When I first sat down to craft my top 5 list of clichés found in street
photography I thought it was going to be a very quick exercise. I figured I would list 5 common photographs I usually see on groups on the internet and be done. Before I could even start crafting a list I needed to understand the definition of cliché.
Wikipedia defines it as:
"an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel"
I quickly realized that a quick list of 5 types of photographs wouldn't suffice as in a couple months it could be obsolete. For instance, if you were to ask me a year ago I might have said black and white photographs but now street photography on the whole seems to be moving more towards colour street photographs.
Since particular cliché photo types in street photography can change as the popularity of shooting styles changes with time, I thought it would be better to do a list on more generalized street photography clichés.
1.) Being invisible
When shooting street photography we should not try to hide as there is nothing to be ashamed of. We shouldn't feel the need to be sneaking around hiding our camera or shooting from the hip. There is a big difference between trying not to influence a scene we are photographing and trying not to "get caught". When we are trying not to "get caught" in our street photography people will assume we are doing something sneaky, creepy, or nasty; this includes those people we show our images too. By not having this mentality when shooting it will change the way we act with our camera, showing a sense of confidence that we do belong in that reality, documenting it.
I still try to take photos that capture a scene without my influence on it so the viewer can feel as if they too are silently witnessing the events as they happened. Since I feel the photos I take should not be about me, I try not to stand out while shooting street photography either, but rather attempting to just blend in with the scene around me.
2. Photography take balls
Probably one of the worst understood quotes in street photography is by Robert Capa. "If your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."
Street photography should not be a competition about who has the biggest balls to get closest to a stranger. Not only is it disrespectful for you subject the resulting photographs are often devoid of an true story or real emotion. The photographer has chosen in these instances that make the photography about themselves and the reaction they are getting rather than telling a proper story.
What Robert Capa really meant is we should be aiming to take photos that are close enough to make the viewer feel like they were really there without disturbing the scene or distorting the reality. The moment the photographer gets to close, vital information is lost from the frame and the viewer loses the feeling of being there.
3. Shooting for others sakes
The Internet has had been a huge positive for street photography by allowing photographers from all over the world to easily connect. Unfortunately, it has been the root cause of a majore street photography cliché. People have been obsessed with trying to get their photos accepted into street photography groups; especially the curated ones. It seems like getting a photo accepted into these groups is a form of validation for the photography. The problem is by focusing on trying to get our photos into particular groups they end up conforming to a set of well-known predetermined rules or styles that are continuously reiterated by the judges/curators.
It's like entering your dog in a dog show or your best tomatoes in a horticulture show. It has to conform to an arbitrary and artificial set of rules to which all entrants agree. The end result is a "copied" style rather than one that is focused on the photographers own originality and style.
4. Making photos that don't say or mean anything
Unfortunately with the internet there is another negative aspect; an overload of images. When you go through street photography groups on flickr, 500px, or your favourite photo sharing website there is an overload of poorly composed, mundane and boring shots of random people on the street that is devoid of a story or emotional connection for the viewer. This type of cliché presents us with opportunities to make pictures while not actually saying, or meaning, anything.
5. Don't shoot clichés
The biggest cliché of all in street photography is the notion that we should avoid shooting clichés. In some respects creating a well-executed cliché is one of the hardest things to do. The goal should always be to create the photograph in a manner that elevates it above all the other attempts at the same cliché so that it is not seen as just another cliché.
I don't think there is any clichés we should avoid while out shooting street photography; if something sparks our interest, we should shoot it. The key though is to keep high standards in our editing process so that the photos we share have that thing that elevates them above the masses of other photographs trying to achieve the same cliché.