Wait! Before you start sending angry e-mails and writing letters to newspapers, I actually don't think that travel photographers are any better than street photographers. That was just a dirty trick to get you to click through the link. And apparently, it worked. Mohahaha! I have nothing but respect for the talented street photographers of our times, such as Eric Kim, Zack Arias and Jesse Wright and their breath-taking portraits of humans. There is no better or worse photography genre, just the one you prefer and the one you don't. I should have named this post "Why I prefer the travel photographers approach to the street photographers when it comes to portraits and how the two genres differ from each other on that matter" but it probably wouldn't have made you go this far. And it really is a shitty title.
What is the difference?
Before continuing, I need to say this. A travel photographer is sometimes a street photographer, and vice versa. It is hard to separate the both genres, they often overlap and it is actually pretty harsh of me to do this arbitrary separation.
During almost every workshop I do, someone inevitably makes the comment "but if I walk up to someone and ask to take their picture, the moment will be gone". This is usually during the segment where we discuss portraits on the streets. My response is pretty simple. A good travel story needs street photos. But more than anything it necessitates deep, well-thought and touching portraits. Here's why I do not think as a street photographer when portraying people.
1. I work at a slower pace
Street photography is all about moving. Walking the streets, finding the motif, capturing them and moving on. That is too quick for me. I want to be able to take in scents, smells, sounds. I need the time to feel what the place is all about.
2. It is not about moments but about beings
A street photographer will almost never let their 'models' know what hit them. The decisive moment is extremely fragile and it will break from any interaction from you as a photographer. Great street photos can be funny, informative, touching and intelligent. For me though, I tend to focus less on the environment where the person is located at the moment and more on the person itself. Less on what is happening right now and more on what may have happened to the person before.
3. I want to be allowed to interact
Sometimes I do candid photography. Sometimes I interact, and that is totally OK. As a travel photographer you are allowed to direct a little bit. Great travel photographers aren't "flies on the wall". They stir it up sometimes. By talking to someone you're able to stir up old memories.
4. I want and should be a part of the picture
Travel photography is the art of telling your personal story of what it felt like to be in that specific place. The people you meet and get to know will create a connection to you and that is a part of the story.
5. I want it to go deeper
I sometimes have a hard time connecting with the figures in street photos. It is just so transient. It requires very little to create an amazing image. Because a face is not just a face, if you get close enough. There are small expressions, scars, tensions around the eyes, suspicious glances.
6. I want to travel beyond the person I portray
Rushing by a man in the street and snapping a frame will never give you more than great pictures. You´ll never learn anything from him, you´ll never find out about any fantastic back-yards in the area and you´ll never be invited to dine with his family.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to photography. There are only good and bad images. The method you use to create the good ones is all up to you.