the five u's of street photography by yanidel definition

The five U’s of street photography

There is currently no association or academy overseeing the discipline of street photography. This obviously means that there is no clear and undisputable definition of what street photography is. As an attempt to regroup some of the recurrent themes found in definitions in current litterature, here are my “Five U’s of street photography”.

This column is willingly extremist and maybe even a little provocative. Do take it as food for thought only, and hopefully it might help you define better what your street photography is about or the rules you want to abide to (if any). And in the end, remember your definition of street photography will in any case be no better or worse than any other.



Street photography is a “grab your camera and walk randomly in the street” discipline. That means that you do not go to a specific event to shoot street photography. Shooting demonstrations, parades or sports events belongs to the realm of reportage.

la boca street photography fotografia callejera buenos aires
Churros o Bonbon – Taken during a weekend outing in La Boca neighbourhodd in Buenos Aires.

 Leica M10 with 35mm Lux Asph at F8, 1/500, ISO500



A street photographer never alters the course of history by modifying the attitude or positioning of his subjects. If a scene unfolded in front of your eyes a second too early, it is gone for ever and so should it remain. Don’t try to recreate it by asking your subjects to replay it. Also, one should not manipulate subjects to behave in a given way to improve a scene. Your picture will no longer be a true description, but basically an alteration to fit your own perception of a scene.

spiderman in buenos aires street photography fotgrafia callejera
Buenos Aires en el Obelisco – As soon as spiderman looked my way, I clicked. This is an unstaged picture though it my look otherwise.

Leica M10 with 35mm Lux Asph at F1.4, 1/150, ISO1000



There must be an element in the pictures that connect to the environment of your subjects. Street photography is about the documentation of the interaction of the human being with their environment, be it social or cultural. It does not have to be strictly said “urban”; the country side or the beach also belong to our everyday surroundings.  A shot that shows no connection between a subject and his surroundings is a portrait, not street photography. In a similar way, shots of man-built structures without any sense of human presence are architecture shots.

buenos aires fotografia callejera bus stop street photography yanidel
Reflections at bus stop – What is more urban than Buenos Aires’ downtown

Leica M10 with 60mm Konica Hexanon at F1.2, 1/500, ISO200



Girl (boy) -friends and family should always stay out of your street shots. Your presence will always impact their behavior and so will they alter your vision. Not that one cannot take amazing candid scenes with familiars, but the reality bias will impact the documentary worthiness of your shots. Street photography involving familiars belongs to the discipline of portrait.

girl reflection window buenos aires street photograph fotografia callejera
Lipstick at Mc Do – Took this girl by suprise as she was taking a break in a Mc Donald’s in Buenos Aires.

Leica M10 with 35mm Lux Asph at F2.8, 1/1000, ISO200


You do not want to alter a street scene by your presence, it therefore means that you must remain unseen. If eye contact does happen (it improves on a lot of shots), make sure you click before you alter the attitude of your subject. It evidently means that  you never ask for permission before taking a shot.

street photography in la boca buenos aires tango fotografia callereja
Tango mix up – as unbelievable as it seems, these people never saw me taking their picture though I was within one meter from them.

Leica M10 with 35mm Lux Asph at F8, 1/750, ISO1000


Any other suggestions ? (that do not necesarily start with an “U).  Please comment in the section below. And remember street photography is what you want it to be !

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