Friday, January 29, 2010

Street Photography

When visiting a museum of sorts, a public place where craftsmen and women were demonstrating their skills, I became aware that a man had snapped a close picture of me with his camera while I was absorbed in watching a potter shaping a piece of clay on the wheel. I was hit with a great deal of ambivalence and trepidation about this, and just a bit annoyed
at the intrusion of my personal space and privacy. Not being much of a narcissist, I immediately suspected the worst and resented being the subject of an unguarded moment that could turn up God knows where on the Internet and perhaps totally out of context. When I find myself caught off guard, I greatly censor my reactions and usually end up a coward by not reacting at all. I had my own camera and engaged in a bit of dueling cameras that I have often done before with friends while we were just having fun. Later, after much contemplation, and a lot of research, I converted from feeling like a victim to being an advocate of candid street photography. There are several good books that give not only technical details of cameras and photography, but also philosophy of social documentary through candid street photography.

Book covers by

Thank God, I'm not famous, or I would have been challenging what I perceived as a paparazzo that needed to learn some manners. My problem with my encounter with a street photographer was his approach or technique, I later learned. He wasn't taking a lot of pictures and I would have been really alarmed except that he was with his family. I learned that in order to be a good street photographer, one needs to take a lot of photos in public places so that people don't react negatively as I had. Also, I learned that if one smiles and tries to pretend to just be part of the action rather than an observer, the photos can be even better. It is reputed to be very difficult to find those rare gems of photos that turn into art so we have to take numerous photos to find something great like the famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse after WWII in the street, and which appeared in Life Magazine of yesteryear. I always loved that magazine because the photos were incredibly insightful, and captured such profound statements of life and people.

When I look through pictures I have taken, I find that too many are posed which seems to be a no no in the world of street photography. Also too many of my street scene pictures have been taken with as few people included as possible in order to see the street buildings or monuments. Now I capture everything, to include the people and let the street and buildings or monuments sit in the background. It is the candid activity of the people within the context of the street that makes the photo interesting.

There is always the dilemma or danger of being misunderstood when doing street photography and looking for great candid moments when people are relaxed, unguarded and their emotions at the surface. If you stop to ask a person's permission to take a photo, the moment is over. Many devotees of the street photographic technique claim if it is a public place, people ar
e fair game. I don't want to be perceived as a deviant, or a would-be terrorist, so I take lots of pictures, smile, and try not alarm people. I am always cautious about taking pictures of kids I don't know, so I smile at parents and compliment the kids as cute, but after I have already taken the picture. Ladies have more leeway on that one than a guy with a camera taking pictures of little kids. Parents can become very alarmed and protective. Also, a word of caution, not all people being photographed are as reluctant to react as I, and some may become very hostile. That is the stuff of which fiction is made, and the witness protection program probably has a few amateur photographers. I don't know what I would do if someone demanded the card from the camera or called the police. To avoid confrontations, it's good to take photos in a very open, public place where many people also have cameras.


  1. Have you ever researched the Photographer's Bill of Rights? I like to go over it every once in a while.

  2. Great info. Thanks, I had never heard of it. I tend to try to see the issue from both sides and I can understand when someone might not want to be photographed so I try not to offend folks. Also, I don't want to get into a fight with a misinformed person, whether it is a private citizen or an uninformed authority figure who also doesn't know about who has what rights. That being said, in this country, that bill of rights might apply, but I am even more cautious in other countries. I appreciate your input. Thanks for visiting.

  3. He must have found something very interesting in you while you were unaware. But I have to agree, I would feel weird. If someone wants to take a picture of me then they need to follow the rules, just as you stated. I must have a little Native American in me - a picture steals my soul - or something.