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how to approach strangers, street photography


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12 replies to this topic

#1
iNYONi

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A great wee video. 

 

 

500px Blog » The passionate photographer community.How to Approach Strangers on the Street and Ask for Their Picture - 500px Blog



#2
s.smith

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One of the hardest things about street photography, travel photography or any other genre that might have you taking impromptu photos of strangers is getting permission to photograph someone you don't know. Many photographers skirt around this by shooting with telephoto lenses or simply trying to “sneak” people into the shot while pretending to shoot the surroundings. In my opinion, both of these methods are mistakes and are partly responsible for the stigma centered around photographers in public places.

 

Photographing Strangers: Breaking the Ice

Street Photography Tips and Techniques

20 Quick Street Photography Tips



#3
Merco_61

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One of the hardest things about street photography, travel photography or any other genre that might have you taking impromptu photos of strangers is getting permission to photograph someone you don't know. Many photographers skirt around this by shooting with telephoto lenses or simply trying to “sneak” people into the shot while pretending to shoot the surroundings. In my opinion, both of these methods are mistakes and are partly responsible for the stigma centered around photographers in public places.

 

Photographing Strangers: Breaking the Ice

Street Photography Tips and Techniques

20 Quick Street Photography Tips

Besides the sneaky part, using long lenses tend to give boring street photos. You can't build rapport and be a part of the scene while sneaking around on the outside. I don't often ask for permission before I take a photo as that will turn the street photography into posed shots, but I talk to the people I meet and try to be a part of what happens on the street. Quite often a smile and a nod show that you see the person rather than the scene or situation, this will turn you mostly invisible and give the photos a presence that is lacking in tele street photos.

I don't publish much of my street work on the 'net as it is so easy to lose control of where your photos turn up and they can easily be made to illustrate something not true when taken out of context. 



#4
Ron

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Street photography is all about the street environment. That usually includes un-posed persons and  their surroundings. Having to ask for permission usually results in, as Peter pointed out, posed and often awkward photos. I mean, yeah, sometimes it works but more often than not, it doesn't. This also usually makes telephoto lenses a poor choice for this type of work.

 

The best approach I've found is to just start casually shooting and try to blend in with the crowd. This works particularly well at street fairs and other similar gatherings. Smiling a lot helps too. It makes you look more like a participant and less like a photographer. Unfortunately, our DSLRs are often the worse tool for this type of photography simply because they're so big and adding a wide angle lens and/or flash often makes them look even more intimidating. I remember a street fair I shot many years ago with my N90s, 24-120 and shoe mounted flash. Boy, did I ever get some stares. And, more than a few people assumed that I was "from the paper" which lead to even more awkwardness as I had to explain that no, I'm not from the paper. Suffice to say, it was surreal but I learned some valuable lessons. Lesson one, leave the flash at home.

 

Small rangefinder cameras such as a Leica are often much better for street photography. I knew someone who used an old Minolta CLE rangefinder camera with great success doing this type of work.

 

Speaking of wide angle lenses, when using them you really have to get in close but because they're often so large (especially zooms),  people think you're shooting at them with a telescope. This can lead them to give you that "back off" expression (or worse!). On the other hand you can often include people in the shot without actually pointing the camera at them. I guess that technique falls in the sneaky category.  

 

Then there are the people who enjoy being photographed. I have seldom done any shooting in a crowd where there weren't at least one or two of these types. I donno. Maybe they just think they're photogenic.

 

--Ron



#5
TBonz

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I really don't do street photography.  In those situations such as the street fair mentioned above, when I do shoot I approach it like covering an event and shoot in that manner...not that I don't interact and such, but I am looking to tell a story with my images rather than find a person or people and "create" an image.  That's great too, but just not something I feel is necessary for those types of situations.  


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#6
Ron

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I'm not sure what I was trying to accomplish at the street fair either. If memory serves... and these days it sometimes doesn't, we just happened to run into the street fair and I just happened to have my N90s with me. I was shooting slide film a lot back then and probably didn't even have any Tri-X in the bag. The fair was located in a heavily shaded area so I really needed the fill flash (which worked great BTW)... but the whole rig was just too big and imposing to a lot of people. I think it would have been a little better without the SB-28 flash blasting so much.

 

--Ron



#7
TBonz

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Probably :)!  Flashes - especially in daylight hours - seem to attract attention!


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#8
Ron

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Yeah, I got some of those looks.... like, doesn't  he realize it's daytime? :rolleyes:

 

But gosh, I was shooting in, I believe, Aperture Priority mode with TTL enabled.  And, TTL worked great. The subjects AND backgrounds were all properly exposed! Magic! :)

 

--Ron



#9
nikdood17

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There was this pretty darn good French street photographer -- you know him as HCB. One of his great photos is a guy on a bicycle zooming past his front stoop. You don't see the guy's face, and he's gone in a second. Did he get permission? Another fabulous shot is a bunch of street kids playing in the rubble of a war-ruined city. If he had asked permission he probably would have gotten six urchins mugging the camera instead of the classic you have certainly seen. He photographed women being tormented and marched through the streets for sleeping with Germans during World War Two in France. Their hair had been cut off and people were spitting on them. Did he get their permission? Another great photo of his is a French family on the banks of the Seine having an outdoor lunch. Did he get permission from the whole family? Real street photography is for grownups, not arm chair experts.



#10
Dogbytes

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There was this pretty darn good French street photographer -- you know him as HCB. One of his great photos is a guy on a bicycle zooming past his front stoop. You don't see the guy's face, and he's gone in a second. Did he get permission? Another fabulous shot is a bunch of street kids playing in the rubble of a war-ruined city. If he had asked permission he probably would have gotten six urchins mugging the camera instead of the classic you have certainly seen. He photographed women being tormented and marched through the streets for sleeping with Germans during World War Two in France. Their hair had been cut off and people were spitting on them. Did he get their permission? Another great photo of his is a French family on the banks of the Seine having an outdoor lunch. Did he get permission from the whole family? Real street photography is for grownups, not arm chair experts.

 

I do tend to agree. Whilst I think that, in these days of litigation, political correctness and paranoia about privacy (whilst sharing their most intimate details here on social media!) it would be nice foreveryone in a photograph to have given their permission to be photographed. However, that is to create a posed picture to some degree or another - news journalists, surely the ultimate street shooters, get in big trouble for this.

 

However, to play devil's advocate, I think that the case of Cartier Bresson isn't the best example, here's why. Cartier Bresson, as we all know, was an early adopter of the 35mm format - he used a tiny camera in a time when most cameras were huge. I imagine most of his subjects didn't even know they were being photographed. I also believe that he worked in a time when being photographed was still a bit of a novelty - many people, if they did realise he had a camera, would have been flattered to be the subject. People nowadays are quite guarded about being photographed - ironic, given that we live in a society where almost everyone has a camera with them all of the time. Or perhaps that's why. Either way, you can see why a society which is wary of a smartphone cam is even more nervous of a couple of kilos of SLR and 80-200/2.8 zoom.

 

I think ALL photography is for the practitioner rather than the armchair expert but I don't agree you have to be grown up about it - either literally or figuratively. There is probably some brilliant street photography being done by kids with iPhones purely because they're there and part of it - they don't have to ask permission and they don't have to do it on the sly!



#11
nikdood17

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I was aiming my remarks to what I think these pages represent, photographers with various cameras and lenses, not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles point-and-shoot camera carriers.

But before you call me a snob, please know that I in fact have a very fine example of a Ninja Turtles film camera. I believe it is the Raphael model. I have a lot of cameras.

French street photog HCB did not grab a camera that was popular 60 years before his time and say "I'm gonna do it like they did way back then." That's grown up thinking.

Regardless if you can be invisible in plain sight or you stand out like a Black Widow spider on a slice of angel food cake, if you live in the States you have a Constitutional right to take just about any photo you want if you are standing in a public place.

Use that right or lose it. There are nasty little puffed up men and women with or without iffy little badges who would regulate your conduct in public like the Russians, the Chinese or ISIS do it.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."



#12
Dogbytes

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But before you call me a snob, please know that I in fact have a very fine example of a Ninja Turtles film camera. I believe it is the Raphael model. I have a lot of cameras.

Me? I wouldn't call anyone a snob. You're entitled to your opinion and it's just as valid as mine is. I just think that, whoever the modern day Cartier Bresson turns out to be, we might look back in 50 years time and notice that he used an iPhone.

 

Actually, I definitely won't be looking back in 50 years time, I'll be loooong gone. However it doesn't change the fact that HCB used the smallest camera he could get his hands on and his comparatively tiny 35mm negative was probably sneered at by 'proper' photographers back then too.



#13
nikdood17

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Yes, 35mm and other "miniature" film sizes were looked down upon by many photographers in the Bad Olde Days. In the early days many 35mm photogs used very slow film because fast film was pretty grainy and not too sharp. I remember when photographers for a major wire service would use Plus-X film for most subjects and Tri-X only for dark basketball auditoriums or similar photographic scenes when shooting 35mm. I seem to remember Plus-X was ASA 125 at the time. Before the Nikon F came out Rolleiflexes were big stuff with news photographers. At one time Look magazine bragged that all their staff photographers carried Rolleiflexes. With a 120-size negative you could crop horizontal or vertical and still use a larger portion of the neg than the 35mm frame. News photographers mostly never knew how the editor would want to run the photo, horizontal or vertical, so there was a lot of cropping.