The StreetSnappers Collective is a street photography collective just for people who have attended my workshops. each month, I set members a challenge then, from all the entries, I select five or six images for critique, which will be posted either here on my blog or as a video on my YouTube channel.

The most recent challenge was based on the street ‘tableau’. As we’re all still feeling uneasy about getting too close to people, this exercise will allow you to get out there whilst keeping safe. The ‘tableau’ is a street photography set-piece and we should all be able to shoot it. It simply means a group of people on the street, often at a comfortable distance. Referred to as the ‘street frieze’ by Joel Meyerowitz (who is a master of this, as is Alex Webb), your tableau is simply a slice of street life. However, it’s your job as a street photographer to make it interesting; that interest could come from, for example, interesting gestures, connections, repetition, awkwardness, patterns – and so on. But it must be interesting – just a random group of people just standing around is unlikely to cut the mustard. When shooting a tableau, the arrangement of the people is critical and that arrangement needs to be interesting. For example, it could be interesting through order, spacing, activity, repetition – or other factors which elevate it to something over and above just a muddle of people. So let’s take a look at six of the entries for this challenge . . .

1. Adam Ramjean (@checkmybadself)

The first thing which struck me about this image is that Adam has used layers. This is a powerful street photography technique which adds depth to an image by leading they through the frame, usually from front to back, taking us to the subject matter. In the case the cyclist and the bus form the foreground layers. When used in this way, layers like these need not be in focus so I don’t have a problem with the cyclist being soft. However, I would like to have seen a little more of both the cyclist and the bus – both are too close to the edge. There’s also a useful background layer, in the form of the buildings, so I think the image has good overall depth. And I quite like the connection between the cycling motif on the road and the cyclist – it adds another little veneer of interest to the frame.

Adam’s arrangement of people is pretty good, although the interest level would have been higher had each people been engaged in a specific activity – it might have been worth him hanging around for a while, waiting for something else to happen. Technically, the image is a little over-exposed (but not significantly so) and appears a little soft overall. My guess is that Adam was zone focusing and needed to pre-set the focus point a little further away.

Overall, it’s a very decent attempt and a nice concept which could have been improved with a few small tweaks.

2. Barry Bottomley (@bazbot1964)

One thing I like about street photography is that it captures ordinary, everyday life – but in an interesting way – and this is what Barry has done here. I like the way the guy on the right is basking in the sun, oblivious to the pace of his surroundings; I like balance provided by the guy in the AON shirt (though I’d like to see just a tiny bit more of his face); I like the sense of energy the skateboarder brings to the frame.

Compositionally, ‘things in threes’ usually works well and the three main players here bring a sense of harmony and balance. The skater breaks that slightly (in a good way) by moving in a different direction and I like the way he’s slightly blurred which brings some energy to the image; maybe more blur, using a slower shutter speed, would have emphasised this more, but I accept that Barry wouldn’t have had time to consider this!

The lighting is ideal and I’m guessing that Barry under-exposed slightly the keep the highlights in check and to keep the background dark so as to minimise distractions. So, all in all a great shot and a good interpretation of the brief. My pick of the bunch!

3. Brian Duffy (@brianduffyphoto)

I’d say this is at the margins of the ‘street tableau’ brief but sometimes it’s worth exploring a ‘near miss’ image to see whether it could be improved.

The main guy makes a great subject and the image looks very ‘Soho’. It’s the secondary characters who bother my slightly, in that they don’t really have a part to play – they’re just sitting around, not in any arrangement or doing much in particular; in other words, they don’t really contribute anything so the image becomes more about him. In terms of composition, it feels a little cramped and I would like more space around the edges of the frame. But I do like the way Brian has managed to make the guy centre-stage. Technically, the vignette is a little too obvious and the image has an almost HDR look (maybe too much play with the highlights and shadows sliders?).

It’s quite a striking and interesting image and Brian should be pleased with it, even though it’s slightly off-brief.

4. Neil Johansson (@sven804)

I love this. It has an air of space and simplicity, with a crisp, uncluttered composition and pleasing colours. The child wearing the mask gives the image some currency and the man sleeping on the beach connects well with the ‘we are open’ sign. I was with Neil when he took this and I know that he needed to shoot quickly. However, in an ideal world, he would have shot from a slightly higher viewpoint to make the shape of the sleeping man more apparent. Also, a picture shot as a street tableau could (arguably) contain more people. Other than than, there’s little to criticise (there’s no point in criticising for the sake of it!). It’s a very decent shot.

5. Pamela Harradine (@photopedlar)

This is the sort of everyday street scene which I guess street photography is all about. But is there enough interest here to hold the viewer’s attention? I’m not so sure – and I have included this image for critique for that reason. For me, street photography needs to contain some ingredient which elevates it from the ‘ordinary’, which this image possibly lacks. Maybe it needs something witty / evocative / quirky / sad / whimsical etc to add that essential ingredient which would turn it into an ‘interesting’ image.

I quite like the arrangement of the three people, which feels nicely balanced with the inclusion of the bus. If only they were engaged in something interesting! I think the post-production is a little harsh and there’s a slightly ‘unreal’ feel to this image so I think Pamela needs to watch this in future. Having said all that, shooting a street tableau is more difficult than it sounds and this isn’t a bad attempt – like a lot of street photography we see, the photographer needs to think more about ‘why am I shooting this?’ . . . ‘what makes it interesting?’.

6. Wendy Davies (@wendygbd)

Wendy has chosen to make the poster (which I think was shot in London’s Covent Garden) the focal point of her image – a technique we see much of in street photography. And the poster itself is great – colourful, energetic, fun and animated. When we take a shot like this, there really should be a strong connection between the poster and another element in the frame – which I think this shot is lacking. And, as I mentioned earlier, a street tableau is really about a pleasing or interesting arrangement of people – again, possibly lacking here.

I like the shadow at bottom left, though would like to see a little more of the person obscured by the pillar. The woman with her arm outstretched adds a sense of movement – also good. Had I been in Wendy’s position, I’d have probably waited (the ‘fishing technique’) for either (a) the right people to make a stronger connection with the poster (possibly someone running), or (b) for a more interesting arrangement of figures. But it’s not a bad attempt and it made me smile 🙂

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