Street Portraiture – Common Photo Themes


Photography in general requires a great deal of will and confidence, but there are some aspects of photography that clearly requires more than others.  Second only to possibly photojournalism is the will and confidence of a street photographer, or specifically street portraiture.  Working in the face of strangers, street portraiture pushes the boundaries of personal spaces and, for that matter, the photographer’s own comfort zone.  The best of these portraits capture emotions as the story of the subject unfolds before you.  This month, I would like to share with you some of the great street style portraits from our very own Flickr Group:

“Isla de Taquile – Lake Titicaca, Peru” by Nate Hughes

"Isla de Taquile - Lake Titicaca, Peru" by Nate Hughes

“Isla de Taquile – Lake Titicaca, Peru” by Nate Hughes

I don’t know whether Nate Hughes is the shoot first (ask questions later) type of guy, or if he is the communicative type of photographer.  In any case, a portrait like this is an earmark to nearly any travel portfolio.  You can read the focus in the man’s face as he goes about his work.  The lighting is quite impressive:  Natural light, I think, but Nate uses it well and uses it to his advantage for the shot.  A shot like this requires absolute confidence, and there is no doubt that Nate has it.

“Friends” by Ryan Kasak

"Friends" by Ryan Kasak

“Friends” by Ryan Kasak

In his photo, Friends, Ryan Kasak demonstrates two important aspects of great street portraits:  Timing and interaction.  As you would expect, getting those cold stares or the interaction of the main subject with his surroundings – in this case, the dog – is highly dependent on timing.  A camera without shutter lag is important.  But most important is developing a knack for predicting what will happen next.  Learning when to click should become second nature.

“PRIDE Parade Toronto 2012” by Linda Goodhue

"PRIDE Parade Toronto 2012" by Linda Goodhue

“PRIDE Parade Toronto 2012” by Linda Goodhue

Fact: Animated subjects make for great still-shots.  In this case, the subject is clearly very passionate, and the viewer feels it.  That is the type of connection that we are looking for in street portraiture.  Eye contact isn’t always necessary so long as the subject has a clear intent or focus.  Of course Linda Goodhue‘s careful treatment of the photograph – both in camera and in post – has given us the crisp and clean dynamic range, which is essential to create such a powerful impression.

“Plaid” by Aaron Waterman

"Plaid" by Aaron Waterman

“Plaid” by Aaron Waterman


I love it when eye contact is made with the subject.  Catching the subject off guard, the initial glance is often quite intense, a sign of just guarded we all are.  Aaron Waterman captured this fellow staring directly at Aaron and his camera.  So subtle and so quick was Aaron on the button that this man’s friends haven’t even noticed (or maybe they don’t care).  That only serves to isolate this man from the surroundings – he is the clear subject.  And in this very second, we can really look deep into his eyes and read his very thoughts.  This is a compelling connection for the viewer.

“Actor Morocco Omari” by Amanda Cain


"Actor Morocco Amari" by Amanda Cain

“Actor Morocco Amari” by Amanda Cain

Something about the title of this shot leads me to believe that this photograph was planned.  Even so, the street portrait style rings true.  But if there’s one thing that Amanda Cain can teach us about street portraits, uncharacteristic angles aren’t off-limits.  This low-angle shot changes our whole perspective of the subject.  Somehow, the portrait feels more intimate and it emphasizes his style much more than a head and shoulders portrait would.  Even if this was planned,  Amanda does not overlook the rough and off-the-cuff feel of a typical street portrait.  Of course if the shot wasn’t planned, Amanda had a conversation with this fellow, and I admire her confidence for that alone – the shot is absolutely beautiful.

[Editor’s Note:  This article was originally posted on August 9, 2012.]


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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