Street Photography and confidence

My first street shots were with a Canon 5D and a Olympus 21mm F2 Zuiko lens so I had to rely on zone focusing. I had the camera round my neck and a wired remote switch in my pocket. So I aimed my body at my subjects and took a shot or 2 when they were in range. I avoided eye contact and often had to crop heavily because I was shooting too early because I was worried the shutter noise would give me away!

I found the experience pretty daunting but fun and with the right glass attached I was occasionally blown away by the results of some shots. It was definitely the beginning of a passion that took my interest in photography to another level.

Some years and several cameras l8r I now predominately shoot from the hip with a Ricoh GRD3. That camera gives me the confidence to shoot in environments that I could never shoot in with other cameras. The small size. The silent shutter and the blacked-out LCD all help ease your fears of being harassed for street shooting. You still get looks but they are more questioning than hostile and by keeping on the move you are gone before anyone can give you grief.

Confidence plays a big part also. Something I still lack although I am very gradually getting more confident as I put the hours in.

It definitely pays to begin street work in an environment where you do not stand out. A crowded town shopping area allows you to blend in and be harder to pick out. I often walk behind a couple so my approaching target/s do not clock my camera. Sometimes I carry a shopping bag in one hand so I look like a shopper rather than a photographer. Sometimes I pretend to be using my mobile phone to avert the targets eyes from my camera while I'm shooting them.

It also pays to get very familiar with your equipment. Stick to one lens or one focal length and eventually you'll get your keeper rate quite high. I think that is one reason I preferred the GRD3 over the Panasonic LX5. Different focal lengths just make the job harder with few benefits. Primes tend to be sharper as a rule anyway and you get to know the optimal aperture and subject distance.
 

Luckypenguin

Hall of Famer
Dec 24, 2010
Brisbane, Australia
Nic
Just to express a concern that I have when someone asks a question relating to street photography:

Should direct advice be provided on how to photograph people without their knowledge or how to hide your intent to photograph people, because I tend to find sometimes that such advice does not read well, in context or out of context.
 

pictor

All-Pro
Jul 14, 2010
Should direct advice be provided on how to photograph people without their knowledge or how to hide your intent to photograph people, because I tend to find sometimes that such advice does not read well, in context or out of context.
I understand and support your concern. In my opinion there are real differences between paparazzi and street photographers and I do not want these differences to be obliterated.
 

Streetshooter

Administrator Emeritus
Jul 12, 2010
Philly, Pa
Good conversation. I think the crux of it is about Eye Contact.
Today the world is filled with fear based on paranoia. So eye contact is a very touchy subject. As there is no set comfortable rule on addressing eye contact because it becomes a very individual issue for each subject, whether shooter or subject. One can't predict the response from the subject as the subject can't predict the shooters motives.
So, what needs to happen on the shooters part is something like this.

Intent! What is your intent? Why are you making photos on the street?
You have to burn your intent in your brain so that the subject is not misreading you.

Making or taking! I know I've written this stuff before but it's truth as many streetshooters see it. In your brain, if your taking photos, the brain processes a guilt that reflects on your stance and face. The subject reads this very fast and very well.
If your making photos, the brain does not need to create guilt as your making something, not taking something.

In many cultures, the belief is that a photo captures ones soul.
Maybe some of that exist in our modern culture.

The set up. The first thing to do is find your setup or frame. There may or may not be a person in the image at this point. You see a frame and it turns you on. Then you wait for a person to complete the statement. You are already comfortable in the scene because you see the frame. When the person enters the frame, you have to decide if you need or not, eye contact. At this point, it should be a swift moment to release the shutter. Even with eye contact, it should be swift.

Women have a distinct advantage on the street. Why? Because most women appear to be passive not aggressive. Cameras are the same as far as personalities go.
A camera is either passive like a Leica or the X 100 or even the SC.
A Canon 5D is aggressive. So all this becomes a state of mind that forges your mindset as you go to work.

You can't avoid confrontation! The simple act of looking at someone can start a confrontation. You have to be in control of yourself. If you keep positive energy working, it most times over powers negative energy. Your actions can diffuse or inflate any situation.

Observer or participant. Know your role. It changes at every frame. I try to be an observer first. Sometimes you need to be a participant to get a reaction or complete the frame.
Ray's image of the Amish girl is a perfect observation. We are not aware of his presence at all.
It's a perfect image in all respects.

Youse are all doing really well in your images. You all know what to do because your doing it already. If your not struggling with some facet of your work, your not working. If you just stop questioning what your doing, you'll get complacent. That's a dangerous no no.

Maybe the thing to do is to not name what your doing. Just make images because you have to make images.
In my shooters groups, I ask everyone to show 25 of their favorite images. Then we break it down to themes. That's always a surprise. Then we start to work on the themes and then, we start to challenge the themes to expand our vision. You'd be surprised at what you learn about yourself doing this.
Karen made an image a few weeks ago of her husband on a jetty. It was a dark image but very emotional. It reminded me of Michael Kenna's work but better because it had emotion.

Is that a street image, or not?
 

BBW

Administrator Emeritus
Jul 7, 2010
betwixt and between
BB
Thank you, Don. I don't care how many times your write about this subject because I always come away with something new for myself.

Karen made an image a few weeks ago of her husband on a jetty. It was a dark image but very emotional. It reminded me of Michael Kenna's work but better because it had emotion.

Is that a street image, or not?
For me, the answer is yes. "Street" is life.
 

HeatherTheVet

Top Veteran
Apr 23, 2011
Scotland
Heather
I share the uncomfy feeling of LuckyPenguin about being actively devious, mostly due to the mindset stuff that Don is talking about - if I'm trying so hard to pretend I'm not doing something then it's probably because i think I'm doing something wrong. Shooting from the hip I'm okay with as the point is to not get eye contact on the photo. I have also flipped the screen to 90 degrees and shot sideways.

The last time I attempted street type stuff was in a railway station and I wandered over and had a chat with the person I took photos of and showed them. They ended up asking for copies and leaving me an email. I think you're right that being a girl help a bit as I'm not perceived as a physical threat most of the time, and I'm generally pretty approachable anyway. But I'm also just leaning so I'm not really going in for the kill, therefore not getting myself into any sticky situations.

The way I'm trying to go about it is from the other persons side. If you're all dressed up and performing on the street, you're fair game. Briar made really good use of that at the Fringe, the photos from the Farmers Market from somebody else at the weekend are in the same vein. Otherwise it's a judgement call, so how would I feel if it were me?

I reckon another assignment from Streetshooter may be useful here...
 

Luckypenguin

Hall of Famer
Dec 24, 2010
Brisbane, Australia
Nic
I guess I kind of try to cling to the notion of the "virtuous" street photographer. The concepts of targets, concealment, etc. don't really sit that well with me. I prefer the role of the active observer, for want of a better term. To me, street is the photographic study of people in their environment. You and your camera are part of that same environment.

If someone came up to you and asked you what you were doing, would you have a good answer for them? That will set your comfort level with what you are doing.
 

Ray Sachs

Legend
Sep 21, 2010
Not too far from Philly
you should be able to figure it out...
Intent! What is your intent? Why are you making photos on the street?
You have to burn your intent in your brain so that the subject is not misreading you.

The set up. The first thing to do is find your setup or frame. There may or may not be a person in the image at this point. You see a frame and it turns you on. Then you wait for a person to complete the statement. You are already comfortable in the scene because you see the frame. When the person enters the frame, you have to decide if you need or not, eye contact. At this point, it should be a swift moment to release the shutter. Even with eye contact, it should be swift.

Observer or participant. Know your role. It changes at every frame. I try to be an observer first. Sometimes you need to be a participant to get a reaction or complete the frame.
As usual, Don has given us a LOT to think about. A little more on a couple of his specific points, some agreement, some partial agreement.

Regarding intent, ABSOLUTELY! If you feel like you're doing something that's somehow wrong, if you're questioning your own intent, you just shouldn't do it. Or you should think long and hard until you don't feel that way anymore. If you feel its something you wouldn't want done to/with/at you, you probably shouldn't do it to others. My intent is almost always to record human beings in very human moments. You can call this the human condition or you can call it something else. This can be positive or negative or anywhere on the huge spectrum between those extremes. But I don't want to see them posing or being self-conscious - just being who they are in ways that are recognizably human. I wouldn't mind others doing the same to me - my favorite photos of myself are those where I'm caught in the most human moments. My absolutely LEAST favorite photos of myself are when I'm aware of having my photo taken in anything but the most peripheral sense - when I'm trying to smile for the camera I invariably am not REALLY smiling and usually look dreadfully bad. My most human moments, OTOH, even when it has nothing to do with smiling, usually look much much better. So I don't question my intent, even when some of my photos don't show the "best" side of someone. Occasionally someone in one of my photos shows as obviously aware of being in a photograph. The vast majority of these never see the light of day. Occasionally, I'll like one enough for whatever combination of OTHER reasons, that I'll keep it and work on it and show it to other folks. But that's pretty much NEVER my goal and only occasionally an acceptable outcome. To ME - there are other standards on this. Javier, for example, gets reactions from his subjects in almost every one of his photos and they work for him - its just another way to do it and it depends on what you're after.

Regarding the SETUP, sometimes I do this, but usually I don't. And I end up with very different types of photos when I do and when I don't. Some of my favorite photos are done this way - I've sort of pre-framed the scene, I KNOW I like the basic composition because I already have it all lined up. And then I'm just waiting for someone, anyone, to DO something in that frame that completes it. Often this amounts to nothing more than walking through the scene (in which case it helps a lot if there's something at least vaguely interesting looking about the person walking through). Sometimes, its a bit more animated or interesting than that. But in these photos, I feel like the people are mostly like props. And these feel more like photos of places than people - I rarely feel anything from the people in the photo, although occasionally they'll surprise me and show something more of themselves. But more often, I don't setup the shot - I'll see a person or group of people who look interesting to me and I'll try to find them in just the right moment and configuration. On very rare occasions that might mean taking a bunch of snaps quickly, but usually its one, maybe two shots and hoping one of them works. I get far more misses than hits, but almost all of my best photos seem to happen this way. And the tradeoff is clear. I rarely get the most interesting compositions this way - I get more interesting compostions when I do "the set up", but I find the most human moments tend to come from much more spontaneous shooting. On rare occasion I'll get an interesting composition along with these human moments, but I have to chalk these up almost completely to luck because the shot generally happens too quickly to have set it up. But when it happens, I'll gladly own it and take some credit for it because it wouldn't have happened if I wasn't out there working it! Wider angle lenses seem to lead to these nice accidental compositions more than narrower angle lenses, but you never know.

BTW, I think Don shoots more spontaneously and with less of a setup than he realizes. I've seen plenty of his shots that are SOOOO intimate and close with the subjects that I don't see how he saw anything and waited for something to happen there. I think he MUST have seen the people doing what they were doing and just managed to get there at the right moment. Or maybe I'm not fully understanding what he meant????

Observer vs Participant. I'm always TRYING to only be the observer. I don't want to be part of the photograph, even reflected in a subjects face. As I said above, sometimes I fail in this goal and occasionally I even like one of these photographs enough to overcome that, but I don't figure in my best photographs at ALL. My best photographs portray people in their OWN moments, not in mine. Don kindly mentioned one of my photos in this respect and that's pretty much what I'm ALWAYS trying for, although I obviously succeed in some cases and fail in others.

One other point that's been discussed somewhat in this thread - PROXIMITY - how close should you be? There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the closer the better. This also goes back to whether I'm employing the "SETUP" or not, to use Don's term. When I am, I'm rarely close enough to feel much from the people involved. When I'm not shooting that way, I try to get CLOSE. And this is something I'm only really comfortable doing in very busy public areas because lots of people are co-existing in very close quarters already and I'm just one more person in the mix. And I'm not likely to make someone uptight or nervous when I am close. When there aren't a lot of people around and already in close proximity, conventions of personal space say that you shouldn't get too close, so I'm not comfortable doing it. But when folks are more or less shoulder to shoulder already, I don't have any compunction about being right in the middle of it all.

-Ray
 

silverbullet

Regular
Oct 20, 2010
Germany
ohhh, what discussion - again in ALL foras......

Photographing people outside, let's call it "streetphotography" becomes more and more famous because it's like walking on thin ice....... ;-)

As a young guy of around 23/24 only 'street' was my desire disregarding that I was very shy at that time. But the camera changed my behavior and attitude completely into a very friendly but effective way. As Don pointed out the eye contact is one of the most important points and the self confidence when a camera is in your hand and in front of your forehead......
Looking back I remember that I made at first pics from 'dead' objects in Amsterdam mostly: rusty bikes, streetlamps, old doors etc. With this shooting it was nearly impossible NOT to stumble across interesting looking people (in my case grumpy old men - I was shy- you remember...)

To some extend you must stick as honey - sweet and not so dirty as motor oil - and suddenly you will recognize that unknown persons are human and not alien, when you act positive they are the mirror for YOU!

I don't like hipshots because when you are trained well in this technic you might never develop the unvisible communication with your objects - just like a 'One night stand'...... ;-)

My recommendation is: start with 50mm until you feel comfortable and reduce to 35mm and when you like the more 'drama' in your story, 28mm.
Try to get a certain 'hook' just get that One Frame Story (if possible) and avoid boring pics with a lot of people on the sidewalks with no content.

For me streetphotography is a diluted genre today but that's ok.......
 

BBW

Administrator Emeritus
Jul 7, 2010
betwixt and between
BB
May I share my thoughts on the subject?

Rangefound: The Invisible Man in the Street - I wrote this a little while ago, but things like this don't go out of fashion. :wink:
Bill that was a great read, and I almost spit my drink out laughing a few times. :biggrin: I'm going to show this to my daughter who is interested in doing more of this kind of photography. Many thanks - your humor really drove things home for me.:drinks:
 

BBW

Administrator Emeritus
Jul 7, 2010
betwixt and between
BB
Bernd, thank you as well for your observations and your sense of humor, as well. I understand the shy part especially well, and it is so interesting how taking photographs can bring one out of oneself.

I'm enjoying reading everyone's takes and comments on this subject very much.:th_salute:
 

JustinW

Regular
Aug 14, 2011
Melbourne, Australia
Thanks everybody for responding. I have really appreciated the different points of view. Don, Ray and Bill, you have given some really practical advice I can try.

Thanks littlepenguin for also sharing your concern. It was good to hear that, as it prompted me to question my own intent. I would say that my intent is to take an honest photo, being transparent in intention to the people in the scene. Otherwise I could hide behind an SLR+Zoom from a distance, and confidence would not be a problem.

Stillshunter mentioned on the first page of this thread that perhaps we should have somekind of Street support form. So following on from that, I am wondering if anybody would benefit from a weekly Street Challenge? Perhaps run by a couple of this sites "street-guru's"? Just a thought :)
 

BBW

Administrator Emeritus
Jul 7, 2010
betwixt and between
BB
I think "Little Penguin" is a brand of wine, if I'm not mistaken.:wink: Just teasing you Justin, though I bet Nic is a beer drinker.:biggrin:

Perhaps one of the street gurus will take up the challenge, however another way of approaching this with less pressure is to use the Photo Critique forum. I know eventually we'd hoped to continue the Image Quests but I know that Don is pretty busy with work and the stuff of life right now...though I shouldn't speak for him.

Please feel free to start a thread in the Photo Critique if you'd like...then perhaps some of the "old hands" can way in? You can check out what exactly that forum is about here: https://www.photographerslounge.org/f75/photo-critique-forum-read-first-1825/ That said, you could start a thread in Street and Documentary, if you'd like it to be more of an open thread with or without constructive criticism.
 
Jan 31, 2011
Newcastle, Australia
Sue
Stillshunter mentioned on the first page of this thread that perhaps we should have somekind of Street support form. So following on from that, I am wondering if anybody would benefit from a weekly Street Challenge? Perhaps run by a couple of this sites "street-guru's"? Just a thought :)
I like that idea. It would be a good motivation for those of us who remain nervy about doing street, even though we appreciate it, to get out there and just do it.
 

Latest threads

Top Bottom