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Author Topic: Etiquette of Street Photography  (Read 18706 times)

spaced

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Etiquette of Street Photography
« on: January 19, 2012, 08:48:22 AM »
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?
« Last Edit: January 19, 2012, 08:51:00 AM by spaced »

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Etiquette of Street Photography
« on: January 19, 2012, 08:48:22 AM »

AprilForever

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2012, 10:13:32 AM »
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?

People argue hugely about what is the appropriate behaviour for street photography. Weegie used to walk up to people with a crown graphic and a flash bulb and get the shot. Others in the past were more subtle...

But, if you are calm, and act like there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, most people will not really notice you taking pictures. Occassionally, I've gotten looks, but normally people do not mind. This, however, can change drastically depending on the country and culture.

The most important point is to try to not hurt others; but, if you are careful and subtle, none should mind terribly... most of the time, anyway...

In the USA, it is legal to take pictures of people in public places, as long as in that public place there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (ie, restroom or changing area). Find out what you are comfortable with, then push yourself! Once you get past the fear, it will be tremendously fun!
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Maui5150

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2012, 10:33:07 AM »
Take a look some time at Kelby Training's "A Day with Jay Maisel"  Really is all about this.

Shoot.  Be nice about it.  Smile.  You may encounter angry people, just apologize, and say "Sorry, I really liked your look"  Most people will not notice if you are comfortable in the environment and relaxed.

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2012, 12:07:11 PM »
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.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2012, 01:58:36 PM by distant.star »
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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2012, 12:18:10 PM »
Although I occasionally use the 400 f/2.8 (lots of jests about my big one ) I normally use either the 135 f/2 or the 200 f/8 as they are quite inoccuous.


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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2012, 12:30:59 PM »
it varies a lot
I never take pictures of someone's face.  I focus on the action and not the people.
It also varies from country to country.  In the US, I think most won't care and if you are confronted you apologize and if need be offer to delete the photo.
In Japan, no problem at all.
Some Latin countries, DO NOT DARE TAKE PICTURES OF CHILDREN without permission.  Unless, you are in the mood for a fist fight.  Literally, villagers will come down and beat you.
England, cops might want to see your DSLR and might go through your pictures. 
Something to consider, if you want to focus on people, is a long lens. 

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2012, 12:33:43 PM »
Although I occasionally use the 400 f/2.8 (lots of jests about my big one ) I normally use either the 135 f/2 or the 200 f/8 as they are quite inoccuous.

Nice picture, but even nicer still for using a big gun for shooting! I've read on some street shooting forums, and if you shoot anything other than black and white, wide angle, f1.4, you are abomination. If you DARE to shoot a tele-zoom, you are anathema!

I once took my 300 4r shooting street in downtown Fort Lauderdale. No one looked twice. Now, time for me the 300 2.8...
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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2012, 12:33:43 PM »

AprilForever

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2012, 12:34:52 PM »
Although I occasionally use the 400 f/2.8 (lots of jests about my big one ) I normally use either the 135 f/2 or the 200 f/8 as they are quite inoccuous.

Sorry for double posting, but also this picture would not have been the same at all with a wide angle lens... So, thanks for sharing!
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briansquibb

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2012, 12:37:54 PM »
I dislike wa lens - very rarely take anything under 50mm

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2012, 12:50:55 PM »
I dislike wa lens - very rarely take anything under 50mm

I'm drifting more and more in that direction...
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Harley

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2012, 12:54:19 PM »
Thanks for posting the question and for the great responses.  This is a subject that has bugged me for a long time. 

I have done street photography for years and in several different countries including places like Russia and Nigeria where it's more taboo.  I have never been terribly comfortable about photographing people regardless of the location and I have missed out on a number of great shots because of self-consciousness.  But it's a rare occassion that someone has taken me to task for taking a photo.  When it has happened, smiling and being polite seems the best thing to do.  Showing the picture to the person (as long as the shot isn't likely to be embarassing) can be a good way to help diffuse a problem. 

I'm now shooting with a 7D for the last six months or so.  This isn't a huge SLR, but it is significantly bigger than my old Rebel XT.  It feels a lot more intrusive to pull this camera out and snap away.  Sort of makes me want to have a Sony NEX...!
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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2012, 02:04:51 PM »
Interesting discussion.

From what I have read, Cartier-Bresson was quite circumspect – circling the scene, sizing things up and then quickly taking the shot. Cartier-Bresson credited his success in part to hunting as a youth. In fact, later in life he clarified his use of the "Decisive Moment" to draw an analogy between hunting and photography, explaining that he was looking for the right moment to take a "shot."

Garry Winogrand was apparently more brazen, relied on a smile to disarm the subject, shot rapid fire and was constantly on the move.Someone described his approach as the camera being secondary to his making quick connections with the people on the street as he photographed them.
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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2012, 03:40:43 PM »
I'm one of those people who hate to be photographed, and I do take offense when someone takes my picture, ironically, even though I also love to *take* candid photos of people.   (which is one of the reasons I've enjoyed wedding photography)   As a result, I don't do much street photography.

It's hard.  When I do choose to engage in street photography, I make myself very visible; anyone who shows signs of shyness -- I avoid them.  Do I miss a lot of shots?  Yep, but then nobody owed me those shots to begin with.

True, it may be legal in the US, but legal does not imply ethical.  There is a certain arrogance in assuming that others are (tacitly) willing to be your models.  I'm sure I'll get some smites for that, but it's true.  Imagine if, instead of a camera, you had a parabolic microphone and liked to record conversations at a distance.  Even if you  deleted those that were "too private" many people would feel intruded-upon by such an act.  What makes photography different?

On the other hand, anyone who engages in willful attention-seeking behavior (street performers, skateboarders, etc) is fair game.  "Crowd shots," where individuals are not readily distinguishable, are also fair game.


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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2012, 03:40:43 PM »

VerbalAlchemy

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2012, 04:22:45 PM »
I don't generally follow the strategy that just sticks the camera in someone's face, but I think a street photographer nonetheless has to reconcile him/herself to the likelihood that someone is gonna get upset at some point. I was documenting protests in the Bay Area late last year and watched a young woman throw a bottle at an Oakland Tribune photographer. "I know my rights!" she bellowed. "Evidently not," I thought to myself, given that a public protest fits the very definition of an event in which photographers have (barring police declaration of an unlawful assembly, which happened a lot) carte blanche.

The law enforcement angle, as a poster mentioned above, is also a consideration. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/police-overreach-in-the-name-of-fighting-terrorism/2012/01/17/gIQADluG9P_story.html?tid=sm_twitter_washingtonpost

This article describes the situation.

At demonstrations and protests, I've generally found the police to be as accommodating as they're supposed to be-- though I've also been around some situations in which the crowd became unruly, and in which the police attitude (toward everyone, photographers and protesters alike) became abruptly impatient in a manner that, at best, asks for a liberal interpretation of legal process.

I've never had trouble with the sort of photography described in the linked article--i.e. photographing an industrial building at night. The police are told to suspect photos that lack obvious aesthetic value, so street photographers who go for abstract urban images (among other things) might get more officer attention than they want. Given how little Congressmen know about the Internet ("it's basically a series of tubes"), I'm not sure that all policeman, especially without training, will properly gauge the aesthetic efforts of an isolated photographer. There's also the matter of photographing the police on active duty, which can be a gray area for street photographers. Generally it's legal, though some states have wiretap laws that muddle the issue, especially if you record video that includes live sound.

In any case, to me, street photography etiquette depends on the ambiance and environment:

- If I'm just walking around somewhere in which there are few, if any, cameras, and in which my picture taking will be conspicuous, I am much more circumspect. I circle the scene, take shots distance with longer lenses, and am generally more likely to engage subjects if I want more intimate shots that single out individuals, frame as portraits, etc. This type of photography is perhaps one of the few in which gear can matter.

With a kit lens, you'll be pretty limited as a street photographer. Slow aperture means you'll lose most functionality at night, and the limited telephoto range means you'll need to be in fairly close proximity to your subject. My 85mm f1.8, though, allows me to take great shots from a decent distance (i.e. across the street) and to continue shooting after dark. My 50mm 1.4 is less useful if I want to maintain distance but it still allows me to work in the middle of the night. My Tokina 11-16 f2.8 is harder to use discretely, as you need to be close to the subject in most wide angle street applications-- but the short focal length means you can get away with low shutter speeds, which - when combined with the wide aperture - enables the lens to shoot well after the sun goes down. My Tamron 28-75 f2.8 and (especially) Canon 70-200 f4L are awesome for daytime street photography but too slow in most night uses. If I ever have the resources, I'd like the 135mm f2L, the 24mm f1.4L, and the 35mm f1.4L. Can you get great street shots without this gear? I have to hope so (and I do), since I don't have any of these lenses-- but given the nature of street photography, I think they'd really open up some flexibility for night shooting. Gear lust aside, a good, bright lens and/ or a telephoto lens open up some street flexibility that allows one to circumvent some of the awkwardness between photographer and candid subject.

- If I'm walking around in a touristy area (i.e. Union Square in San Francisco), there will be tons of cameras, so I generally shoot whatever I want. If you get in someone's face and single them out, you'll need to be prepared to engage them-- but if you shoot someone with some remove (i.e. isolating a person against a backdrop), then I think you'll be fine, as long as you don't look so uncomfortable as to draw attention and suspicion. A poster above mentioned emphasizing action over faces. I don't follow this rule, per se-- but I also don't try to shoot people like they're in a portrait, with their attention directed toward me. Consequently, I end up emphasizing dynamics in which the subject's attention is elsewhere. I might still photograph a face-- but it's a face that's not remotely concerned with me. Generally, none of these people notice that they're being photographer-- but if they do, I've just learned to shrug it off and go somewhere else. If you pay attention, you'll normally see another photographer committing the same "offense" within minutes, meaning that your action doesn't really stand out in a meaningful way.

- Public events are incredibly liberating. In San Francisco, for example, you have not only the aforementioned political protests but also Critical Mass biking events, the Fulsome Street Fair, Halloween in the Castro, and a million other public spectacles. At these events, there will be so many cameras and so many people clearly vying for attention that you can basically feel free to shoot as you see fit. At it's best, this can be one of the environments in which the camera becomes an extension of my intentionality, in which I react and adapt with the camera as much as with my physical senses.

Ultimately, though, I look at it like this: One's ability to take pictures in public is a protected right because creative and artistic expression are important liberties. If you're taking a picture that you feel fulfills that kind of expression, then own it. Not everyone values expression the same way (a reality basically codified in the courts by Potter Stewart), but if the moment fits your convictions, exercise your right to express. If you have some suspicion, though, that your action might be more exploitative or invasive than artistic, then trust your gut and back off. I suggest going to some public events in which photography is welcomed, as it will help you to grow a bit bolder about your photographs as worthwhile acts of expression-- but ultimately everyone has to find the middle ground individually.

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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2012, 04:55:29 PM »
Just today I read a website article that street photographers in the USA are being increasingly hassled by police, who have been requested by the Dept of Homeland Security to be vigilant of street photographers for concern that they are terrorists casing a site targeted for attack.  If a cop is nearby and if you are shooting anything that could be construed as a "threat" to national security (which could be very widely and subjectively interpreted), it may be prudent to ask the cop if it is okay to take shots.  This is what I did last weekend in the NYC financial district and the cop was cool with it.  I was taking shots of the NY Fed building.

My only direct interaction with police while taking street photos was last August, when I was waiting for the gas brigades at Crown Casino on the Southbank Promenade in Melbourne to light up.  I was bored waiting, so I struck up a conversation with 2 officers who were on the beat there.  They weren't concerned about the fact that I was taking photos, but commented that I obviously knew what I was doing, because I had a "serious" camera (gripped 5DmkII).  They went on to ask why I was interested in the gas brigades when there were so many pretty girls walking past!

When I was taking photos of the Occupy Melbourne protests, the police were not interested in me, but some of the protesters played to the camera.

I have never had issues with people not enjoying being photographed, but I generally tend to be fairly discreet.  I won't forget one shot I took of a girl buying flowers in Swanston street, who rewarded me with a broad smile when she saw me taking a shot of her.  On the other hand, I am aware of people in Australia, who have had issues with police.  In Australia, you cannot have any expectation of privacy in a public place - it is legal to photograph people on the street.  Melbourne is also such a tourist city - when I walk to the station in the evenings I sometimes play "count the tourists with DSLRs".

The only hassle I have had was being accosted for taking photos without a permit at Yarraville station.... I claimed ignorance and moved on.
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Re: Etiquette of Street Photography
« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2012, 04:55:29 PM »