There’s not much more captivating than well-executed street photography. However, approaching the candid genre can be a major challenge. Though photographer Hyun Ralph Jeong may not make his living off of street shots, he’s passionate about getting out and about with his camera. Here, he shares his motivations and personal philosophy in hopes that you may be able to draw some direction to guide your own work:
First and foremost, what is street photography?
In truth, there’s no hard definition for what street can or cannot be. You can focus on architecture or animals. Street photography is just as much about the people inhabiting a place as it is about the place itself. Believe it or not, street photography can focus on something as simple as the way colors combine or light rests along a surface.
According to Jeong, there are two ways of approaching street photography. Either you can focus on the composition and environment, or you can seek out subjects.
Focusing on composition is a waiting game, for the first part. Once you find an area that’s visually compelling you watch for the right moment to happen. Perhaps that means patiently waiting for the right person to walk by. It may mean revisiting in a few hours to capture a better quality of light.
In contrast, focusing on subjects takes a bit more initiative and instinct. In any town or city, there’s an endless parade of interesting characters weaving in and out of our paths. Finding them is simply a matter of opening your eyes and having your shutter finger at the ready. You’ll likely have to stay on the move, and you may have to talk to strangers. However, the fruit of your labor often comes in the form of a dynamic, engaging photograph.
Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and manage to grab an interesting subject in an interesting environment. However, having it all isn’t always necessary to getting a powerful shot. Work intuitively and don’t overthink—otherwise, you may miss out on a great moment.
“When I meet new people on the streets or when I’m traveling, I’m inspired by their honesty and candidness and the stories that they might share. “
One of the greatest factors in becoming a great street photographer is learning to find beauty in the world around us. Not every scene has to be over the top. There’s always something compelling in the women who sell vegetables on the street, always something to be learned in watching children play games with their friends. Look for the extraordinary in ordinary subjects.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a journalist or a humanitarian in order to pick up a camera. You don’t even have to make money. As long as you’re finding inspiration in the streets, you’re doing something valuable in bringing your camera along for the ride.
In the age of social media, a lot of images focus on building a brand or identity. There’s a certain amount of honesty in simply photographing what you encounter without a filter. At the very least, street photography is a means of teaching and showing what a certain corner of the world is like. Through each other’s eyes, we can learn image by image more about our surroundings and the world at large.
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