Street Photography Tutorial: Context! 2

I like this photo a lot. It was taken a couple years ago outside of a McDonalds near where I was teaching at the time. What I like most about this photo is his smile.

While I like this photo, it’s not a street photo. Yes, it was taken outside in a public place but ‘being outside’ isn’t actually a requirement for street photography. Perhaps it’s because there is eye contact? I mean, obviously he knows I’m taking his photo. That must be a disqualifying factor, no?


So what else could it be? Perhaps his prominence and position in the frame?

Not necessarily.

So what’s the difference between the first photo and the one directly above? What makes this one a street photo and the other not? Context. It’s all about the subject placed within the context of it’s environment. It’s about the subtle interactions between people and the things that surround them. It not about just seeing the subject, but seeing the story.

Take this guy, for example.

It’s your typical “Hey, look a homeless guy” cliché photo that populates the gallery of ‘wanna try’ street photographers right next to the photo of the stop sign with some moral message painted on it and the photo of the photographer’s shoes.

Or his shadow.

Or his girlfriend posed against a graffiti-covered wall.

Or a photo of a pimp’d out ride with some guy with a golden grill posed in front of it.

You get my drift.

It may have been taken on a street, but it’s not a street photo. There’s no context. The subject is compositionally isolated from the world that surrounds him. How are the general public reacting to his being there? That’s the context. That’s the story.

Are they ignoring him and acting as if he isn’t there?

Are they standing back, keeping their distance but looking down on him?

Perhaps he is being subconsciously isolated by society-at-large?

I think that’s enough examples to push home my point. Again, I hope this helps bring out better street photography in everyone. Of course, comments and suggestions related to the subject of this article are always welcome.

About Brian

Brian Q. Webb is a photography enthusiast from Los Angeles, California who spends most of his time in Taipei, Taiwan. He is especially interested in street photography as well as large format portraiture and pinhole photography. He also likes to shoot lifestyle portraiture and occasionally acts as an agent for foreign newspapers wanting event coverage in Taipei. He was also on the staff of deviantArt and is co-founder of PhotoMalaysia, the largest photography community in that country.

  • G Patrescu

    nice share ….  street photography is photgraphing the various mood  if there are a lot of people is an important side in photography … let me share article about reactions that may encountered by people, that extremely improve the quality and mood of your street photography.  take a look here :

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article, although some of the photos are more portraits than street photography.