"Street Photography"

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I enjoy viewing street photography (unposed photos of people doing what they do), but have great difficulty doing this kind of photography myself for both equipment and ethical reasons. I am uncomfortable pointing an SLR in someone's face (but may have solved that by prefocusing a Rolleiflex at waist level). More importantly, I also value my right to privacy, and am reluctant to invade someone else's right to privacy by photographing them without their consent, making a print, and displaying it somewhere. Any thoughts on this?

-- Todd Frederick (fredrick@hotcity.com), February 05, 2000


Yippie! The first post! (and it didn't blow up...). Thanks Todd.

I have a similar stance, I think. I love to look at good street photography, but whenever I see someone worth shooting, I always get very conscious of people's right to privacy. I think there are 3 ethical positions you can take here (at least the way my wierd brain works): you can just shoot and not care; you can ask to shoot (in which case most of the time you lose the original magic...but then again half the pages of newspapers are filled with moving photographs from people who know they are being shot...and if you go to Yonge and Bloor in Toronto there are always street performers there, who I'm sure most of the time would be willing if you paid them a little for their effort); or you can not shoot and just relish (or abhor) in the experience of your eyes themselves. I find myself not shooting, but envying those who have overcome and chosen to shoot (if that makes sense, kind of a double standard I guess?)...

-- shawn gibson (SeeInsideForever@yahoo.com), February 05, 2000.

Well...sucess and congratulations, It worked!

I usually end up with choice #3 also: not taking the photograph. I think I'm also a bit shy (and, quite concerned about getting beat-up by some irate subject!)

-- Todd Frederick (fredrick@hotcity.com), February 05, 2000.

BTW, using any kind of twin lens reflex camera for this kind of photography has helped immensly with the problem of keeping a "low- profile." I keep the camera very low at waist level, and usually wear a large bulky jacket, with the camera hidden somewhat inside, and then I just look off in another direction, whistling in the wind, while I click the shutter!

-- Todd Frederick (fredrick@hotcity.com), February 05, 2000.

TLR and street photography

I think you're absolutely right. Even if you are aiming at someone, you're looking down and you appear much less intrusive

-- Gabe Sachs (egabe@earthlink.net), April 24, 2002.

Until about a month ago, I had never handled a TLR. Then a friend brought over his Yashica and I started playing with it. It is a wonderful feeling thing! I almost sold my Pentax for a Rollei, but figured I'll just wait and eventually just buy one if the thrill sticks in my head. It also made me realize that a lot of times, when I see a portrait or a fashion shot with a lower perspective, it's probably not the photographer wrecking his knees, but using a TLR...and wrecking his back...

-- shawn gibson (SeeInsideForever@yahoo.com), February 05, 2000.

thanks Shawn! great idea and good job! specializing the forums of photo.net is a grand gift....thank you!

I'm for #1, that can't surprise you! I've tried all three and since I don't care to publish anything well the personal privacy issue seems less important. I've always been obsessed with "getting the shot" above all else. I'll risk death and destruction with a camera in hand.... and it's true....folks tend to notice a big black GSW pointing at them nevermind a technika(hell they end up posing for it...yes I tried it once) so I keep the GSW under my coat....the super-scope on my T4 however is magnificent for candids.....it fools everyone! They think you're making adjustments....similar to waist level finding with your Rollei Todd. I've gone so far as to rip out the jacket pocket so I can trigger the prefocused GSW while only it's lens peaks through. All this sneaking about keeps those privacy issues to a minimum because after all, "what they don't know won't hurt them". I've been to places where you pay for a shot...like the reservations around Santa Fe and Taos....but that's not what I'm after......CANDIDS are what I'm after. So cowardly I limit my liability but never my enjoyment.

-- Trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), February 05, 2000.

Welcome aboard Trib. Personally I prefer the last car on the train cuz it's, well, cozy (butlet's not go there...).

...a T4...does that viewer really work? It's like bloody small, and from the waist I'd bug my eyes out in no time I think? I'm not being smart, but serious: how easy is it to see with that thing? I really miss not having a 35mm camera right now, and I've been hoping to get either a T4 or a Stylus Epic thrown in when I go equipment hunting in a couple of weeks...a chore I hope to get over in weeks or months, not years...summer's for shooting, not hanging out in camera stores or (should I really be a moderator...?)hanging out on the net...

ps whenever I see someone with a 4x5 on a tripod, I get to the other side of the street as fast as possible: it is VERY intimidating to me seeing really big gear, not as a photographer, but just in general...

-- shawn gibson (SeeInsideForever@yahoo.com), February 05, 2000.

I must add, in reference to the above, that I do use a Stylus Epic for just such photography, simply cupping my hands all around it, looking like I'm shading my eyes from the sun. It's so tiny it actually works!..and the images are stunning. I forgot about the waist level on the T-4...good excuse to go shopping!

-- Todd Frederick (fredrick@hotcity.com), February 05, 2000.

I like the observation car too....I call it the whip wagon....it's more like riding a roller-coaster! T4's superscope not really for w/l....in fact chest level is perfect and that's why it's so sublimely sneaky! or kneeling from the ground....the reticle has cross-hairs for focus lock and it takes a little while to conquer and sometimes it's more miss than hit because of the shutter lag(that's not much of a learning curve...you just push a little sooner) so I haven't touched a slr in at least a year....I don't take the Technika to too many populated areas....you always get hassled by curious amatuers and since I'm not shy about talking shop...I seldom get a lot of pics. The t4 (in my pocket right now) has been a blast...re-lighted my fire so to speak....I'd have preferred the GR1 or supremely the Hexar but didn't have the geetus. The t4 is great with 400 and above but that keeps my enlargements max'd at 5x7 but I don't mind....it serves it's purpose. Good luck and let me know how you like it if you decide to get one...

future purchases for me,

Ultra 2 saphir scanner to keep my G4 company.... Bessa-l with 16mm cause it's cheap junked out very cheap Norman lights or other kodak masterview to replace my heavy c1 vivitar 120j to keep my gsw company oh and about a million darkroom items

ya see, I have the sickness too!

-- Trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), February 05, 2000.

I used to be very reluctant to photograph people, but ultimately I think you have to "get over it" and learn to point your camera ate people in the street. If you are simply timid then I suggest attending a lot of events: people there expect photographers. I went to events like Jolablot and local events, markets, fairs etc. for about 6 months before I became reasonable comfortable pointing my camra at people on the street. I also managed to sell a few images as a result...

I don't know what to say about the ethical argument. Leagally you can shoot people as part of the general scene in most countries, but that, of course, is not the problem. I think that as long as you are not being rude or disrespectful (e.g. if somebody asks you not to photograph them then you should normally abstain) then it is perfectly OK. And I don't mind people taking snapshots with me in the frame.

So to summarise: snap out of it! and start taking the pictures you want. Then post some of them here for critique :-)

-- Allan Engelhardt (allane@cybaea.com), February 05, 2000.

I prefer to work completely in the open most of the time. I use a Mamiya 7 and the 43mm lens, so it's pretty obvious. I stake out some ground based on what might be there and the background/foreground, and just hang out. It seems to work just fine; it's usually possible to become part of the furniture, so to speak. Occasionally, I use a Hexar, especially if I'm working at night (the M7 lenses aren't very fast) or in "dangerous" neighborhoods.

-- Jeff Spirer (jeffs@hyperreal.org), February 05, 2000.

I like your picture Jeff! Is it in front of the church in Oaxaca, Mexico?

Regarding the topic here: I like to use fast film and my EF 100-300. This lens let me get close (optically), and it doesn't seem very large, i.e., does not draw attention. It's a bit slow, but the 400- 800 ASA outdors helps that. If I need to get closer still, then I allways mimic the question "is it ok if I take a picture?", which is easy to do in any "language".

Kindly, Martin Chr. Hansen, Denmark

-- Martin Chr. Hansen (immch@pop.dtu.dk), February 05, 2000.

Jeff: what a lovely picture! Well seen and well shot.

Martin: Det er da meget hyggeligt at se en dansker her! But we should probably stick to the English langauge. The problem with the long focal length approach, I find, is that the images lacks the visual impact. Nothing beats taking a 28mm lens (or wider!) and getting into the action -- my dream lens for this is probably the EF 17-35mm. The images from the wide angle has a lot more in-your-face imact and because they are more dynamic they keem my interest longer.

Just my £0.02 worth.

-- Allan Engelhardt (allane@cybaea.com), February 05, 2000.

Is it in front of the church in Oaxaca, Mexico?


-- Jeff Spirer (jeffs@hyperreal.org), February 05, 2000.

More on being obvious

Another photo and a comment about how it was made. This was shot on a tripod with a very wide lens (the above-mentioned M7 setup) and it's printed full-frame, so you should be able to realize how close I was. But I ended up with at totally candid photo composed the way I wanted it.

I initially had a discussion (debate, or maybe even an argument)about taking a photo, but they eventually agreed. I set up the camera and tripod, composed, and stood around holding a cable release and ignoring the viewfinder. Over time, they stopped paying attention to me, but someone came along that knew them and started talking to them from behind me. I just snapped the cable release. It's that simple.

I think for people who are willing to be photographed, it's a lot easier to be obvious and wait for the right time. You're better positioned and can be much more aware of what is going on.

By the way, they're barbecuing sheep heads on a bed frame.

-- Jeff Spirer (jeffs@hyperreal.org), February 05, 2000.

This was taken using a Pentax 645 with 55mm lens using the "in your face" method. If you want to take candid photos with a medium format SLR, there really isn't any other method. I do usually prefocus the camera (or at least set it close) so I don't have to spend too much time with the camera to my eye. I can just pull it up and fire.

I use a similar approach when I'm out with my little Retina IIIc. I usually prefocus, but people really don't pay that much attention to that camera. I guess because it's so small and quiet.

-- Mike Dixon (burmashave@compuserve.com), February 05, 2000.

Doh! Here's the picture. (Had my slashes the wrong way the first try.)

-- Mike Dixon (burmashave@compuserve.com), February 05, 2000.

i love street shooting, plain and simple. i started with a cheap slr many years ago and graduated to one of my favorite set ups - a minolta cle with all 3 lenses. i now use a mamiya 6. someone above mentioned becoming part of the furniture - great suggestion - i tend to stay put in one place for awhile - sitting or standing - and after a bit - it's like i become invisible - this works great especially at an 'event' type situation where there are lots of people milling around - but it also works at bus stops, in parks and most other places. part of my photo - hobby also involves volunteer shooting at the local (edmonton, alberta, ca.) folk festival and the blues festival. not only can't you be shy at pointing your camera at the crowds or individuals but i also need to catch those ' decisive moments' that the performers may find themselves in. while i also like my privacy , i really like getting the shot too. if it doesn't go against any deep personal values or beliefs - i say point your camera at what excites or moves you and let time and practise take its course - you will get used to it.

-- joe rizzuto (rizworks@junctionnet.com), February 05, 2000.

Here is my approach on street photography which has served me quite well. Initially, I was very ethically conscious with regard candid street photography. After months of debates, I have come to the conclusion that it is really no different than doing any other good people photography...communication is the key. So, for the past couple years, I have been approaching individuals on the street or in cafes and starting a conversation with them. In Toronto, I find most people are very approachable, be it a homeless person on the street or a stranger in a cafe. Through the conversations, I try to show my interest in learning who they are. I want to share their joy or sympathize with their sorrows. I bring up the possibility of photographing them as part of the conversation. Then, once I have the permission, I leave the people and stay at a good distance and observe until they are no longer so conscious of my presence. That is when I bring up my telephoto and shoot. At the end of the shoot, I always go back to thank the individual and offer him/her a copy if he/she would like. I have to admit that this is a very time consuming process, but it really works for me. I hope, by sharing this experience, it will help those of you who are potential street photographers.

-- David Hou (dna2367@hotmail.com), February 05, 2000.

I have done street photography both professionally and because i love do`ing it{amateur}.I have snapped in Toronto and indeed found the Rollie perfect with its semi- wide angle lens.Towards Chinatown its preferable to be a bit "sneaky" so that one can get unposed pix.I was once chased by a very angry old lady selling vegetables on the sidewalk.Much merriment by the passing crowd!Favorite camera is Leica M3.One lens.50mm and 400 speed film in color print or b/w.The Leica allows you to get really close You feel you have right to invade someones space.I have asked at Leica sevice about this...they were all Germans.I felt with the M3 in hand one had the perfect camera to tour Europe. Poland/Holland/Belgium/France..Russia?They all agreed!So "it" comes with the camera.I noticed a friend had a Canadian M4 and it was definitely neutral.Get close,talk to people,get involved in whats happening!Sometimes you may simply wish to steal a snap,without the chat.Go ahead.Certain people love being photographed.Go ahead.SEND Prints if you promised.Walk carefully and good hunting!

-- jason gold (jason1155234@webtv.net), February 06, 2000.

Congratulations on this new Digest, and if there are more of the kind I would love to hear about them.

About Street photography, I usually don't ask, since I like the candid look of it, but if problem arise (not frequent enough) I just explain that it is for my personal collection or whatever. About the camera, I have an F4 but its to pro looking for the streets and people stare at it, so I take my old FE and sometimes even take along the motordrive. This way people just think you are some kind of really really poor amateur or just a student, since "no serious photographer would use such an old flimsy camera", to keep the mood try not to go out with super pro lens like a 85 1.4 or anything that looks as big, keep it without zooms, a 50 or 24 isn't too attention grabber, my favorite is a 100mm 2.8 series E its just a little longer than my 50mm, very lightweight (not like the 105 brother), good optics and great perspective for street. A 50mm is another favorite of mine, Once took my 180 but was too limiting (I belive that fixed focal lenses give you better pics not because it gives better quality but bc you have to move much more and find the correct pictures). Ho another thing: if you go with an old body don't put on it an new AFS lens since a new black and shiny lens looks very strange on an old silvery body (remember once went with the 28 2.8AF, more than once been asked about it by people), well thats all I can think about now. Till later.

What lenses do you guys and gals like?

Diego K

-- Diego K. (Heuristica@yahoo.com), February 06, 2000.

I tried to say it above but I'll say it again.

It isn't about the camera. All the blithering in the world about Leicas or anything else doesn't change that - succeeding at street photography has nothing to do with what camera you use. Alan Gibson takes candid street shots with a view camera.

It's about the photographer's ability to turn himself (herself) invisible. The two shots I posted above were taken at extreme close range with a large camera.

If there's a photo out there that could only be taken with one brand of camera, someone should post it here.

-- Jeff Spirer (jeffs@hyperreal.org), February 06, 2000.

I totally agree with you, all Im saying is that from my experience it is helpfull to have a garbage looking camera so people wont be afraid to be infront of you. I know from my personal experience that when I go out with the F4 and the 180, they run away from me like the plage. On the other hand When I get to the street with the 66, with the heavy tripod and cable release, they think Im too pro to shoot people and I'm taking really serious pictures and wont care about them at all and thats when you get the most intresting photos. but when you cant get out with all of that, a simple camera and a simple lens will get you as invisible as you can.

-- Diego K. (heuristica@yahoo.com), February 07, 2000.

In the past two years I have been experimenting with street photography. I have learned that once you bring the camera to your eye you stand a good chance of losing a good shot. When the subject becomes aware the entire scene changes. I have tried using longer lenses and it works sometimes. The most effective technique for me is shooting from the hip. Currently I use a Leica M6, motorwinder, 24mm aspheric lens, long cable release inside pocket, set the shutter speed for 125th or 250th second and the fstop at anywhere from f8 to f16 depending on the light. The camera hangs on a strap at mid-chest level. I use Ilford Delta 400 film. This setup has proven the most effective for me. The 24mm allows you to get closer to the subject without their awareness. Any non-autofocus camera could be used as long as it's relatively quiet.

-- Robert Bedwell (rlb@triad.rr.com), April 24, 2000.

This thread is a bit long in the tooth, but I do have some comments. I grew up in Europe in the early fifties and have a large collection of "street" photographs of my family and their friends, some going back to the 30s. These were not "art" street photographers but people who snapped you, gave you a business card and a cash envelope, and hoped you'd send in your money and buy their photos, sight unseen. I think they serve as wonderful documents of that era and often achieve a spontaneous "artfulness" that the self-conscious compositions of the better known practitioners of street photography did not achieve. Jeff

-- Jeff Paris (jparis24@home.com), April 23, 2001.

Street Photography

It seems like your main concern is privacy. If the shot is worth shooting, the privacy factor should bother you. Besides, they're in public space. Just do it. But there are ways to make it easier on you and the subject. 1. Dress for the position. If you look like a professional photographer, they will be more likely to trust you.

2. Use a big lense. Keep your distance.

3. Make a sign on a stick. Like your selling something. Or put a message on there, like "smile," what ever...then cut a hole through the center. Fit the lense through it, and shoot. They'll never know you're back there with a camera...

I have never actually done street photography (seriously), but these are thoughts that may help you.

-- Sage Li (sage@sageli.net), April 23, 2002.

Just get out there and shoot, it will be well worth it. Also, a business card always comes in handy if approached by a stranger.

-- Brian (bmherio@ol.com), July 07, 2002.

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