View Full Version : A question about Street Photography

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10-13-2008, 11:29 PM
I wanted to know how some of you feel when you go about doing street photography. Do you ever feel nervous, or miss out of placed?

I've been wanting to go around my own city to start capturing somethings I've always held interesting, but I feel quite nervous about it being I'm not used to carrying around my film cameras, also I've never been the kind of person whose felt comfortable with shooting portraits either. I always feel awkward, or a pester to the other person.

I guess I feel this way because society makes it seem as if you always have to carry around this huge dSLR to be considered important, or everyone always expects a photographer to have a very expensive Canon, or Nikon of some sort and this makes me feel miss out of placed.

Anyway, this is just my personal views and feelings that I'm hoping I'm able to over come once I get used to street photography, but I wanted to know how some other users here at APUG feel when their out shooting street photography using a film camera.

10-13-2008, 11:36 PM
Hi Alisha,

I don't ever think anyone ever even has a clue what another homo sapien "thinks" of them. What they think, and what you think they think, is usually wrong, and it really doesn't matter. Get over other people, then get over stuff, and then get over yourself. Do your thing. HCB didn't have a dSLR, either, or Weegee, or any of the other person's who's prints sell for many times what the best dSLR costs.

PS. I don't mean "Get over yourself!!!" I mean "Get over yourself as in get over things that hold you back. There are enough challenges without letting yourself get in your own way. I had to get pretty old to figure that out.

10-14-2008, 01:33 AM
I agree with JBrunner (and every other person who likes to wander with a camera!). The fact is that you will never get these pictures unless you leave your house and take them. The only way to get over that fear is to get out there and shoot. I suggest going out to get pictures of things that will not even notice that you exist, like buildings or politicians. From there do what feels right. Good Luck and happy shooting!

PS: I did not believe people either when they told me that shooting would feel 'right' in any context

Shawn Rahman
10-14-2008, 02:04 AM
I agree with the two previous responses - a big part of it is getting over your self-consciousness. Please rest assured that everyone who engages in street photography feels this to some degree. The trick is to find creative ways to get over it. If you study about Cartier Bresson, you'll find that he was a great advocate of the "shoot and run" approach to street photography.

I particularly agree with spotulate's response. You may find it easier to shooting in places where you will not look so odd with a camera. As you are in Cali, I'd suggest a popular museum or beach/boardwalk setting. I got over a lot of my anxiety shooting in public by shooting at the Getty Center and at places like the Santa Monica pier and Venice Beach.

Good luck.

jd callow
10-14-2008, 02:22 AM
I get uncomfortable at times, but mostly I blot it out and just look for things to shoot.

10-14-2008, 03:02 AM
It's easy enough for someone to say get over it. Fact is it's not easy for everyone. I find that the first 2 photos are the hardest. Once you take them the rest of the frames shoot themselves.

10-14-2008, 09:18 AM
It's easy enough for someone to say get over it. Fact is it's not easy for everyone. I find that the first 2 photos are the hardest. Once you take them the rest of the frames shoot themselves.

Of course it's easy to say. The act of will comes from the individual.

Any person who has ever endeavored has met with skepticism or even derision. Self doubt is the first impediment, before you can even begin to enjoy the hubris of others.

You either spine up or you don't. If it takes two, or ten, or a hundred, nothing changes except when the act of will comes into being. It doesn't just apply to street photography, but to everything.

For me, it's every morning when my feet hit the floor. I decided that. It just didn't happen. YMMV.

(BTW, I dig the dollar portraits)

Claire Senft
10-14-2008, 09:40 AM
I live in a city. I believe it is worthwhile to shoot what you. It certainly saves time and gasoline. Almost all my photography is done with a Contax RTSIII mounted on a Majestic tripod with a large geared head. I carry a bag with nine lenses. The sum total of all this means that I am lugging the weight equivalent of a large format setup. I make very few photos of strangers and only a minimal number of people that I know. I photograph scenes. Not having any people in the scene makes problems with releases much smaller. I have an idea that one can tell alot obout the people who live or have in an area by what they have constructed and done to the natural enviroment. I do not set foot upon private property without permission.

I am by nature shy. Taking photos and concentrating on my photography means that I am hardly aware of the existence of others when I am so engaged. I am also quite deaf. This has its good side in that if others wish to engage me in conversation I can with honesty tell them that my deafness makes such activity unwise.

10-14-2008, 05:15 PM
Lugging around a kit like that would probably make me feel self-concious, too! I usually street with a 50mm f/1.8 or equiv, sometimes a 28-105 if there's good light. I imagine our goals are different, though. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to lighten up your kit. I don't believe I've ever come back from shooting thinking, "I wish I had my 70-300 and floodlights with me!"

Frank Hoerauf
10-14-2008, 05:29 PM
alisha, you need to get out and start shooting tomorrow. all your aprehensions you have will be gone with your first roll of film, i guarentee it!! you will find over time that your camera is empowering

10-14-2008, 07:40 PM
Thank guys for the response. After I posted this thread I kind of laughed at myself for being so nervous, but after reading your responses makes me feel a lot more comfortable with going out and shooting. I think I'm just getting the jitters of starting something I'm not familiar with. I just have to get over that and focus on what I want to do and enjoy myself while I'm doing it. :)

By the way, would anyone want to suggest some of their favorite street photographers? I thought it'd be a good idea to get a look on what others have done before I start mine.

Shawn Rahman
10-14-2008, 07:59 PM
Alisha - you'll get a ton of responses with widely varied photographers. Here's what I would suggest as a start (no particular order of importance, though I will list in order of personal favorites):

1) Henri Cartier Bresson (the one and only)

2) Brassai (no one else ever made night photographs like him)

3) Eugene Atget (no people in his street photographs; he used large format w/ time exposures. But they are sublime!)

4) Elliott Erwitt

5) Garry Winogrand (had an interesting philosophy about street photography. Shoot everything, whether or not there is anything worthwhile photographing (you can decide later); and get in people's faces, whether it pissed them off or not).

These are all B&W photographers. To my taste, street is more compelling in B&W, but that is only a personal preference.

10-14-2008, 09:09 PM
You might want to look at it as if your just going out to shoot some city landscapes and people may or may not be in them. I've shot every camera from a Minox to a 4x5 on the street and find that no matter what or where I shoot everyone notices me; Probably the red hair. Then again some people can just blend in and you won't hardly notice them at all. I've found it best to always present a cheerful demeanor when approached ( or sneered at) which usually disarms anyone who might have a bad attitude and take no offense at what you might hear, usually from security guards who don't know your rights. All in all it's just part of the trade. Try shooting at events to start with where many people will have cameras and go from there. If your shooting some camera thats older and metal you'll probably have someone approach you and tell you that they use to own one. Great conversations can ensue and ask them to pose. Here's where an online site (could be something like a image hosting site) for a promised image and a card goes a long way to beginning to establish a clientele if your interested. Of course your photography must be good, but thats why you get out and shoot.

Colin Corneau
10-14-2008, 09:16 PM
People noticing you can be a good gateway into a terrific conversation and/or photo. When I first started shooting at a newspaper, it was hard to approach people cold, but a lot easier quicker than I thought...mostly because I've grown to realize photographing someone is like having a conversation with them. I've always held that, anyway.

How you handle a situation is what really determines it - you're not doing anything wrong by photographing (homeland security lunacy, be damned) and I've found that simply being honest, and putting forward your belief and passion for what you do always wins people over.

10-14-2008, 09:32 PM
What has been written all makes sense; and can apply to just about every photographer, in whole or in part. I found the self-consciousness was submerged by a genuine desire to show every person I photograph in a manner which captures what I feel to be the essential goodness and decency of every member of the human species, when given a chance, and unless they prove themselves otherwise. My zwei Groschen.

10-14-2008, 09:36 PM
Whilst I fully encourage anyone to try street photography...it is really rewarding...might I voice a word of caution. After a while it is likely that someone will notice your efforts and get angry.

Even completely innocent shots can provoke explosive (and unreasonable!) reactions, and this discourages me from taking street images for days. I get back into it by seeking out street situations where photos are expected: Buskers, promotional events, demonstrators.

10-14-2008, 10:16 PM
I use either a slr with a noisy motor drive, the most conspicuous lens I can carry and a monopod, or the little Zeiss ZM rangefinder with a 35mm lens and a 90mm in the pocket.

It all depends on what I'm after:

If I'm out taking deliberate photos of some event or to get a specific result, it's the slr.

If just casually walking around at lunchbreak to see what others are doing, the rangefinder.

Mostly I take photos of either parks and folks relaxing in them, old buildings and their relationships to each other and the environment around them, or pure people street scenes.

So far only had one instance of anyone putting up a hand and saying: "no photos, please". Which was promptly and courteously acknowledged, accepted and followed.

I've had a railway station security officer ask me rudely "what I thought I was doing". That ended up in a formal written complaint to the railway authority and a written apology sent back to me as the result. Haven't had a problem in railway stations since.

I get the odd "filthy look" from folks who obviously can't think. Those I just ignore and that's the end of it.

Sometimes I get weird looks in the beach when carrying a camera. I only have the camera when my kids or my wife are around, so I just take a photo of my own family and that ceases the "another weirdo" look straight away.

Oh, and there is a local coffee shop owner who always likes to pick my F2 or whatever other film camera I'm taking and play with it: ex photographer, he loves anything non-digital. ;)

10-14-2008, 10:50 PM
I wanted to know how some of you feel when you go about doing street photography. Do you ever feel nervous, or miss out of placed?

I've been wanting to go around my own city to start capturing somethings I've always held interesting, but I feel quite nervous about it being I'm not used to carrying around my film cameras, also I've never been the kind of person whose felt comfortable with shooting portraits either. I always feel awkward, or a pester to the other person.

Let me suggest a very simple exercise. Start off with a looong focal length, say 200mm or even 300mm. Just find yourself a comfortable bench or cafe table and pick out some interesting scenes from afar. Next go to a 150, then to ~100mm, etc. Work with primes because they force you to use your feet and move strategically through the scene.

I had some students who were petrified to approach people. We did longs and then shorter focal lengths.

10-14-2008, 11:08 PM
One thing I have noticed in my limited street shooting, just not much time to do it, is that it takes me a while to get over my shyness and to feel comfortable handling the camera in a new situation. These days, however, people are generally much more used to having cameras pointed at them and pretty much everything being recorded all the time. so, now, I feel people are less concerned about being photographed while in a public situation, so this may help some of us get over that initial shyness.

I also find, that when I am out, even in SFO, while visiting my daughter, people wanted to pose, and when handled in a frinedly manner it can be fun to meet people. I shoot with a Bessa R RF, and that is usually enough that people ask about it.

And, with the desire th have everything preset, I feel much more comfortable with my camera every time I get finished.

10-15-2008, 06:32 PM
@ Shawn Rahman: Thanks for the insites. I haven't had time to thoroughly look into each photographers, but I will do so once I'm able to buy more time. ;)

Some of your guy's tips I never even thought of, like using a longer focal length lens.

Luckily, I was able to go around with a couple of my friends today and shoot around the school and apartment complexes. It was a lot of fun and being with them definitely eased my anxiety and I'm quite edger to go out and start shooting by myself. Even if I were to run into trouble, or a person who's having a bad day, it's not like it's going to be like that every time I step out of the door with a camera.