Street photography is one of the areas I enjoy - in particular photos of people - however I must admit I always hold back from taking the pictures I truly want to take because I feel nervous about taking photographs of the public.
For example, the other day I saw someone asleep on the metro so out came the camera, but I was paranoid that the guy would wake up or the passers by saying something to me. My heart was beating and the adrenaline pumping - I just took one picture and hoped for the best.
When I looked at the photo afterwards, there were so many ways I could have improved on it if I wasn't in such a hurry.
I guess I'm unsure if we're allowed to take pictures so brazenly of the public (admittedly in public places).
Has it ever happened to anyone where a member of the public has taken offence to having their picture taken?
This is a subject which has bothered me for years, and I'd love to hear peoples opinions: Is there an etiquette to street photography?
Your reaction is completely normal, Spaced. "Street photography" is an aggressive act; you impose an intimacy on people who may not want it. It's unnatural, but for some of us it's irresistible -- and the results are universally enjoyed. Here's a good primer you may want to look at:http://2point8.whileseated.org/wow-footer/
My epiphany came after my first year or two of taking pictures. I wasn't satisfied so I took all the prints I'd made, laid them on a table and started looking. Painfully apparent was the absence of people. There were pictures of trees and buildings and sunsets and cars, etc. -- but no people. When I wondered why I realized I was scared to take pictures of people. So, I went on a tear sticking cameras into people's faces, and I learned a lot. (As a young guy I quickly learned when you take a picture of a young woman she is usually flattered, and you're already at first base!)
Since you asked, yes I get challenged all the time. I've had police throw me out of places. I've also been welcomed. So it goes both ways. My concern is to always make people feel comfortable and to make them a partner in this intimate act if I can.
I had an informational card printed; I call it my "Who the hell are you?" card since I'm not soliciting business. It has my photo URL, email address, phone number. It has a great image on it to establish credibility. It does not have my physical address.
Most people who challenge, and all the ones too timid to challenge, are thinking the same thing -- Who the hell are you and why are you taking MY picture? So, I make it a rule to always engage people after I take their picture. I rarely ask permission because that ruins the look I want. Someone else here talked about smiling -- great advice. I always smile and use open and non-threatening body language. I reassure people I have nothing to sell and that I'm just doing this for fun. I give them my photo URL and tell them the pictures will be there if they want to see them -- and they can have them if they like. I tell them they can't be copied by anyone I don't give them to and they can't be printed and I don't sell them or use them in any promotional way. This is almost always sufficient to seal the deal, so to speak. People want to believe they're special, and if you suggest you took their picture because they're special, they will buy into that naturally.
I've had people tell me they don't want me to have their pictures. I took a picture one time of a lovely red 1966 Mustang parked on the street -- entirely within my legal rights. The woman who owned it ran out of a beauty shop, hair in curlers saying she did not want pictures taken of her car. Nothing I said would assure her so I told her I'd delete the pictures. I can still hear her saying, "I don't know who you are." I don't think a picture is worth upsetting people in most cases. I did subsequently delete them, and I would have done it in the camera if she had been astute enough to ask. Most people have enough stress and trouble in their lives -- they don't need me adding more.
For me, street photography is sort of like an intimate relationship. It has its ups and downs, there are good times and bad, there will be arguments, but the end result is usually worth it. If you don't like people (individually) and you simply aren't comfortable interacting with people you don't know, street photography is a lot more difficult. It can still be done, but you're going to have to be a lot more surreptitious and you'll deal with people a lot less.
One of the joys of street photography for me is the interaction with people after I've taken their picture. I took some pictures of a young couple on a waterfront a few weeks ago. I ended up talking with them for a long time about photography, work, school, etc., and they asked me to take a few more pictures of them -- so we had the luxury of setting up the right light and background, etc. They got some nice pictures out of it.
I'm glad to hear you like this kind of photography, and I was pleased that you critiqued your effort. That's where you begin and how you learn. There are a thousand ways to do street photography, and you will have to learn what works for you.
One thing you should know is the basics of legal rights. Look at the ACLU guide on this:http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers
If I have any specific advice... You will never get over the anxiety about taking pictures of strangers. And if you do, beware you've probably entered a dangerous place. You'll almost always find the results are worth the emotional stress. And most important, have fun, and enjoy the images you make.