The Difference Between Street Photography And Photojournalism

If you practice Street Photography regularly then you’ll probably stumble upon the term Photojournalism at some point.  But what is the difference between Street Photography and Photojournalism?  When does one become the other?

The art or practice of communicating news by photographs, especially in magazines.

Putting your finger on the difference between the two techniques can be quite difficult.  Some will say they are one and the same and others will point out big differences between the two.  You may even think one is just a subset of the other, and in fact, you wouldn’t be far off.

Street photography is photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment.

If you look at the two definitions above the biggest difference you’ll see is that Street Photography is defined as being “within public places” while Photojournalism has no such limitations.*  But let’s take a closer look…

* I’ve heard the argument that Street Photography can be done in the privacy of ones home but because there is no largely agreed upon definition or definitive this or that rules it’s hard to take a hard-line on whether or not this would be classified as Street Photography.  My personal opinion is that photos taken in your home would fall under Photojournalism and not Street Photography. 

Photojournalism

First, let’s take a look at the word Photojournalism itself.  We know what the term photo means but when we take a closer look at journalism we find that it means the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast.  Street Photography has no such qualifier and therefore a broader meaning if you ask me, it’s still Street Photography if you don’t use it as news material.

If you research Photojournalism you’ll find there are three main Characteristics (click them to read):

Timeliness
The images have meaning in the context of a recently published record of events.
Objectivity
The situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict in both content and tone.
Narrative
The images combine with other news elements to make facts relatable to the viewer or reader on a cultural level.

Street Photography

When we see the term Street Photography we immediately think of someone strolling around the street like a predator, snapping photos of unsuspecting subjects doing everyday things…  That’s half right.  The biggest misconceptions with Street Photography is that it has to happen in the streets and that there has to be people in them.

The term Street actually refers to a time and not a place, a time when families had more time to get out of the house and interact with one another.  In the late 19th century portable cameras were popping up and making it easier for candid photography.  The combination of the portable camera and people interacting in public more freely made the recipe for Street Photography’s emergence.

[Wikipedia]

It sounds like the major difference between Street Photography and Photojournalism is that Photojournalism is used specifically for the telling of news.  So what is news then?  According to Google definitions, News is newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events.  There is nothing in there that says you must have your image published on a major news outlet to be qualified as news.  In fact, there are groups on Flickr that are solely devoted to Photojournalism shots and I would venture to guess 99.9% of them never see publication outside of said group.

The definition for Street Photography is loose at best and nailing down what exactly is or is not considered Street Photography can be a little like hitting a moving target.  There is definitely a grey area and room for interpretation.  Maybe someday we will see some sort of photography governing body define Street Photography in a more black and white (pun not intended) way.  Until then, maybe this article will help differentiate Photojournalism from Street Photography…  Or maybe you believe they are one in the same.

Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

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