Tricks and Gimmicks, Are They Valid?

I guess it all depends on what you mean by “tricks and gimmicks,” because both of those words are loaded with negative connotations.

In candid street photography, fakery is definitely unacceptable, so “tricks” — in that sense — are out. So too are gimmicks, if by gimmicks we mean those all-too-easy, “look-at-me” photos which are based on simple visual tricks.

Oh dear, we’re back at tricks again.

Take the photo above, for example. It’s quite fun, visually interesting…and nice and sharp. In fact, there’s quite a lot of positive things about it, but it makes the viewer puzzle for a moment to see why everything is skewed.

Walking down Long Acre in London’s Covent Garden I came across the parking sign which had been uprooted and tossed at a crazy angle by workmen repairing the road. Normal, horizontal pictures looked every bit as absurd as the crooked sign, so I tilted the camera until the sign was upright.

Was that a trick or a gimmick, or both? Either way, I don’t think I can look at the image too seriously. It’s not really my style of picture.

large, mirrored sign, with lights attached

Reflections Are Slightly Gimmicky
I’ve written elsewhere about using reflections in street photography, and I still think they can contribute to a good image. Yet they are a bit gimmicky, despite their visual appeal.

The big “W” in the shot above is the logo of a company, somewhere near Leicester Square. It makes pleasing shadows and allows you to glimpse some of the people who are waiting near the door.

I took a few shots to see if I could find a reasonable composition and you can see the result. There’s plenty of visual interest: the curious white and magenta dots (lights?) and the wiggly reflected sunlight on the paving slabs. But it’s impossible to be entirely happy about it. After all, it doesn’t say anything about the two people in the photo.

Here’s another — and I think, better — shot with a reflected image. There’s tons more visual interest here, including the crowds of people walking down Oxford Street and their reflections superimposed on the objects behind the glass window.

Pedestrians reflected in plate glass window

I prefer this one to similar shots I’ve taken because it’s not too symmetrical (there’s more on the right than the left). And as for the people, well, the main figure seems to be checking her appearance rather than looking at the goods for sale.

When There’s No Trick or Gimmick
Finally, here’s an unusual shot (below) in which one of the figures is in such deep shadow that she appears to be headless. Technically, this is simply because of the black hoarding across the street, draining light from the scene despite the intensity of the sun.

I like the weirdness of the shot: the two friendly coffee cups on the steps, the billowing black overcoat, and the unnatural height of the female figure (she’s standing on the bottom step).

Rather than use light and dark areas of the frame as abstract components, I’ve made them accentuate the oddness of the scene. In this, I think the shot is far superior to the ones above. There are no tricks or gimmicks involved: just natural light and an encounter between two native Londoners.

well-illuminated man appears to be chatting to a headless woman

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