Human Backpack


I shot this about 10 days back and in doing so broke one of my personal rules (as opposed to one of the rules of composition). That is, don’t shoot people from behind without a very good reason.

Why not, you might be wondering. For a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Facebook and Instagram of already chockablock with street photography images of people from behind. If your goal is to add to the noise rather than create something actually fresh and interesting, then I can’t think of a better way to produce mundane, done-to-death images than photographing the backs of people.

Secondly, it’s a very lazy way to produce street photography. One of the biggest challenges with creating great street images is finding the courage to point your camera at people while facing them. It feels invasive and rude, to be honest. But the cornerstone of great street photography is the capture of interesting faces and expressions in the crowd. Hard to do that when you’re shooting someone from behind, right? The only way to get over this fear is by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and practising pointing your camera at people. Each time you engage the shutter and photograph a person from behind is a missed opportunity to practice shooting people from the front. You’ll never improve as long as you keep shooting the backs of people in the street.

By adopting this personal rule, coupled to my other rule of not using a telephoto lens for street photography, it left me with no other choice than to get past my shyness of sticking my camera in strangers’ faces. I’m still shy about it, mind you, but not nearly as much as I used to be. And using a wide angle prime forces me to get up close and personal, rather than standing back at a distance and zooming in.

Now, with all that said, there are times when perhaps shooting someone from behind works. It comes down to the subject matter. Maybe the person has a funny or poignant slogan on the back of their t-shirt, for instance. Photographing this person from the front, in this example, means missing that slogan on their back. In this photo above I liked the way the mom was holding her son as she piggybacked him across the street. A photo from the front wouldn’t have done it justice. Even then, I wasn’t sure if this shot would ever see the light of day, since I’m waaaaay more critical of my shots of people from behind than with shots that capture their faces.

So in conclusion, I would suggest you try to refrain from shooting people from behind unless you have a really strong reason to do so. Even then, once you’ve taken a “from behind” shot, review it later with a critical eye during the post processing stage. If you still really think the photo works, then maybe it’s a keeper. But assume most shots from behind are not, and you’ll be safe.

This is only my opinion, of course. As always, your mileage may vary.

This entry was posted in art, Black & White Photography, Canada, City, Documentary Photography, Downtown, People, Photojournalism, Snapshots, street, Street Photography, Summer, Sunny, Toronto, urban, Urban Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Human Backpack

  1. Mike Ross says:

    The first rule of street photography is that we don’t talk about street photography. The shot works for me.

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