Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Street Photography Cropping

Pretty much all of my pictures are cropped in some way. Sometimes I pull out a little detail from a large picture. Sometimes I balance the composition. Sometimes I'm emphasizing something in particular.

One of the street photographers I follow on Flickr is highly popular. He has won awards and he has many people who comment on his pictures. He is generous in the way he interacts with other photographers. He is complimentary and insightful, which I think is part of his appeal.

When I look at his pictures though, sometimes I don't see anything special. Yet there are glowing responses from his admirers. He has become a superstar of street photography, to the point where I'm not sure his photos are being looked at objectively. He does however capture a reality and the grittiness of the street but not really that much of the art.

I've been trying in some ways to emulate his work, not because I think his pictures are that good, but due to the response he gets. There was a recent discussion about one of his photos, where it was suggested that he crop a picture that I did think was good, fantastic in fact. It was a bit more stylistic than his usual shots. He responded that he rarely crops his pictures because that distorts the reality of the situation, and life is not perfect.

This pointed out to me that his approach was in recording the scene, almost like a journalist, not making aesthetically pleasing photos, although that might occasionally be a byproduct.

A recent picture I took made me think of the two styles. Both versions I present here are of the same subject: an Indian family who were sharing a moment with their eyes. My ultimate version (above) cropped down to the core subjects, although reluctantly I needed to cut out a man who was watching from the far right. I would have included him if he was closer to the family, but aesthetically he was too removed and would have removed the focus from the family and made it harder to appreciate their eyes. Also, I thought there was a nicer balance in the cropped version with the boy becoming much more prominent.

I went back and reviewed this shot again and then looked at the uncropped version (below) with the man in it. I like this version also, and realized the star street photographer would have gone with that version. It captures the moment on the street, but I'm not sure that the story is as strong and the composition and focal points are different.

In the end, I come to realize that my style is different and while both approaches are valid, and he is obviously extremely successful by measure of the attention he gets, I will not try to emulate him anymore and will be true to what seems right to me.


Leila Franca said...

Hi, I'd like to comment your pictures, but i should warn you that English is not my first language. So, if it sounds a little funny, you know why...

I think that your version of the picture is more interesting because the eyes give movement to the scene. An observer will look first to the young woman, then to the man behind her, next to the woman with the bag. All of them are looking to someone - the center of the mystery. When the observer is going to leave the picture, the boy eyes will make him be back to the scene. That is the deal. If we stop looking to the picture quickly or if we continue looking it.

The other picture has only more depth because the poles and the perspective, but the eyes are not playing there.

You are right. Keep doing what is right for you. Sometimes someone is more popular because he or she is good but also knows the right people. This happens often with musicians. There are great musicians that are not famous and some pop stars... well, you know.

A Painter's Journal said...

Hi John -
I go through this a lot with painting... there are a lot of successful artists out there painting/photographing the same sorts of things and some just end up with more attention. That's life and its all subjective. I liked your thought process here though and am glad at the end that you decided to tell YOUR story of the scenes you shoot by cropping. You are creating and interpreting more than just documenting. Its more compelling I think.