The concept of street photography is something that by definition, has no objective definition. My only rule is that it must be candid. There are no rules about gear or lighting. Famous US photographer Chase Jarvis says “the best camera is the one you have with you” which suggests anyone with a smartphone has the potential to do street photography.
So what’s your excuse? Inspiration can be an issue sometimes, which is why I have put together a list of the best free e-books on the internet. Hopefully, they will pique your interest and inspire you to get out on the streets and shoot.
All of the free street photography e-books mentioned in this article define street photography as something different. My favorite definition is by Erik Kim in his e-book “Street Photography” where he defines it as “whatever you make it”.
Here’s the list:
Author Thomas Leuthard says “Street photography is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. In my experience, this is very true as a concept though I do feel that at least some of the credit for that quote should go to the writers of Forrest Gump. In this free e-book, Leuthard touches on many aspects of street photography including kit, composition, and motivation.
Michael Ernest Sweet’s free e-book is aimed mostly at beginners who are just getting into street photography and want an all in one handbook for getting into it. This book has the answer to every street photography question you could possibly ask, including Film or Digital? Colour or black and white? Which camera should I use? And flash or no flash?
With quotes from legends of street photography such as Henri Cartier – Bresson and Errol Lyons – Rainey, Chris Weeks’ free e-book is a real source of inspiration for aspiring street photographers.This is my personal favorite of the list when it comes to photographic content, I think the photos in this book show the quintessential aspects of street photography like motion, emotion and a no-nonsense style.
Eric Kim recommends his readers kill their distractions and pay more attention to the world around them, that is his biggest tip for improving your street photography. “The most important thing is to capture a meaningful, interesting or emotional moment” are his words and who could argue with them. All of the best photos throughout history have fulfilled that criteria.
If you want to know how to, and more importantly, when to use flash in street photography then this is the book for you. Chris J Wilson covers the issue extensively in this book and recommends some iconic street photographers to research and learn from.
These books are full of street photography tips from photographers all over the world and above all, they are full of interesting street photos. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing great pictures.
Thomas Leuthard says street photography is about engaging your senses. He says you should be able to smell the street from a good photograph and recommends a seeing exercise to help hone your observation. In Going Candid,he challenges the reader to pick a single color and only take photos containing that color, this will help engage your eye in the search for a great photo.
He defines street photography quite succinctly as “The candid documentation of life in public” which I think it a very well worded phrase that provokes thought about exactly how is best to conduct street photography. Following along the lines of that quote he suggests that using a very small camera with a pancake lens is ideal as this is the best way to remain truly candid when photographing people. I would add that it is important to focus on documenting a scene as opposed to doctoring it.
Street photographs are all about capturing an real life and somehow telling a story. It may be a scene that we walk past every day and ignore or it may be something very rare occurring in your local city, the important thing is that street photography is not set up. The feeling one gets after telling a story with a photograph is something special so I hope Thomas Leuthard’s book helps you tell some stories.
All of the authors of the 5 free e-books mention composition of photos as one of the most important aspects of street photography. Michael Ernest Sweet says “Keep it [composition] simple” in his Street Photography Bible which is a book that has entered the 21st century very well by recommending apps for smartphones that make taking and sharing your street photos easier. My favourite tip from his book is his suggestion that street photographers “get as much information as possible to get inspired”. Seeing other photographers work is a huge source of inspiration and it’s everywhere so use it!
Ernest goes on to talk about the rules of street photography and comes to the conclusion that there really are no rules. Though I don’t completely agree with him, I do think that freedom to express whatever you like in your photos is important. He says “go beyond people but don’t underestimate the human element” which I think is a really important idea to consider for street photography and I would like to add to it.
Other things that make photos interesting might be angles, patterns, textures and contrast. Contrast might be a harsh transition from highlight to shadow in your image or it might be a social contrast such as a homeless person begging on one of your city’s most affluent streets (although is rather a cliche photo these days). Either way, human subjects aren’t an absolute requirement for street photography, there are many ways to make a photograph interesting but it is always important to consider exactly why the photo you just took is interesting and what exactly the point of it is.
Here are some legends of street photography that Ernest mentions in his free e-book, I would seriously recommend taking a look at their photos. They were a big inspiration to me: Mark Cohen, Daido Moriyama, Gary Winogrand and Steve McCurry Street Photography For The Purist by Chris Weeks contains the best photography on this list in my opinion.
The book is an awesome example of how to capture motion in street photography, displaying some of the best street photography out of all of the mentioned books. If you download this e-book and don’t even read a word, looking at the photos alone should get you inspired and teach you something! He also reinforces the lack of rules in street photography, including a quote from Errol Lyons-Rainey, “Street photography is a game that is never played twice in the same manner”.
I like to think it is also a game that you can never lose, and if that’s not motivation enough to play the game then I don’t know what is. “Observation is everything” is what Chris Weeks says and that is echoed by many of the authors on this list. It seems that the most important aspect of street photography is not the technological knowledge nor the camera you’re holding, in fact you don’t even need a camera to practice the most important aspect of street photography because it is observation.
The ability to see a good photograph on the street is most important, whether you have a camera or not it is empirical that you are able to see these little stories unfolding during your everyday life.
Chris includes a quote by iconic Hungarian photographer Robert Capa: “If your photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” which, again, I do not completely agree with but the practice of putting on a wide angle lense and getting up close and personal with your subjects is a really great way to bring something new to your street photography and build up some confidence. That definitely something worth trying!
In Erik Kim’s free street photography e-book he suggests that street photography is not about making photographs but making connections. He embraces the human side of the art and suggests street photography is “for those curious of strangers, who want to interact with people and get more meaning from the world”.
This is a really nice way of looking at street photography. Not as an awesome way to gain some more followers on your Instagram profile or as a way to change the world by telling the story of the masses or even a way to get better at photography but a way to learn more about yourself and the world around you. That’s a really left field and pleasant way to think about street photography that I for one like, and that you won’t find in any of the other free e-books mentioned here.
He gives a great tip for finding inspiration, which is to document your own life. He recommends taking photos of your children, co-workers, friends, family and anything else that piques your interest. This will train you to always be on the lookout for a moment to capture, this fits well with the other e-books in the list by carrying along the lines that be observant and having “the eye for a photo” are the most important aspects of street photography.
He comes out with a line later in the book which I think is even more important though, “a photograph without emotion is dead”. This is a very black and white way of saying that street photography is not only about getting your lines straight, your exposure right and your subject one third from the edge of the frame but it’s about emotion, story telling and feelings.
This can be hard to get your head around at first but showing some kind of emotion in your photos is so important because that’s what hits people and believe me, you will like your photos a lot more when they tell a story. Before I end this piece I thought I’d share a little about what inspires me when it comes to street photography. The short list that I just made in my head includes lines, angles, basic and pastel colours, people going about their normal life, people that stand out, patterns and negative space.
Negative space is really an oxymoron as a phrase but it is basically a part of your photo that is purposefully left blank or with very little detail. This concept can be used to show how small your subject is compared to a large sky for example or to show how lonely your subject is if a large part of the frame is empty. As a photographic technique it is a great way to add some emotion and something different to your photos.
My final thought is a reminder I suppose. I like to think that everyone is creative in their own way and if you have made it this far into this article then you must be at least thinking about expressing yourself through street photography. So this reminder is for you! Remember, that not every day is a day for street photography, some days it just doesn’t happen, the people don’t look right or the light is all wrong or maybe you’re just not in the mood but whenever you are in public there are little stories unravelling themselves around you and if you don’t at least try to notice them, camera or not, then you are missing out.
I implore you to download all five of the free street photography e-books I have mentioned and get inspired by them. The tips and photos included are enough to make anyone want to get out there and shoot. I’ll leave you with a quote from legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, “photographers are like butterflies. They flutter from photo to photo”. Now go and be a butterfly!