Stage 02

Street Photography

In Stage 2 of this visual thinking program, you will focus on developing a deeper interest in what the photograph is, and how it is made, by building and refining definitions to formal composition, technique and aesthetics.

Getting started

To begin, download all of the available files from the program resources box. There are three downloads provided:

  • The guidelines booklet is a pdf that covers the recommended and minimum requirements for the program
  • The program booklet is a pdf that contains all of the questions you'll need to answer
  • The response journal is a zip file containing an optional blank booklet you can print out to write your answers in, if you choose to follow the recommended requirements.

Although I recommend working through the program booklet either printed out or on a separate device, for your convenience I have made the complete set of questions available below.

Part 1

Read through the following list of photographers. If you covered the work of any of the photographers listed during the previous week, cross them out. Research the region each photographer was located in, and the period of time they were most active as photographers. From the names that remain in the list, select eight photographers. Try to select a even variety of either gender or geographical locations from the names and regions listed.

Photographer Region Active Period
Helen Levitt
Saul Leiter
Dorothea Lange
Robert Doisneau
Jill Freedman
Vivian Maier
Lee Friedlander
Fan Ho
Bruce Gilden
André Kertész
William Klein
Garry Winogrand
Daidō Moriyama
Robert Frank
Robert Frank
Eugène Atget
Brassaï
Diane Arbus
Elliott Erwitt
Walker Evans
  • Research each photographers work to find out what their most significant photographs are.

From your research, select one image for each photographer that you like the most. Set the images aside, then take a 20 minute break from looking at the photographs. Leave your work area.

  • After 20 minutes, return to your selected images. Spend some time looking at these eight photographs.

If you’re new to photography, or looking at art in general, don’t get caught up on the idea that you should be looking at them a certain way, or looking for specific things within the photographs. Just look at them, individually, one after the other, for a minute or two each. From these eight photographs, make a selection of the four photographs you preferred looking at the most.

  1. Why did you prefer these four photographs over the others?
  2. What did you like about the four photographs that you chose?
  3. What did you dislike about them?
  4. What were the thoughts you had when you first looked at these four photographs?

Part 2

From the four photographs you selected in Part 1, pick out the one photograph that you preferred looking at the most.

  1. Who captured this photograph? Provide their biographical details
  2. What is the subject matter of the photograph you selected? Who is portrayed? What is represented?
  3. When was the photograph made?
  4. What techniques were used to create the print? What materials is the photograph printed on?

Part 3

Review the photograph you have selected. Look at the lines in the photograph. In a photograph, lines can be considered the borders that define the shapes that you see. Pay attention to the outer silhouette lines of all of the shapes depicted.

  • Draw a box that resembles the aspect ratio of your selected photograph
  • Inside the box, draw the lines of all of the shapes you see depicted in the photograph. Draw only the outer lines of these shapes
  • Let your eyes follow the lines in the image. Sometimes you have to look past what the literal object in the photograph is in order to see the shapes and lines that compose it. How does photography differ from drawing or painting in terms of line and shape?
  1. What qualities do the lines have? Are they strong and bold? Or are they more light and thin? Do they appear curvy or straight? Are they diagonal or more circular?
  2. Think about the effect that the quality of the lines has on your visual experience of the image: Is it activating, calming, or unifying?
  • Study the angles created by the intersection of lines and shapes in the image.
  1. Point out the direction of the angles. What do they lead your eyes toward? Do they draw your attention into the centre of the frame, or do they direct you to start towards the centre and move your eyes to the outer edges of the frame instead?

Next, look at the shapes in the photograph. The shapes are the definite forms created by objects, figures, and shadows. They are rendered in colours or shades of grey.

  1. Can you find different shapes in the image?
  • Look for circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and organic forms
  • Look in the shadows for more shapes and echoes of shapes
  • Think about how the shapes in the image create balance and structure.

Part 4

Describe the type and quality of the light.

  1. Does the light look like it comes from a natural source, such as the sun, or does it appear to come from an artificial source, like a lamp or a flash?
  2. How do you feel the kind of lighting affects the look of the photograph?
  3. Is the lighting coming from above, below or from the side?
  4. At what angle is the light striking the photographed scene?
  5. Can you see any shadows in the photograph?
  6. Do you think the direction of the light creates an effect of three-dimensional depth?
  7. Would you describe the light as soft or hard?
  8. Do the shadows seem thin or thick to you? Is there any other word you might use to describe them?
  9. Does the light and shadow captured in the photograph make a pattern?
  10. What kind of effect and mood do the light and shadows create in the photograph?
  11. Describe what is in focus
  12. What other photographic techniques do you notice?

Part 5

Return to your initial selection of eight photographs you made in Part 1. From the four photographs that you did not select, pick one for the following task. Write a single paragraph on the the image, focusing on the technical elements present in the photograph, and the effect you think they have on creating meaning. Consider the following:

  • Lighting: How would you describe the type of lighting?Is it natural lighting? Is it hard of diffused? Is it direct, or is it reflected off of other surfaces? Is there any shade present? Perhaps instead of natural light, the light comes from an artificial source? If so, what kind of artificial light is it? Is it tungsten or fluorescent? Does it come from a flash? How much level of direct control did the photographer have over the light in the photograph? Have they positioned the light themselves? Are they using reflectors to direct more light to specific areas? Has the photographer manipulated the intensity of the light, or the distance it travelled?
  • Aperture: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the lens used to photograph the scene? Can you guess what the lens size was that the photographer chose to use? Was the lens macro, telephoto or wide angle? What is the focal point of the photograph? Has the photographer utilised depth of field in their composition? Is it deep or shallow? Is the subject sharply focused or is it softly blurred? Is there any visible vignetting occurring at the edges of the lens?
  • Shutter Speed: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the exposure time the photographer used? Is the photograph over or under exposed? Did they use any amount of motion blur or panning to capture a sense of motion or speed?
  • ISO: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the film speed the photographer chose to utilise? How would you describe the light sensitivity in the photograph? Is the photograph grainy? If so, is the grain coarse or fine? What is the tonal contrast in the photograph like? Is there a lot of contrast, with mostly bright highlights and dark shadows, or is there a greater range of mid tones as well? What can the grain and the tonal contrast tell you about the film speed utilised?
  • White Balance: If the photograph is in colour, how would you describe the colour cast and general temperature of the photograph? Is it warm or cold? Do the colours seems ‘true’, appearing natural and accurate, or do they look artificial?

Part 1

In Part 1 of Session 1 you narrowed a selection of significant photographs from twenty of the most prolific street photographers down to four that you enjoyed the most. You then selected one photograph from these four. From the remaining three photographs choose a single photograph for the following questions.

  1. What do you see in this picture?
  2. Can you describe it more?
  3. What else do you see?
  4. What is going on in this picture?
  5. What information in the picture makes you say that?
  6. Find the pattern of light and shadow. What does the lighting draw your attention to?
  7. What techniques did the photographer use?
  8. What is the point of view?
  9. How is the picture framed?

Part 2

Look closely at the photograph you have selected. Pay attention to the light, to the tones (or colours), and the patterns that you can see in the photograph.

  • Describe the quality of the lighting. What direction is it coming from? Point out the pattern of light and shadow.
  • What other types of patterns can you find in the image?
  • Can you find any repeated shapes or colours? Describe them.
  • Do these patterns create a sense of rhythm or emphasis?
  • Describe the quality of the patterns. Are they loud? Do they seem quiet? Busy? Delicate? Heavy?
  • What do the patterns draw your attention to?
  • Describe the colours or tones in the photograph.
  • Do you see patterns of colours or tones?
  • How do the colours or tones make you feel?

Part 3

Turn your attention away from the lighting, tones/colours and patterns for a moment, and begin to consider the lines in the photograph instead. Find the single visual force that is the strongest. Usually, you will discover both actual and implied lines. Is there implied directional movement, perhaps through the use of blur? How do you scan across the photograph? Left to right? Up to down? Consider what you think are the strongest parts of the frame by mentally dividing the photograph into quadrants. Describe the following line attributes of the photograph:

  1. Horizontal lines: Does the photographer use the rule of threes in their composition? Where has the photographer placed the horizon line in the frame?
  2. Vertical lines: Describe the sensations elicited through the use of vertical lines. Do they feel kinetic? Create a sense of urbanisation? Do they feel aspirational? Authoritative?
  3. Diagonal lines: If the photograph includes any strong diagonal lines, do they give a sense of motion? Inconclusiveness? Instability? Describe the sensation created by the diagonal lines in the photograph.

Consider the shapes in the photograph. Remember, shapes are definite forms created by objects, figures, and shadows. They are rendered in colours or shades of grey. Describe the following shape attributes of the photograph:

  1. 2-dimensional shapes: These are flattened design elements that form when lines close back on themselves. These are commonly found as squares, circles, triangles and rectangles. Describe the two-dimensional shapes you can find the photograph.
  2. 3-dimensional shapes: These are masses, the literal objects that were photographed. Consisting of real life length, breadth, weight and depth, they are sculptural objects which can only be distinguished from shapes by the use of light and shadow. Describe the three-dimensional shapes you can find the photograph.

Consider how the lines and shapes in the photograph lead the eye. Is there a point where the eye returns or temporarily rests? That is the point of emphasis, and many photographers strive to achieve strong visual emphasis.

  1. Is there an emotion or narrative implied by that visual emphasis?

Part 4

Return to your initial selection of eight photographs you made in Part 1. From the remaining three photographs that you did not select, pick one for the following task. Write a single paragraph on the the image, focusing on the technical elements present in the photograph, and the effect you think they have on creating meaning. Consider the following:

  • Lighting: How would you describe the type of lighting?Is it natural lighting? Is it hard of diffused? Is it direct, or is it reflected off of other surfaces? Is there any shade present? Perhaps instead of natural light, the light comes from an artificial source? If so, what kind of artificial light is it? Is it tungsten or fluorescent? Does it come from a flash? How much level of direct control did the photographer have over the light in the photograph? Have they positioned the light themselves? Are they using reflectors to direct more light to specific areas? Has the photographer manipulated the intensity of the light, or the distance it travelled?
  • Aperture: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the lens used to photograph the scene? Can you guess what the lens size was that the photographer chose to use? Was the lens macro, telephoto or wide angle? What is the focal point of the photograph? Has the photographer utilised depth of field in their composition? Is it deep or shallow? Is the subject sharply focused or is it softly blurred? Is there any visible vignetting occurring at the edges of the lens?
  • Shutter Speed: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the exposure time the photographer used? Is the photograph over or under exposed? Did they use any amount of motion blur or panning to capture a sense of motion or speed?
  • ISO: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the film speed the photographer chose to utilise? How would you describe the light sensitivity in the photograph? Is the photograph grainy? If so, is the grain coarse or fine? What is the tonal contrast in the photograph like? Is there a lot of contrast, with mostly bright highlights and dark shadows, or is there a greater range of mid tones as well? What can the grain and the tonal contrast tell you about the film speed utilised?
  • White Balance: If the photograph is in colour, how would you describe the colour cast and general temperature of the photograph? Is it warm or cold? Do the colours seems ‘true’, appearing natural and accurate, or do they look artificial?

Part 1

In Part 1 of Session 1 you narrowed a selection of significant photographs from twenty of the most prolific street photographers down to four that you enjoyed the most. You then selected one photograph from these four. In Session 2 you selected one photograph from the remaining three. From the remaining two photographs choose a single photograph for the following questions.

  1. What do you see in this photograph?
  2. Can you describe what you see in more detail?
  3. What else do you see?
  4. What is going on in this photograph?
  5. What information in the photograph makes you say that?
  6. What techniques did the photographer use to make this photograph?
  7. What is the point of view? How is the picture framed?
  8. Describe the quality of the lighting. What direction is it coming from? Point out the pattern of light and shadow.
  9. What choices did the photographer make?
  10. Why do you think the photographer chose to use that technique?
  11. Why do you think the photographer chose to compose the picture this way?
  12. What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?
  13. Why did the photographer choose to frame the picture this way?
  14. What does the composition emphasise?
  15. What does the lighting draw your attention to?

Part 2

This next set of questions asks you to start considering how some of the more prominent technical elements that you can identify in the photograph begin to interweave with more abstract, less tangible personal qualities such as memory, how you define style and genre, and your own unique set of values.

  1. What does this photograph remind you of?
  2. Do you think this photograph is naturalistic or abstract?
  3. How can you tell this image was created with a camera? What defining characteristics does it contain that separates it from other visual mediums?
  4. Which formal elements seem most important to you? How would you describe the lines in this picture? The shapes/forms? The colours/tones? The textures and patterns?
  5. How has the photographer captured the play of light in this image?
  6. How is three-dimensional space represented in this photograph? Is there a sense of distance and depth between the foreground, middle ground and background, or do they feel compressed?
  7. What is in or out of focus? How has the subject been framed/cropped?
  8. What equipment, techniques and processes have been used to make the photograph? How do you think this affects the way you view it?
  9. How does this photograph differentiate itself from real life?

Part 3

Return to your initial selection of eight photographs you made in Part 1. From the remaining two photographs that you did not select, pick one for the following task. Write a single paragraph on the the image, focusing on the technical elements present in the photograph, and the effect you think they have on creating meaning. Consider the following:

  • Lighting: How would you describe the type of lighting?Is it natural lighting? Is it hard of diffused? Is it direct, or is it reflected off of other surfaces? Is there any shade present? Perhaps instead of natural light, the light comes from an artificial source? If so, what kind of artificial light is it? Is it tungsten or fluorescent? Does it come from a flash? How much level of direct control did the photographer have over the light in the photograph? Have they positioned the light themselves? Are they using reflectors to direct more light to specific areas? Has the photographer manipulated the intensity of the light, or the distance it travelled?
  • Aperture: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the lens used to photograph the scene? Can you guess what the lens size was that the photographer chose to use? Was the lens macro, telephoto or wide angle? What is the focal point of the photograph? Has the photographer utilised depth of field in their composition? Is it deep or shallow? Is the subject sharply focused or is it softly blurred? Is there any visible vignetting occurring at the edges of the lens?
  • Shutter Speed: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the exposure time the photographer used? Is the photograph over or under exposed? Did they use any amount of motion blur or panning to capture a sense of motion or speed?
  • ISO: Based on your research, as well as your own personal interpretation of the visual impact of technical choices, what can you identify about the film speed the photographer chose to utilise? How would you describe the light sensitivity in the photograph? Is the photograph grainy? If so, is the grain coarse or fine? What is the tonal contrast in the photograph like? Is there a lot of contrast, with mostly bright highlights and dark shadows, or is there a greater range of mid tones as well? What can the grain and the tonal contrast tell you about the film speed utilised?
  • White Balance: If the photograph is in colour, how would you describe the colour cast and general temperature of the photograph? Is it warm or cold? Do the colours seems ‘true’, appearing natural and accurate, or do they look artificial?

Part 1

In Part 1 of Session 1, you narrowed a selection of eight examples of the most significant photographs from street photography down to four that you enjoyed the most. You then selected one photograph from these four. In Session 2 you selected one photograph from the remaining three. In Session 3 you selected one photograph from the remaining two. For the following questions, select the one photograph that remains.

  1. What technical choices did the photographer make to capture this photograph?
  2. Why do you think the photographer chose to use that technique?
  3. Why do you think the photographer chose to compose the picture this way?
  4. What technical decisions did the photographer make to print this photograph?
  5. What effect do you think the technical choices the photographer made have on how you perceive the photograph?
  6. Can you uncover any 'behind the scenes' information about how this photograph was made, or how the photographer 'got' the shot? If so, list it here. If you cannot, can you speculate on any choices the photographer made in order to capture this photograph?
  7. What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?
  8. Why did the photographer choose to frame the picture this way?
  9. What does the composition emphasise?
  10. What does the lighting draw your attention to?
  11. How would you choose to photograph a scene, or subject, like this? What choices would you make in regards to the camera you used, the time of day you might photograph it, the colours you would want to highlight, the angles you would look to accentuate?

Part 2

Look closely at the photograph you have selected. Pay attention to the composition of the photograph. Consider the framing of the photograph, think about what is included in the frame, and what might be excluded, sitting just outside the visible edge of the scene.

  1. What is included in the frame, and what is excluded?
  2. What effect does cropping have on the graphic composition of the image?
  3. How does cropping help draw attention to what the photograph is saying?
  4. How does cropping affect your perception of the subject?

Hold an empty slide frame to your eye and view your immediate surroundings.

  • See how you can create images by framing
  • Watch how the relationship of the forms changes as you move the frame to different places and tilt it at different angles
  • Look for the moment when all the forms come to a point of harmony or look interesting to you.
  1. Pay attention to how the composition keeps your eye busy with its shapes, lines, and angles. Where in the photograph is your eye drawn?
  2. Consider the way the forms work together. Consider the shape that several forms, like three people in a triangular formation, make together. Is there a prominent shape or diagonal in the composition?
  3. What are the main elements of the composition? A pattern, figures, colour? What are the complementary elements? Shadow, background?
  4. Overall, does the composition lead your attention to one thing or to many things?
  5. Does the composition effectively contribute to the meaning?
  6. Does the photograph look flat and two-dimensional, with the forms appearing to be on the same plane? Or does it seem like a three-dimensional world into which you could slip? Do you feel like you could hold the objects in your hand?
  7. Consider the relationship between forms by comparing the size of different elements in the image. What seems close up or far away? What is clear or blurry?
  8. Are there areas of light and shadow in the image? Is the light creating a sense of depth?

Task 1

Read through your entries for Sessions 1, 2, 3 and 4. Highlight as many instances of technical words you have used in your answers. Look for words that describe photographic or artistic techniques, approaches, methods, forms, elements and words that evoke a strong sense of practical mechanical applications.

Read through the list of words, and describe the effects each of these have on how photographs communicate, and how you personally interpret photographs. What kind of impact do you think these practical techniques and technical decisions have on how you create meaning from photographic images?

  • Write a short entry on the kind of impact these choices have on how you personally create meaning.

Do you think that these decisions create additional meaning beyond what is simply photographed in the scene? Do you think they contribute to you interpreting the photograph in ways unique to you, creating meanings that are different from another person looking at the same photograph?

  • If so, list out how you think they achieve this effect. If you don't feel this way, list out how you came to this conclusion.

Task 2

Return to the set of four photographs you selected from your initial list in Session 1. Reflect on the choices and decisions these photographers made when capturing these photographs. Consider the cameras they used to shoot with, the film they loaded into their cameras, the magnifying loupes they used to review their negatives, the darkroom equipment that may have been used to print their photographs and the fidelity of their prints.

Now consider the practical, mechanical and technical decisions that modern day photographers, shooting the same kinds of scenes, in the same locations, might have to make. Consider the equipment they would use, the obstacles they might face, the conveniences they may have gained over their predecessors, the resolution of their images.

  • What kinds of differences can you think of between the two photographers?
  • How do you think these differences would impact the creation of modern day photographs?
  • Do you think they would alter the way the modern day photographs create meaning?
  • In what ways do you think this would be different?
  • How would modern day photographs be impacted?
  • Specify whether you think these impacts would be positive or negative, and explain why.

Next, find four modern day equivalent photographs of the selection of four photographs you made in Session 1. Can you find photographs that were taken in the same general area? Going one step further, are you able to discover photographs taken of the exact same location? Are you able to find street view images of the same locations using online maps?

  • Compare all four sets of equivalent older and modern photographs. List all of the ways in which you believe the photographs are different. Consider detail, fidelity, composition, framing, colours, shapes and forms, lighting, texture and sharpness.