Street Photography: My Thoughts & Your Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about whether or not I should continue to pursue street photography, and that post ended up being Freshly Pressed. Due to the popularity of the piece, I thought I’d write a round up to include some of your comments and suggestions. This was actually suggested by my new friend Olive… so, thank you for the great idea Olive.
 
Red baloons 
My blogging world was turned upside down, and was forever changed… at least temporarily 🙂 What was initially meant as a rhetorical question, a piece published to the world of my non-existent blogging community, has resulted in hundreds of new followers, thousands of views, and dozens of likes.
 
But most importantly, that post became a gathering place for hundreds of like-minded people to share their thoughts, apprehensions, and experiences with street photography.

I begin with this amazing poetic thought about street photography, shared by Elmer at malate.wordpress.com:

Street photography is actually a challenge. The challenge to test your confidence; the challenge to test your creativity; to capture especially people in their innate moments; to be part of the street (or public places for that matter) while at the same time keeping invisibility; the challenge to capture them face to face without vexing their private moments; the challenge to make something out of nothing. The challenge to APPRECIATE all the things we take for granted along the way.

From Elmer’s comment, I think he knows exactly what street photography is, and what it should be – art that has been created out of nothing, out of candid moments, documenting the things we normally take for granted. 
 
Those of us who choose to practice the art of street photography are documentarians by our very nature. Street photographers share a common curiosity about sociology, about society – how people interact with each other, and how they act on their own. We appreciate fleeting moments, see the minute details that pass most other people by. To make a story out of nothing is an art form, and I learned from many of your comments that the true beauty in street photography is made from candid moments, when an unsuspecting subject becomes the centrepiece of your scene. 
 
From Lynne

It’s those brief moments when people are unaware of the camera that you get the most interesting, comical, beautiful, etc shots..

china town ladies
 
I am a big fan of capturing candid moments, as I’ve written  before, but I also learned from readers of this blog that taking someone’s picture without their knowledge or consent may also not be ok… on a moral level. 
 worker on lunch
 
From Jessica

I very much value my privacy and want to be asked permission before my image is used anywhere. So I have a similar dilemma in regards to taking photos of people I don’t know and using them in my art.

From Leanne

It is a big thing, I think it is because I don’t like being photographed, so I don’t want to do it to other people.

street portrait guy
 
But then there’s a whole different type of street photography, street portraiture. This, I find, is the most difficult of all. On many occasions I have walked past someone who I wanted to stop and ask to take their portrait, but have always shied away from doing. It always angers me after the fact, because the worst that could happen is that they say “no”, and the best that could happen is that you walk away with something beautiful. There are many fantastic examples of this being done, most notably “Humans of New York“, but the key is finding your unique take on the challenge, and perhaps that’s just what’s holding me back at the moment.
 
From Jeremy

I have known street photographers who approach their subjects after they’ve taken the pictures to talk with them, explain what they do and even show them the images.

From Olive

Should you ask permission to take a picture of someone? Also, how do people feel if someone stops them in the street and asks to take a picture? It might start some interesting conversations, but some people might get weirded out.

After all is said and done, I have a renewed sense of purpose in my street photography. Though I haven’t directly asked to take a stranger’s portrait, I have been lucky enough to have been asked by a complete stranger, and the experience was invigorating. I WILL begin asking people, and I WILL share those images here. But I am also documenting my time and place in history. Never again will these moments you see on my blog happen again. The streets may stay the same year after year, but the people, the cars, and the businesses will continuously change. 
 Red dress
 
I can’t thank you enough for showing me what blogging is actually about… community. The friends I’ve made, and the conversations I’ve had as a result of this blog have been invaluable. I truly appreciate the work that each and every one of you do, and I am honoured that you’ve taken an interest in mine.
 
Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, and I would like to know if your opinions of street photography have changed.
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33 comments

  1. There are some really great shots in this post Shane. Most notably, for me, is the one of everyone taking a photograph of “something” else. I love that. I am not comfortable on the city streets so it is not a subject I photograph usually. But, as I said before, I look at people differently now that I have followed your blog. Sometimes I want to take their photograph and other days words just start bubbling up about them. It is an entertaining new perspective.

    1. Hey Carrie,

      Thanks again for the wonderful.comment. you’re always so kind.

      There is definitely an adrenaline rush when shooting on the street because I value my space, and this often forces me to get closer than I normally would.

      Glad you enjoy the posts, you help keep me motivated.

      1. Thanks, happy to inflict kindness on others 🙂 Did you see the post on street photography on the daily post today? Really incredible insight and photographs there. Your red balloons image reminded me of some of his.
        On another note, I didn’t have my camera with me, I was on the way out of the grocery store with two random items I forgot to buy earlier that day. I walked passed the most interesting, probably late 80’s women. She was smiling from her heart out and I couldn’t get home fast enough to write about her. Sometimes a photograph says so much and other times words can stand in their place.

  2. Street photography has always intrigued me but it is something I have never done. It requires a eye for something that will be of interest to yourself and others. It is of subjects that you may never see again or may see often on the streets. It is a type of photography that I find truly amazing for those who have a eye for it. Keep up the good work. I am a portrait photograper and a landscape and nature photographer.

    1. Sonya, thanks for the comment. I have seen your portrait work and I really like it. It’s something I’m starting to dabble in. It’s challenging to say the least, but I enjoy it.

      Yes, it does take a special eye to successfully capture street photography, and I am still working on it. I look for interesting elements, such as the red balloons in the first image. And I love leading lines.

      1. Maybe you, me, and Leanne should swap an image to be edited by each other sometime and do a post on it. We all have similar tastes, but it might be cool to see how we interpret each other’s work. A collaboration! 🙂

    1. Thanks! And yes, I do know that. However, I believe there are some cities that don’t really allow photography in the streets because of historical sites… such as London, England. But I’m unclear about the facts and details.

  3. Thank you for mentioning me! I loved reading through everyone’s thoughts. It’s such an interesting topic! I like the point that the worst case scenario is a “no” and the best is a wonderful picture. I will keep that in mind next time and ask away!

  4. Those are great shots, Shane. I had to go back and read the Freshly Pressed post, because I’ve just recently become aware of your blog through Leanne Cole. OvM, at In Flow, recently wrote a post on photographing people and the fear of engaging them and asking for permission. Here is the link: http://munchow.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/wide-angle-for-people/ I’ve always been reluctant to capture people unaware. It feels invasive. Yet, I’m not sure how you capture the essence of street photography when you seek permission first. What I most enjoy about your images, from what you’ve shown here and in the Freshly Pressed post, is that they are not really focused on the face, which I find intriguing. I don’t think you should ever give this up. I always thought permission had to do with whether or not the image was going to be used commercially, whether or not that person was the subject of that photo or part of a larger shot, whether or not that person was a child, etc. It’s something I should really find out about. Good post. Cheers!

  5. Great follow up piece, and I think you summed it up perfectly in that recording our part of our lives today really is important, because our cities will change, permanently, and what we’re recording now will be history some day!

    1. Hey Jess, great to hear from you once again. I’m loving your blog by the way.

      Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing these images when I’m an old man so I will be able to compare the different eras. I love history, so I think it’ll be a lot of fun for me.

  6. I’m partial to street photography because it is imperative we document the human condition. How utterly boring would the world of photography be if all we saw were architecture, nature and street signs. Now that being said, I never photograph children without express consent of their caregiver. I never spy on anyone, take photos of obviously personal moments nor sell any photos without that persons approval..
    Do news reporters get permission before airing footage of a person they photographed? No..
    Looking forward to seeing where your camera takes you!!

    Viva la Street photography!

    1. Hey Lynne,

      I always love getting your comments.

      I agree, it is important that we document our place in time. People have been doing so since the ancient Egyptian period, and without those of us who take an interest in this type of photography, there would be no past… in a manner of speaking.

      We’ve had a minor setback with a bit of snow today, but the nice weather we’ve had up until today has made the streets come alive again, so I’m looking forward to more shooting over the next few months.

  7. A great follow-up, Shane, and, as you say, it’s interesting to get people’s viewpoints on what could be a sensitive subject. I feel more self-conscious about taking candid shots now that I have started doing street portraits, but I think there is a need, a use, a love, for both styles. The first time you ask someone if you can take their portrait will always be the hardest, but once you have taken the plunge, there will be no looking back! 🙂

  8. Shane, this is a great follow up post!
    So great reading your after thoughts and then the follow up comments too.
    Much to learn.
    I think most of all, I love that we are all on our individual photographic and / or artistic journeys… sharing that journey along the way… with our blogging community and others too.

    Also, I have been pondering for a while about sharing one image, each editing it in our individual styles and sharing the end results! GMTA!!! 😀

    Your images are very magnetic and appealing!

    1. Robyn thanks! And I agree, it’s nice to see everyone’s personal take on the world. Its something that wasn’t possible just a couple of generations ago, and that’s kind of neat in itself.

      Are you talking about sharing images with other people to edit, and posting those results?

      1. About your question… 🙂

        Something I’ve been pondering on for just a bit…
        Sharing one image with everyone (perhaps taking turns with a different image from a different participant each session – no idea how this would be practically done) to see everyone’s edited version…and yes share on their blogs. I think this could be very interesting?? 😉

        Would be tricky to share a big file so it might only be 1000 or so at the widest point???
        Really thinking out loud, but what you and Laura were discussing sounded like this to me…. and fun!!

      2. I’m all for it. I really like editing photos, and was asked to do a couple edits for a friend after he returned from Chicago.

        I love collaborating, and think it would be fun to do. I’m actually talking with a writer about doing a similar collaboration… her words to my images.

        It changes things up and makes them interesting.

      3. Oooh that’s great!! It really is fun 🙂
        I’m taking a bit of a break over Easter… so will be in touch afterwards! ..and we can chat.
        Time to ponder… and scheme…. mwah ha ha 😉

        Collaboration grows creativity and take us in directions we’d never be aware of sometimes.
        I’m glad to hear you’re working with a writer… your images are outstanding Shane.

  9. Great post Shane. I’m heading off to Jerusalem to capture some street photos right now! 🙂 It’s Easter and Pesach (pesach was yesterday), so it’ll be plenty of people and insanity to capture!

  10. Really interesting thoughts on street photography. I love candid shots, they are just so unique and real, and wonderful. I’ve also asked people to take their photo, and surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Actually not bad at all. 🙂 But those shots are so different from the candid ones. Wonderful street photos Shane! My favourite is also the one with balloons. 🙂

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