Taking it to the streets: Street Photography workshop with Roy Matthews

So, what’s street photography all about?  Street photography is about catching people and places unposed and preferably unaware, to capture the moment. The style started in photojournalism with Cartier-Bresson and Brassai in Paris between the two world wars and LIFE magazine perfected the art, filling the gap between social and historic documentary.

 Why is it so popular?  You now carry a camera with you every day – your smartphone. Street photography is spontaneous. It’s real people and events. It’s about everyday encounters with art.

Street photography lets you:

People watch with intent! 


(Thanks, Mr Nighy for being such a good sport!)

Capture a character or a moment. 


Save a moment in cultural history.


Revive the ghost of a memory.


So there’s more to it than just snapping away then?  There’s no satisfaction in taking 100 shots and deleting 99 of them. What sets apart a great image, taken once and in an instant is what the masters call ‘the decisive moment’. It’s a mixture of aesthetics, balance, light, subject matter. And practice makes this an instinctual mix of technical and narrative understanding perfect.

A friend of Canadian master Fred Herzog, noted Fred’s: “ … ability to see in the environment a construction, but then wait for something to happen in that. It’s both distinctly patient and well thought out.” You can see these ‘decisive moments’ in Herzog’s pictures, and in the street photographs of Willam Klein.

Image Fred Herzog

Image William Klein

Also, look at the contrast between LIFE photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Kiss on VJ Day in Times Square (left) and the very similar (but inferior) Kissing the War Goodbye (right) by US Navy photojournalist, Victor Jorgensen.

The difference is about lines, lighting, location, composition and clear timing.

Roy Matthews would agree. He suggests that, once you have found your best light and staked out your prime location, try some techniques. Here are just a handful of his ideas:

 1.  Angles – capture people and surroundings from above, below and all around

Image Image
2.  Backgroundsfind an interesting one and wait for the picture you want. Wait for it.

3. Shoot from behind

4. Use text, lines, reflections and shadows


5. Try blurring or panning 


That could take some time to perfect, right?  Sure, but as Cartier-Bresson said: ‘Your first 10,000 pictures are your worst.’  So, get out there and start snapping!

Smartphone, digital, film?  Any way you can – it’s the subject that matters.

Where do I find out more?  Check out masters of the art like:

William Klein: www.gallery51.com/index.php?navigatieid=9&fotograafid=46

Fred Herzog: www.canadianart.ca/features/2012/12/12/fred-herzog-art-of-observation/

Vivian Maier: www.vivianmaier.com

James and Karla Murray: www.jamesandkarlamurray.com

Final advice?

Our superb tutor, Mr Roy Matthews, said: ‘Be bold!’

He also pointed out the sage words of Monsieur Cartier-Bresson: ‘Aim well, shoot fast, and scram.’ (And might add – get permission if you intend to publish commercially!)

What happened at the workshop?

After an introductory session of technical tips and professional pointers, Roy unleashed his group of snappers on to the London streets to see what we’d make of the London Pride parade. You can see the results here: www.flickr.com/photos/45637822@N05/sets/72157634459902975

Also check out Roy Matthews: www.rjmphotography.com

Cheers for now, Beth


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