, doesn’t work in quite the same ways. There are certainly fewer “rules” as to how to go about it, and no two photographers will approach it in entirely the same way. Sure, good camera-craft will help to produce a technically good result, and elements of the skills needed in all of the other disciplines will certainly be useful, but won’t produce a telling picture by themselves. Conversely, a picture that is technically not brilliant can more than compensate in terms of the power of its story.
A street photo can contain any of the elements that the street environment embodies, from the humblest piece of graffiti, to the noblest of buildings. The photographer’s “eye” for a picture is the most important tool in his or her armoury. The ability to use these elements to form a coherent picture, either as its sole subject, or as just one element in a complex composition is very important. Sometimes, it’s what’s left out of the picture that makes it a success.
Street photographers have to work quickly and as unobtrusively as possible – preferably going completely unnoticed. They don’t often get the luxury of a second chance. Anticipating how a story is developing in a scene, and exercising judgement about the “decisive moment” are far more important than the rule of thirds, for example. I don’t think it’s something that can be easily taught, either – you either have it or you don’t. The best street photographers have it in spades.