How to approach people on the street to shoot them - etiquette & payment.

Discussion in 'Journalism and Documentary' started by tendim, May 15, 2011.

  1. tendim

    tendim Member

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    One type of photography that I enjoy viewing the most is documentary / street. However, it is also the one that scares me the most to go out and shoot. This year, I'd like to try and change that.

    How do people go about approaching those on the street to take pictures of? I'm thinking along the lines of buskers, street musicians, homeless, etc. I'm assuming that for street performers you would give a nominal donation to their bucket - but what is enough to justify hanging around and taking pictures? Does paying a performer imply the right to take pictures of them? How do you approach the homeless?

    Thanks for any input folks can give. I'm a naturally shy person so this is a rather difficult subject for me, and most work I have done was in the studio, or with a group that actually hired me to come out with them to shoot.

    Thanks.
    -10d
     
  2. tomalophicon

    tomalophicon Member

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    I'll be doing this with a series or project I'm attempting to tackle over the next couple of years.

    My plan is to give people an explanation as to why I'm interested in taking their photo.
    I'd explain the project, the reason for the project, where they can get access to see the project once finished, and ask them whether or not they would like a print.

    I think if people know why you want to photograph them they will be happy to participate.

    Tom.
     
  3. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Every stranger-on-the-street will have his or her idea of how to respond to your idea. One person may ask for payment, acknowledgement of their time and effort, their real name or a nom-de-plume and even a print. Others, particularly students, can be gregariously accommodating (sometimes too much so!). Choose subjects carefully.

    I have photographed a few people recently, including a part-time model who played the role of a Goth in a graveyard for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. I met her just by pulling her up on the street; turns out she is also a photographer and we bounced a few ideas around (this mutual collaboration is valuable if you find somebody to photograph and the result is quite successful). Post-shoot, Lady Sarah was given small machine print of each of the seven shots, and requested nothing more.

    Maybe carry with you a small album of works you have completed relating to photographing people. I think in this modern, technology-driven and socially-aware age most people will agree to a photo if you explain it to them. Having an engaging and enthusiastic personality will definitely help, as will knowing how to back off from those who simply "are not amused" by your angle, however well-meaning.
     
  4. Luseboy

    Luseboy Member

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    The reality is that taking pictures of people on the street is not illegal in any way. I think most people will be ok with it if you are using film. Most people in this age don't think something is real if they can't see it on a computer, so if it's a film camera, they will probably be ok with it. I'm also a shy person, but i'm not into documentary/street photography much, so i don't do it. But if i did, i would use a long lens from across the street or something, especially in a bad neighborhood. My dad is an old news photographer, so he is very good at approaching people and taking their picture. Typically he just takes the photo then walks up to them and tells them whats up, it usually works for him. If you can use a really cool old camera (a RF or TLR) then people will be further un-suspect of anything.
    -Austin
     
  5. munz6869

    munz6869 Subscriber

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    Unless you're in France!!

    I agree with the above posts - unless you're taking photos of folks who don't know you're there, like Walker Evans' subway series, then friendly, honest communication is the key!

    Marc!
     
  6. rpsawin

    rpsawin Subscriber

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    Rephrasing your question from "May I shoot you?" to "May I take your picture?" will help in many circumstances. I base this on a personal, unpleasant experience between me and several Seattle Bicycle cops.

    Best regards,

    Bob
     
  7. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    It all depends on so many things, and I don't think the answer lies in the Internet. I say just get started. The practice and experience will lead you down the right path, eventually.
     
  8. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I was a street magician when I was at college in Boston. I hung out with several other guys. Buskers can be a skittish lot when it comes to photos.

    Most guys don't care much about the casual snap shot. Your average tourist shoots photos of everything they see. As a street performer, you have to expect that. However, every guy has his own opinions on having his picture taken.

    There was one guy who I only knew as "Sam" who would only let you take photos if you gave money. However, if you paid him, he would pose for you. Another guy named Peter Sosna didn't care one way or another so long as you didn't interrupt the show. There was a guy named Sonny Holland who was an old time card man who could do the best split fans and back-and-front palming I have ever seen. Sonny was a recovering alcoholic, the kind who is always "in recovery" and he could get temperamental. If you just did a run-and-gun shot he would scowl at you. If you took several pictures he would stop what he was doing and just stand there until you were done. He did not like video cameras at all and he turned into a real bastard. He sometimes hollered at people with video cameras.

    My advice agrees with the above. Tip the guy and you probably can't go wrong. As a busker, I'd say tip a little above average, at least. Watch and see what others are putting in the hat. If they are tipping with change, put in a bill. If they are putting in singles, tip with a fiver. If you cough up a ten-spot, the guy will probably let you hang around and shoot for a while.

    As with any performer, most guys would probably jump at the chance for some good publicity photos. Exchange business cards with him and offer him free copies in return for permission to publish.

    That one guy, Peter Sosna, would probably love to have some really good photos for his website: http://www.petersosna.com/
     
  9. maliha

    maliha Member

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    I have this problem myself. I love doing street shoots, not necessarily as part of any project, but I just like to shoot whenever I think something looks interesting or pretty/cool etc.

    I am shy to approach, and the few times I tried to, I got negative responses more than positive... which has made me even more skeptical about approaching random people in the street. There was a time when I was trying to shoot random shoppers in a flea market, and the girl I was with told me it was creepy (even though I wasn't taking her pictures... just watching me shoot made her uncomfortable)...

    I wish there was an easy answer to it... I may look like a creepo or a stalker at times, but I guess you just have to accept that about yourself when shooting random street shots, and just be bold about it.
     
  10. jordanstarr

    jordanstarr Member

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    Good advice.

    I may be a little help here. As a guy who works at a homeless shelters for years and just finished a small documentary on subway buskers in New York City, I work with and are friends with the people you want to shoot. It's a mixed bag out there if you're shooting people. Some will yell at you, some don't give a flying f$#%. You have to be prepared to deal with everything, but keep in mind, you're not doing anything wrong. When someone enters the public sphere and performs an action within it, they give up their rights to privacy -it's as simple as that. A street musician has to expect photos especially if they're performing. But, it would be a nice gesture to offer a photograph in return or money. My approach was emailing them my vision of my documentary and letting them respond, then we call, talk and they get a ton of free photos and I get a ton of free shots. As a result, I've built amazing relationships with some of them and we're even friends who go out to dinner, hang out and I even walk one of the busker's dogs part-time.

    As for the homeless, they're a group that has been poked and prodded by researchers, photographers and documentary film makers for years, not to mention the police. Many want to be left alone. Some don't care. Some I wouldn't approach with a camera at all. You really have to use your best judgement and be genuine, honest and assertive. Many homeless have mental health and drug issues that you probably don't have the skills to deal with if they freak out. That being said, I've had plenty of homeless people come up to me and say "hey, wanna take a picture of a homeless person?" and I just snap a couple off, thank them and wish them luck. You could offer money for some photographs, but that doesn't help them feel any better about themselves -it's just like paying someone to scrub your toilet -they get the money and it's all they feel good about. I saw a really sensitive and genuine body of work on homeless people where the photographer brought them into the studio and treated them like models, got to know them a little and really brought out the beauty in them. I wish I knew who it was.

    I think the bottom line is that you can take photos of anything, but if the person says, "please don't", then don't. It's just a matter of respect. However, you should have a discussion with them and just let them know you didn't mean any harm. A lot of people think that because you take their photograph, you're taking something AWAY from them, when in fact, you're giving something to them -a perspective and vision that may be good or bad. But you're recording an image that is true of something that actually happened -the camera doesn't lie. Just be confident in what you're doing, get out there and just shoot and see what happens. I've never heard of a photographer getting beat up that wasn't a paparazzi and certainly none that have been killed by the person they were taking pictures of (unless it was a war). So, I think the odds are on your side for safety. I've been yelled at a couple of times, but I either engage with them and let them know where I'm coming from or if they are completely belligerent, I just walk away.

    If you want to see an extreme example, look up some videos of Bruce Gilden. I would not recommend that approach to start out with, but he really knows how to work a crowd and get away with a lot of the shots he takes. I like his older stuff when he was less intrusive or his newer stuff that has nothing to do with people. But it's interesting to watch and see people react. It's a social psychology class at work there.
     
  11. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    It really helps if you have a way to show that you are both respectful and serious.

    It is hard when you are just starting, but once you have a few good results, you can put them into a "proof" book and show them to new people, who are then more likely to consider seriously your request.

    It probably helps to have a working title. A business card too.

    If you are shooting for a news publication, you can rely on a press pass.
     
  12. lensworker

    lensworker Member

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    I don't ask permission - I just make my photographs.

    I've made thousands of street photos and have never been badgered or threatened physically. I have had questions or discussions with subjects about why I photographed them. When people ask questions, I explain what I'm doing and show them some street photography prints which I always have in my camera bag. This shows them I'm a "real photographer" and I'm not doing anything wierd or unethical.

    I've hardly ever been "caught" but it does happen. When I get "caught," it's because I have gotten careless or had a lapse of concentration. I view getting "caught" as a shortcoming or a failure on my part.

    In some situations, I will ask parents if it's okay to photograph their children - sometimes I just make the photos. It all depends on the location, situation, circumstances and demeanor of the parents and the children. With time, you seem to develop a sixth sense about this.

    I photograph in such a manner that people rarely realize I'm photographing them. I use a 28mm lens on a 35mm rangefinder, so I have to get close - anywhere from arm's length to eight or ten feet, depending on how much background I want and how much of the frame I want the subjects to fill. With one or two people, I want them to fill 1/3 to 1/2 of the frame so I have to get pretty close with a 28mm lens.

    How do you get to within three or four feet of your subject and not get "caught"? You get your subject to ignore you.

    It's all in the way you physically approach your subject. You approach slowly and discreetly. You look around, at anything but your subject. You "dance" to fine tune your composition - subject sees you, look at camera and pretend to fiddle with it, sujbject looks away, a foot closer, six inches to the left, look away, look thru your viewfinder at something else, six inches closer, your subject is distracted and not looking at you and *click* you have your image. Look away, wind film, reframe, *click*. Six inches to the right, *click*. Lean in six inches, *click*.

    Using ISO 400 film at 1/60 and f/11 (in open shade) makes this possible; you don't have to focus and you have depth of field from 3.5 ft. to 12 ft. or 4 ft. to infinity with a 28mm lens. In direct sunlight, you can shoot at sunny 16 with ISO 400 film (1/500 @ f/16) and have depth of field from 3 ft. to infinity.

    Henri Cartier-Bresson did this "Leica dance" when he did street photography. It worked then and it still works today.

    HCB also said something to the effect that street photography was a game of millimeters - and it is.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 16, 2011
  13. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    Gee, you must have a lot of disposable income if you're thinking you just pay whoever you think you might photograph on the street.

    Just do it. Do it respectfully, the advice given above by lensworker is close to my experience. Sometimes I say and ask outright, other times I do it discreetly. At any time, I'm not out to 'cheat' someone or pull a fast one.
    I'm in the midst of getting a business card printed up for my upcoming website and the street photography blog I've started (reservedatalltimes.com) so if anyone asks or challenges me, I can just hand out a card with the website and explain it calmly...honestly, it's never been an issue.

    Stop worrying, start shooting. Experience is your best teacher.
     
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  15. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I do a lot of street shooting, and as far as I'm concerned as soon as my subject/subjects notice me and start reacting/posing I've blown it because It's no longer candid photography but portraiture, I know many members will disagree but that's how I feel about it
     
  16. lensworker

    lensworker Member

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    I feel pretty much the same way.

    I used to ask if it was okay to photograph people and they would say yes probably 95% of the time. In a group, someone would always stare at the camera. I'd say "just do what you were doing - pretend I'm not here." After a little while, they would relax, ignore me and go back to acting naturally; that is when I would make my photos.

    That's not the purist approach, but sometimes you need to do that - groups of women or moms with children are usually not to receptive to being photographed without asking and letting them know why you want to photograph them beforehand, depending on the location and circumstances.
     
  17. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    Same here, that's why I don't do street photoghraphy.

    Jeff
     
  18. rolleiman

    rolleiman Member

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    The whole point of photojournalism is to be discreet and "invisible" in your picture taking. Once you approach people "for permission" and start offering payment, then you've blown it.
     
  19. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    Right on man, once you start paying them it turns you into a tourist :D.
     
  20. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    I recently saw a youtube video of an interview with, I think, Winogrand that showed clips of him shooting on the streets of LA. He was doing the dance that Lensworker describes and I remember thinking how most of his subjects seemed a bit disturbed as he approached, because he looked so jangly doing his dance. They seemed even more perturbed immediately after he triggered his shutter, as they weren't 100% sure but thought he had just taken a picture of them. Now this may have been aggravated by the video camera presence for the interview. In any case, I think the slight pre-exposure unsettling may have actually made some of his shots more interesting. Personally, I can't see myself doing it. I'll see if I can post the link later. Best of luck to you.
     
  21. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Many of my favorite Winogrand photos involve the subject realizing they are being photographed.

     
  22. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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  23. rolleiman

    rolleiman Member

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    I've looked at the You Tube pictures referred to, and unless I'm missing something, I fail to see anything in these "street pictures". Certainly if you look at the Henri Cartier-Bresson pictures on the same site, they are a world away in terms of style and quality.

    Perhaps the problem is there just is not that much "street life" anymore. In our consumer orientated society, the streets have become "sanitised"...the "characters" long since departed. People exist in their "telly dominated" world of soap operas and stupid quiz shows. When they do venture out, it's straight into the BMW parked on the driveway.....

    I believe it's called progress.....
     
  24. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    Sorry you don't like Winogrand, Rolleiman. A lot of people do. Personally, I find his work interesting, but I'm not crazy about it. Then again, I'm a landscape junkie.

    As for the characters having departed, I don't buy it. On my way to work this morning I saw a fight break out between a lady with three purses and a beverage delivery man on his route. Each was quite a character and the two together made quite a scene. A few minutes later, I saw a fellow swaggering down the street with an "eightball" trenchcoat right out of Shaft. The characters are still there, we just have to see them.

    Your comments on the plight of progress resonate with me, but I think it's the artists' challenge to rise above that plight. While much great art highlights the out-of-the-ordinary, the greatest art often simply casts a unique light on the decidely mundane.

    Leo
     
  25. rolleiman

    rolleiman Member

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    I take your point. however, re. the fight that broke out.....is this not an oddball "incident" rather than part of the flow of everyday life?........I'm thinking of a couple of Cartier-Bresson's pics. here.....for instance, the well known picture of the young lad wistfully walking along the street; a bottle of wine clutched under each arm...would you see this scene today?.......more likely he'd be in parent's car as it backed into the car park of his local Majestic Wine Warehouse...........
    Take another example of Cartier-Bresson's work...the family group having a picnic along the backs of the River Arne. .....the senior male of the group, somewhat overweight, his trousers held up by braces...knotted handkerchiefs around heads.....a slight air of comedy about the whole scene........Imagine a similar group today......the male would be wearing designer wear T-shirt and shorts....the females would probably be clad in bikinis, with designer wear sunglasses........would you even bother to take a picture??!!!

    I do agree with your comment re. the artist rising above the ordinary to make something extra-ordinary out of things....and in cities like London, in market places and pedestrianised streets, perhaps it's still possible to grab some images of interesting street life.......but i'm inclined to think there was a lot more of it about in Cartier-Bresson's day!
     
  26. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    1. I love the Majestic Wine Warehouse.
    2. I'm with you that HCB had the benefit of more wistful times, but I still think the genre is what you make of it.
    3. Bearing #2 in mind, I feel compelled to sing:

    "Boy the way Glen Miller played
    Songs that made the hit parade.
    Guys like us we had it made,
    Those were the days.
    And you knew who you were then,
    Girls were girls and men were men,
    Mister we could use a man
    Like Herbert Hoover again.
    Didn't need no welfare state,
    Everybody pulled his weight.
    Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
    Those were the days."

    :wink: