As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, there are two basic strategies in street photography: namely, walking around in the classic manner of the “flaneur,” or else standing in one position to wait for passing trade.
Oh sure, it can be a lot more complicated because there are so many factors to consider, whichever of these two strategies you employ. Moving around or standing still are just the polar extremes of what all street photographers do, which is a combination of the two.
If you’re inclined to spend more time standing still, then it’s very likely you’ll want to photograph passers-by. After all, what else is there? You won’t come across interesting incidents, unless one of them occurs in front of you. But on a busy street you will certainly be rewarded by a motley crowd of people walking, running, and occasionally skateboarding past you. They are your only subject.
The Charm of the Passer-By
I love passers-by. I love the way they walk in front of the camera and I never see them again (except in my pictures).
The sudden appearance and disappearance of so many people gives me a feeling that life, although transitory, is purposeful. People are going about their business, rather than being slumped in doorways or standing around, idly chatting.
My featured shot (above) shows some people who are simply walking past the camera on a bright but slightly cloudy day in Bangkok. I’ve deliberately photographed them walking past a background that’s visually interesting. What’s more, I’ve chosen subjects who are themselves visually appealing in their dress and personalities.
In particular, I like the contrasting styles of their name tag lanyards! Finding contrast, however subtle, is one of the keys to a good street photograph.
When a Passer-By Completes the Composition
The central figure in the picture immediately above is the woman washing the pavement, but it’s the passer-by who completes the composition. He balances the bicycle on the left.
I think the picture “works” as a composition, although I could have excluded both the passer-by and the bicycle by moving in closer. However, I would then have lost much of the magnificent background.
I had been wanting to get a shot of this building for ages, but had previously been hampered by cars parked outside. This time was different. Instead of cars: a woman with a yellow bucket! All I needed was a passer-by to balance the image. I’m glad he didn’t step off the pavement to avoid the water.
When Passers-By Walk Past Themselves
Unless people look in the direction of the camera, which is not usually desirable, photos of passers-by are likely to show faces in profile or three-quarter view. There is a solution to this problem, but it’s hard to implement.
People walking past a reflective window often check their own appearance. I think that’s what is happening in the shot above. These two women are very stylish and “fashion-aware,” so it’s natural that one of them might take a mental selfie as she walks past the window.
In doing so, I’ve been able to take a double-double portrait: one in which both subjects are shown twice, in profile and either three-quarter or full face. Thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid taking my own reflection by accident.
Elsewhere in This Blog
Have I done justice to passers-by? Personally, I think they make a great subject, offering hundreds of creative possibilities, for example: in “Getting Faces in Big Close-Up, Candidly.”
If you read some of my other articles you’ll find many more. Don’t pass them by!