Life on the streets: The evolution of lifestyle photography and what we can learn from it today

When the portable camera was first invented in the late 1880s it opened up a whole new realm of creative possibilities for photographers. Street photography quickly rose up as a popular genre as visual storytellers captured the world around them. These candid snapshots of people going about their daily lives are the earliest forms of lifestyle photography as we know it today. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Father of black and white street photography. Paris, circa 1955

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Father of black and white street photography. Paris, circa 1955

Street photography is not just the result of shooting everything you see on the city streets. It is a depiction of a moment in time as witnessed by the photographer. With the click of a shutter a fleeting interaction between people, places and things is captured forever. We’ve gone through the archives to find some inspiring works from professional world-famous photographers to discover what we can learn about how they capture beauty in candid moments.

Stephen Shore   . Everyday American life in color.

Stephen Shore. Everyday American life in color.

At its core, street photography is the art of finding beauty in everyday life. Capturing candid moments that reflect the way we see human interaction within society. It is humble and raw and non-restrictive, anyone can participate as it’s an accessible and affordable creative medium. Documenting the world around us has never been easier and most people walk the streets with a camera in their pocket every day.

With each street photography excursion one expects to expects to get pictures that reflect real-life events, the change of light and shadows, and most importantly - a depiction of the characters and faces of people in the environment around them.

Alex Webb   . A new approach to street photography. Dance Hall, Lake Ontario, 2013

Alex Webb. A new approach to street photography. Dance Hall, Lake Ontario, 2013

One of the challenges of street photography lies in capturing people and places as they are without the directions or intentional compositions of traditional photography. How do you snapshot a stranger without interrupting or distracting them from the candid moment you are observing?

Garry Winogrand. All Things are Photographable.

Garry Winogrand. All Things are Photographable.

How to take candid scenes involving people:

Saul Leiter. First sample in color street photo. Waiter, Paris, 1959

Saul Leiter. First sample in color street photo. Waiter, Paris, 1959

  1. Blend in to your surroundings. If you want to capture a person’s true emotional state, photograph them imperceptibly. Try and become part of the scenery to quietly observe without disturbing your subject matter. Otherwise, you can miss the moment and if your subjects are knowingly sitting for your shot your picture will become staged.

  2. Misdirection. If a subject in or near your frame becomes aware of your camera try and ease their discomfort by focusing your camera elsewhere. If you are shooting on your smartphone you can set the timer and hold your phone up at the right time or pretend to take a selfie to get the shot you are after without disturbing others. 

  3. Use the pre-focus method. Most often the people inhabiting the scene you wish to photograph just sit or stand without doing anything interesting. Try pre-focussing the camera and wait until the right moment arises to hit the shutter.

Where to take interesting pictures of everyday life:

  • Side streets - Looking down an alley or around a corner is a great place to shoot an interesting street story. Choose an angle, adjust the camera and wait until a person appears at the desired point. 

  • Roadsides - pay attention to people running late, off on their next adventure or parked cars with open hoods. The emotions that can be observed on people in transit can speak volumes.

  • Meeting places - railway stations, airports and city monuments. People meet, people say goodbye,  there are first dates and joyful reunions. 

"Kiss at the Hôtel de Ville", Robert Doisneau, 1950

"Kiss at the Hôtel de Ville", Robert Doisneau, 1950

  • Public events - Capturing people outside or during events such as theatre, concerts, sporting events and festivals. Sport fans experience jubilant highs or crushing lows if their team loses. Look for people absorbed in discussion the nights events and watch their emotions. It may be easier to blend into a crowd or look like an event photographer.

Other details to note

Street photography is the art of capturing moments in time in a specific place. Instead of just pointing your camera at the city, focus in on meaningful moments and snapshots of human connection. Observe your surroundings and take your time to document what you see around you. The most important thing is to always have a camera with you, because you never know when the right moment will appear to capture something interesting.