Looking for street photography advice and inspiration? Then I highly recommend watching a documentary on history’s best street photographers. In my experience, following renowned shooters as they capture life will help expand your ideas, and it will reveal a variety of techniques and approaches to try.
Additionally, after learning about the incredible life and work of a master like Henri Cartier-Bresson, you’ll want to grab your camera and immediately head out to take photos!
But which street photography documentary should you view? Fortunately, we have a wealth of films available on various online platforms. Below, I’ve shared my seven favorites, all of which offer unique insights into the street-snapping genre. So take a little time to read about your different options, then watch a few (or all) of them and become inspired!
1. Everybody Street by Cheryl Dunn
If you only plan to watch one street photography documentary on our list, make it Cheryl Dunn’s Everybody Street. In this well-produced documentary, you’re introduced to a diverse group of New York’s most iconic street photographers.
You discover Bruce Gilden’s in-your-face approach, which relies on bare flash and no significant relational connection to his subjects. You see how this contrasts with Bruce Davidson’s style, where connecting with his subjects is key, and with the fun times enjoyed by Elliot Erwitt as he finds humor on every corner. For each photographer featured in this 85-minute film, you learn about their approach and how they get such incredible images.
Each photographer is different. Each has their own way of expressing what they see on the street around them. Watch and learn. Find one or two photographers whose work and methods you can relate to, then dig deeper. Check out more of their images and research more about them. It’ll certainly provide street photo ideas, and it’s also a great way to help you improve your own approach.
You can rent Everybody Street on Amazon for $2.99, or you can buy the documentary for $5.99.
2. In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter by Tomas Leach
This intimate film takes you inside the cluttered New York City apartment of the master street photographer Saul Leiter; you get to experience a home full of memories of the neighborhood Leiter has spent over fifty years photographing.
Leiter’s work in color film was never really recognized until the latter part of his life. Preferring to fly under the radar, he documented life on the streets of his New York neighborhood with a unique flare and style.
The documentary was recorded by Thomas Leach in 2010 and 2011 – only after spending a year persuading Leiter that there should be a film made about him! Leiter was able to see the final edit of the documentary before he passed away in 2013.
You can view In No Great Hurry on the Saul Leiter Foundation website; it can be rented for $3.99, or you can buy a digital copy of the film for $8.99.
3. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye by Heinz Bütler
No listing of the best street photography documentaries could be complete without at least one film covering Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson is often viewed as the godfather of street photography and has been a constant inspiration for street photographers around the world.
Like the Leiter documentary (above), The Impassioned Eye was filmed during the later stages of Cartier-Bresson’s life. It features the notoriously media-shy photographer reviewing his portfolio of legendary photographs. He offers great insight into his life and style, and he reveals details of how he managed to be in the right place at the right time to photograph an array of historic occasions during his lifetime.
Unfortunately, The Impassioned Eye is difficult to find, but copies of the DVD are currently available on Amazon (both new and used).
4. William Eggleston in the Real World by Michael Almereyda
This 87-minute documentary by Michael Almereyda provides viewers with plenty of practical, real-world insight into the life and work of Willian Eggleston. The film follows the renowned photographer as he photographs in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, as well as further afield in New York and Los Angeles.
The director, Almereyda, carefully connects Eggleston’s photographs with his private life. Therefore, you can learn a lot about how the photographer’s interest in drawing, music, and video influenced his astonishingly unique style of photography.
William Eggleston in the Real World is available to watch on Amazon Prime video.
5. The Many Lives of William Klein by Richard Bright
William Klein was a street photography pioneer, and his gritty, raw style continues to be a great source of inspiration for many photographers. Interestingly, Klein also produced some of the most loved and iconic fashion photographs of the 20th century; he also made the first-ever documentary film about boxer Muhammad Ali and produced over 20 other films.
The Many Lives of William Klein shows us how Klein had scant regard for the rules of street photography. The photographer trusted his eye and his gut, working in his charismatic style to create dozens of iconic images.
You can currently access this street photography documentary here.
6. Bill Cunningham New York by Richard Press
Bill Cunningham’s images were published in the New York Times newspaper for many decades, and this well-crafted documentary depicts how Cunningham photographed fashion on the streets of New York – with his unmatched eye for style and detail.
The film reveals the connections Cunningham had with fashion society, showing the photographer at work on the streets of New York, in the office, and at home. There’s also plenty of personal insight provided by Vogue editor Anna Wintour and other notable figures in the NY fashion world.
Bill Cunningham New York can be viewed on Amazon Prime.
7. Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
The discovery of Vivian Maier is perhaps the most fascinating story in street photography (and in photography more broadly). Her work only came to be seen and widely recognized after John Maloof purchased a box of photographs at an auction, then shared them with the world.
Maier worked as a nanny and housekeeper in Chicago and carried a camera with her wherever she went. Her collection of over 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one of America’s most insightful street photographers.
This documentary traces her life and photography from Chicago, to New York, and to France in an attempt to shed light on the mystery of this most prolific and intriguing photographer.
You can watch Finding Vivian Maier on Amazon Prime video.
The best street photography documentaries: final words
Sitting down to watch a captivating documentary about street photography is one of the most inspiring things you can do, especially if you’ve been struggling to find motivation in recent days.
So take some time to view one or more of the videos on our list of street photography documentaries. Once you’re done watching, you’ll undoubtedly be itching to get out and about, so pick your camera up and go! Apply the lessons you learn to your own street photos.
I hope that you’ll begin to see the streets with fresh eyes and will feel inspired to work at creating great images.
Now over to you:
Which street photo documentary do you plan to watch? Are there any other great documentaries that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!