Daido Moriyama’s 4 Key Takeaways for Street Photographers

ricardo palma
3 min readJul 17, 2023
Zoku Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan, a Photo Theatre II), 1978

As you know if you are reading this, street photography is a genre that thrives on capturing the raw and candid moments of everyday life in urban environments. Among the prominent figures who have left an indelible mark on this art form, Daido Moriyama, a Japanese photographer, stands out for his distinctive style and profound influence. Moriyama’s work, characterized by grainy, high-contrast black-and-white images, captures the energy, chaos, and essence of urban life. In this article, we will explore the key takeaways from Moriyama’s approach to street photography and delve into his lasting impact on the genre. If you haven’t read my “Top 7 Street Photographers in Japan” story yet, please do so here.

Embracing Imperfection: One of the most significant contributions Moriyama made to street photography was his emphasis on embracing imperfection. His gritty, grainy, and often out-of-focus images challenged the conventional standards of technical perfection. Moriyama’s deliberate blurring and rough composition created an aesthetic that reflected the chaos and energy of the urban landscape. Through his work, he encouraged photographers to move beyond technical precision and instead focus on capturing the essence of the moment, even if it meant sacrificing clarity.

Key Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to experiment and embrace imperfections in your street photography. Sometimes, the rawness and imperfections can evoke a more authentic and powerful representation of the urban environment.

2. Exploring the Unseen: Moriyama’s work often delved into the underbelly of cities, capturing scenes that were considered taboo or neglected by mainstream society. He sought out the marginalized and hidden aspects of urban life, documenting subcultures, back alleys, and the surreal. Moriyama’s photographs were unapologetically honest and often provocative, challenging the viewer’s preconceived notions of the city.

Key Takeaway: As a street photographer, be curious and willing to explore the unseen aspects of urban life. Look beyond the surface and capture the hidden stories that lie within the city’s nooks and crannies.

Man on a train, date unknown © Daidō Moriyama

3. The Power of the Series: Moriyama’s work often consisted of photo series, where multiple images were presented together to create a narrative or convey a particular mood. He believed that a single photograph was limited in its ability to capture the complexities of urban life. By presenting a series of images, Moriyama allowed the viewer to experience the cumulative impact of multiple moments, creating a more immersive and layered storytelling experience.

Key Takeaway: Consider presenting your street photographs as a series to tell a more comprehensive story or evoke a particular emotion. Experiment with sequencing and explore how images can interact with one another to create a stronger impact.

4. Emotion and Atmosphere: Moriyama’s photographs are known for their strong emotional impact. His images often evoke a sense of solitude, tension, or mystery, inviting viewers to engage with their own emotions and interpretations. Moriyama skillfully captured the atmosphere of the urban environment, with its vibrancy, restlessness, and fleeting moments. His work reminds us that street photography is not solely about capturing people and places but also about capturing the mood and energy that permeate the streets.

Key Takeaway: Strive to convey emotion and capture the atmosphere of the urban environment in your street photography. Pay attention to lighting, shadows, and the overall ambiance to evoke a specific feeling or mood in your images.

Daido Moriyama’s influence on street photography is undeniable. His daring approach, characterized by embracing imperfections, exploring the unseen, utilizing series, and emphasizing emotion and atmosphere, has left an indelible mark on the genre. Moriyama’s work reminds me that street photography is not solely about technical perfection but rather about capturing the essence of life on the streets. As aspiring street photographers, we can learn valuable lessons from Moriyama’s approach and use them to expand our creative boundaries and create more evocative and meaningful images.

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Peace ✌🏼

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ricardo palma

✍️ Writing stuff about Japanese photography 📸