Working A Scene

When you're new to street photography, one of the biggest obstacles might be finding a suitable subject or scene to photograph. In this blog post, I explain one way how I overcome this hurdle.

I've experienced it for myself and seen it many times- during photo walks with other street photographers or friends, that many tend to rush through the streets. Some seem not be taking their time to look for a suitable stage, light and composition. Instead, they are rushing for the so called "decisive moment". This term is related to one of the masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. In short, it means to show the essence, a perfect short-term symbiosis of visual and psychological elements of a scene. The "decisive moment" can therefore only be captured within a fraction of a second.

Instead of walking around and shooting everything on the fly in order to catch that "decisive moment", you should rather slow down and search for a suitable stage. This can actually be anything, a park, a train station, a reflective window, a beach, stairs etc. If you have trouble finding a suitable stage, here's a thing that I do. I switch off my mobile phone, grab a cup of coffee and go to a busy place, sit down and watch the people passing by.

If you found your stage, the next thing will be observation. You should take your time to study the light situation and the people in this place (note: you don't need a human element in street photography at all) and "work the scene". Try to combine the elements in your frame until they match your vision. Sometimes you get completely different shots if you slightly change your point of view. However, this step, the combination of the elements is the most difficult part in street photography. In the beginning, I failed a lot and, I still do. Oftentimes I'll get home without any "good" pictures at all. However, I practice every day, even when I don't have a camera with me.

Below, you'll see one of the most famous pictures by Trent Parke. He once said, that "you shoot a lot of shit and you're bound to come up with a few good ones". Trent worked hard for this particular image. He came back to this spot three or four times a week for about a month and roughly shot 100 rolls of film (ca. 3600 shots).

© Trent Parke / Magnum Photos

© Trent Parke / Magnum Photos

Slowing down and taking your time in street photography is absolutely worth it. In the end, it doesn't matter how long it took to get an image. What matters, is the feeling, when you press the shutter release button after you managed to find a stage and combined all the right elements within the frame which are important for your composition.

Below you can find some of my pictures where I spotted the stage first, observed the light and combined all elements within the frame to match my vision.

If you're looking for further information on how to start "seeing" in street photography, I highly recommend to have a look at the blog of my friend Olaf Sztaba. His writing inspired me to slow down and take my time to compose a shot.