Street Photography – A Cautionary Tale

Street Photography – A Cautionary Tale

Has this ever happened to you?

Street Photography is fun. Capturing random bits of life happening is always exciting and it is often fun and rather evocative to look back on your photos afterward. Sharing photos with friends, on your blog or your favorite photo sharing site (like Smugmug, Flickr, or Google+) can solicit great feedback and excitement. You can share a part of the world and a moment in time that few others noticed. So what could go wrong? If you’re not careful about your subject, a lot. And I’m not talking about using the wrong focal length or aperture.

One thing I’ve learned from professional photographers about street photography isn’t something that’s often talked about in blogs: Candid photography of individuals is often frowned upon in many cultures and by many people. In this case ‘candid’ photography is photographing a subject without their knowledge or consent. When photographing your subject if you can see their face they can see what you’re doing, too. A very famous incident of this happened recently, former Sirius XM talk show host and amateur photographer Anthony Cumia. Anthony was doing night photography in Times Square. A woman saw him, saw the camera pointing her way, and did not like that. You can read the details here (language warning):

Anthony Cumia Gets Attacked… then Fired.

Now, it’s unclear if he actually took her photo, and his response to her actions were such that he lost his job over it (you can read the details at the above link), but regardless it was an unfortunate consequence of the simple fact that people often don’t want to be photographed. I’ve had similar problems when I’ve done street photography.  One time my camera wasn’t even pointing at the individual who became very upset that I might be photographing them. I would suggest the following you do your street photography:


Be Polite and start with a ‘Hello’!

This should go without saying but if you’re doing street photography and you want to include someone in your photograph (perhaps you think they make a fascinating subject). Walk up, smile say ‘hello’ and introduce yourself.

Ask Permission

After you introduce yourself ask the if you can include them in your photograph! They don’t speak english? NO problem, just point at your camera and point at the person. They’ll know what you mean, and if they say agree will probably love to be part of the subject. Have a notebook with you with your email address written at the top of the page, point to the email address, and ask them after you take the pic if you could send it to them. Again, they’ll understand and I’ve found they’re more than happy to write their email address down to get a copy and share with their friends, on Facebook, etc.

Take ‘No’ for an answer

Ok again.. this should go without saying, but if they don’t want to be in the photo just move on. They’ll eventually move on, and you can still get your street photo.

Another tip for street photography – if they are turned away from you, you can probably safely take a photo without fear of reprisal. Most instances the back of someone’s head looks like the back of some other person’s head and you’ll be fine. But take my above advice and you should be good to go. Now go and have some fun!

A Day at the Bay

ISO 100, 70mm, f/4.5, Sony A77II with the SAL70300G


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