Street photography is hard to do well. Really hard. Even if you are great, most of your shots will not be.
The Internet is filled with boring street photography. The biggest problem is people thinking any photo taken on the street is now street photography. There is so much more to street photography than that so how do you capture more in your street photography?
One way to strive for great street photography is by avoiding some of the habits of boring street photography.
Here are 7 of the Most Common Habits of Boring street photography:
Habit #1. Nothing of Interest in the Photo
If a photo has nothing interesting in it then odds are it won’t be an interesting photo. This should be obvious, but judging by the millions of street photos online, it’s not. A random picture of a street or group of people probably won’t have anything interesting in it, even if you add a black and white filter.
Looking for something of interest before you snap the photo is the first step towards avoiding boring street photography.
Habit #2. Too Far Away
Many people like to stay at a far distance when they take the shot. The problem with this is that the distance becomes part of the feeling of the photo, even if you’re using a telephoto lens.
So if you’re far away, it will look and feel like you’re far away. Usually, this translates to a boring a photo because the viewer doesn’t feel like they are part of the scene. If you can’t feel, or sometimes even see, what’s going on, then it’s hard to grab anyone’s interest.
Habit #3. Street Performers and Homeless
Among the most popular subjects shot in street photography are street performers and the homeless. Why? Usually because it’s easy. They stay in one place and rarely mind (or even notice) if you take their photo.
The problem also is that it’s easy. If you take a simple shot of them then it will look like millions of other photos of the same subject. That same street performer has their photo taken hundreds of times a day by everyone and every photo looks identical. Identical is boring.
Personally, I’m against photographing the homeless unless you’re actually going in-depth and personal into their world. For me, it just looks like you’re exploiting them unless there’s a personal side to it. There are some photographers who do it well, though, but they get more personal with it and treat the people with care. It’s not a simple snapshot while they walk by them on the street. They spend more time and energy into bringing out some genuine feeling.
If you really like shooting these subjects, trying to add more to the photo than a simple shot of the person will help make it stand out from the sea of other identical shots.
Habit #4. Too Much Bokeh
Everyone loves bokeh and that look where the background is all creamy smooth and the subject is crisp and pops out at you. In street photography, unless you’re doing street portraits, bokeh can also be a bad thing, though.
Say you have a photo of a whole scene, but only one small subject in the scene is in focus. Everything else in the scene, some of which might add interest, is turned into blurred, empty space. You can end up losing out on everything the scene had to offer, making it more boring.
Bokeh in street photography can also run you into the trap of looking cliché, tacky or losing some authenticity.
It all depends on what you’re going for, though. Bokeh isn’t all bad in street photography, just make sure it adds to the strength of your photo instead of taking away from it.
Habit #5. People Doing Nothing Special
Everyone’s seen a man sitting on a bench or a person waiting at a crosswalk thousands of time before. If there’s nothing special about it other than that, then it’s probably going to be boring.
If you’re going to take a photo of a person in the street, make sure they either have something interesting about them or they are doing something interesting.
Look for gestures, character, lighting, or something unique. If they have none of this, then it won’t capture anyone’s attention. It will just look like another person on the street. Boring.
And then there’s the most basic and trendy street photography technique of all. See a wall and wait for someone to walk by.
Even if Picasso himself painted the wall, it’s still just a person walking by a wall. There’s nothing unique or interesting about that.
Habit #6. No Composition
Many photos, especially in street photography, look like someone just quickly pointed their camera and clicked without even thinking about the frame. They even have a term for this technique, “Spray and Pray.” This might come from rushing to take the photo out of fear. Or maybe the photographer just didn’t care enough to frame and compose the scene.
You don’t always have to have perfect composition, but you should try to put some thought into it. What do you want to include and what don’t you want to include in the frame. How do you want to compose everything and how do you want the framing to look. It all affects the photo’s interest.
If you don’t put any thought into the composition, it will probably show in the photo. Leaving composition to chance doesn’t leave you with great odds of capturing an interesting photo.
Habit #7. Over Edited
There’s so much you can do with a photo today because of editing. This is great, but it can also be a trap for editing too much. Crazy edits might look cool to you at first, but when that wears off, it can look plain ugly.
In street photography, you also have to be careful not to lose some of the authenticity of the photo. If the editing adds to the feeling you are trying to portray, that is great. If it turns it into something that looks more like CGI than real life, then it’s probably not.
Bonus: Using Black & White For Interest
This is just to add onto these 7 common habits. One thing I notice is that many photos that fall into these habits like to apply a black and white filter to help make it more interesting. Black and white does not fix a boring photo. A boring photo is a boring photo.
If black and white is your choice of medium, you should be thinking in black and white when you take the photo. Don’t use black and white to make the photo work, use the photo to make the black and white work.
If you find that you do some of these, don’t worry about it. We all have and probably still do sometimes. The main questions you want to ask yourself is “Why are you taking the photo?” and “What are you trying to show or say in it?”. Just by looking to say or do more than clicking a shutter, you’ll already put yourself ahead of most street photography out there.
Focusing on making it interesting is the best habit to make it not boring.
About the author: Forrest Walker (AKA f.d. walker in the photography world) is a street photographer from Portland, Oregon, who works and teaches workshops worldwide. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Walker runs the street photography website Shooter Files. You can also find of his work on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.