Want to see some bad street photographs? I’ll share them and tell you why I think they’re not good. These photographs were all made during a five-day visit to New York City between October 31 and November 4, 2022.
The Yellow Scene
“Look, he’s got a yellow bag and a yellow shirt and there’s a yellow vest to the right and a yellow slicker to the center.”
And who cares? It’s not good enough. Nothing happens. Nowhere close to the Vivian Maier photo that does exactly this, but well:
Smoking and Chatting
“Look, two people are talking in sunlight with a dark shadowy alley for a background.”
Who cares? Nothing there. Can’t be saved by clever framing or by lightening that brass sign. It’s got nothing. Good effort, you tried, it didn’t work, toss it out.
Street photography is a tap on the shoulder: “Hey, quick, look over there at that.” And what I’m directing you to look at I promise will be worth your while. I won’t bother you with this scene above. It doesn’t work. It’s a fine idea to try and see if you catch a moment. But alas, you didn’t so it’s an out.
Lion at NY Public Library
“It’s the iconic New York Public Library lion, surely that’s a good street photo.”
Nope! It needs more and four dark people walking and looking at their cell phones in a shadow doesn’t cut it. Wait here longer for someone more interesting, and toss this out. It’s not enough of a story.
Virtual Reality Ad
What am I looking at? There’s a big ad and the people are all uninteresting in the photograph. Why do I care to look at this? I don’t. That’s why it’s bad and out.
“Hey, look, I crushed the blacks and there’s odd framing with a woman walking out of the frame. But mostly look how contrasty I made it.”
Your deep deep blacks can’t save your boring boring photo, no matter how dark you tone them. It’s an out because it’s boring, there’s no story, nothing extra.
Now You Try It
Tell me why these are all on the ‘outs’ pile.
Here’s the answer. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Boring. Nothing happens. Not worth another look. You got it exposed properly and in focus, so what? That’s expected. Tell me a story. Give me something worth that tap on the shoulder.
Please never show me photographs like this. I see them all day long and I can see them out the window, they’re nothing special. And if I can see them for myself, I don’t need you.
But show me something I might have missed, something funny, clever, emotional, or in some way remarkable, and I’ll take a look for sure and be sure to remember who you are so I can come back for more.
Want to See Some Good Street Photos?
But what about street photographs that would make the cut, that are good and are it worth your time?
Here are some that I believe tell a story. These photographs were all made during the same five-day visit to New York City.
NY Subway Riders
The NY Subway is tiring. Here we get a little connection and a moment shared between a couple. For that same reason, this next one also works.
We can make up a scenario of what’s going on, but it looks like a goodbye perhaps. It’s taking place on the subway platform. Both of these work as street photos with something happening in each.
That splash of red while also featuring the Washington Square Park Arch, the fountain, but mostly that oh-so-red redhead. If we were walking together, I’d tap your shoulder and tell you to check it out. That’s what this photo does.
Pizza Headed Your Way
A person carrying a pizza on their head – you don’t see that every day, and that’s why it’s in and I’m showing you. A funny little moment in the life of New York City.
Looks more like comfort napping to me and in fresh air with the windows rolled down. Just a stolen moment of their day, one person perhaps still making calls at work, the other nodding off.
This one, because we have those piercing eyes to look at and the reflected light coming from two directions, this photograph works for me as a depiction of the bustle of New York’s midtown, and like we’re right there. Proximity to the foreground makes this photograph.
Let’s Get Dad
What’s there not to like about kids horses around with their dad at Bryant Park? Just a sweet little moment. If they weren’t climbing all over him, you’d never have seen it.
Cold November Rain
This has the arm with the tattoo in sunlight, a pair of shadows of the couple, and a little story–we get to read her tattoo for as long as we want to. It’s composed, it’s an interesting composition, and it tells a story. That took following her and waiting for the composition to come into position but all my effort is worthless if it’s not a good story.
Now It’s Your Turn
Why do I like these enough to include them here? You tell me.
These offer some clues. The first one with “Imagine” is in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, just outside the Dakota building, which was John Lennon’s home. The next one is the Dakota. Without context, it’s just a building photo. With context, it’s a story.
The one with the family with coffees reminds me of when I was a kid and coffee was only for grownups.
The one outside B&H Photo, a camera store, with the two people holding shopping bags, I can’t help but think she’s excited by her purchase, he’s concerned about the hit to his wallet.
The second to last one is a photo that only works because of the traffic light and street lamp. A stark angle and composition and that deep blue sky.
The rest are little moments or simple compositions, interesting people or folks at work.
The last one is a homage to Lee Friedlander’s famous shadow photo.
That said, these are some street photos so I have something to show from a recent visit to New York. That doesn’t mean they make the final cut into my ColoradoFaces.com Gallery. That gallery is reserved for the very best.
Sometimes a simple political statement, made by two different people, works as a street photo. It’s the second statement, the added word “Twice”, that makes it worthwhile. A sign of the times.
Show me something worth looking at. I’ll come back again and again. Show me boring ones, and you’ll never see me again.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
About the author: Kenneth Wajda is a photographer who loves old cameras, film photography, and storytelling with images. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here and here.