View Full Version : Street photography without pissing people off?

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09-09-2010, 04:03 AM
Using a TLR with a waist level finder is often perceived as less threatening than using a camera at eye level.
They are more likely to ignore you than if you are carrying 2kg of SLR.
In my experience old and "funny" looking cameras will make people more relaxed around you.

09-09-2010, 04:49 AM
Search YouTube for street shots Bruce Gilden.

Oh, this is great :)! thanks for sharing this.

09-09-2010, 05:00 AM
A TLR with a WLF, any rangefinder like the canonet QL17 GIII or try an Exakta with a WLF. I use all of these and have been successful at getting great candid street shots because most of the time people don't even notice when I am looking down into a WLF. They probably don't even recognize them as cameras. Most rangefinders are very quiet and unobtrusive enough that you can take a shot and people don't even realize it. Anytime people have confronted me about taking pictures of them, I tell them that I am taking random shots of the area and that they just happened to ruin my shot by walking into the frame.

09-09-2010, 05:22 AM
To keep it brief:
I love WLF for shooting the streets - I'm sure this has been brought up by someone else by now but if not it's a great option.

Wide angle lenses are nice - usually you can look at something in the distance as if you're lining up a shot of that with a telephoto and then snap away - I've done this a lot over here in China.

Another thing I've done is to wait on a busy street lining up a shot of a building and waiting for the right person or group of people moving in an interesting way in front of it as they pass by. Most people wont notice - again a wide angle lens is nice here - you can shoot the building and some fascinating characters in front of it.

When you say 'stick a camera in camera in someone's face...' I hope you don't mean that literally - if you want the candid street photo look then this will never work. That being said you can certainly take photos of people if you don't mind talking to them...but it really depends on your intentions here. Most people don't mind if an interesting person finds them interesting as well and asks to take a photo...this is my experience anyhow.

For the 'people of the street' (ie the homeless) it's a good idea to talk to them first, during, and after. I did a project on 'bums' in highschool and it was a great challenge at first but became very comfortable. I traveled to different cities around Canada around that time and hung out and photographed a number of the street folk - I usually offered them a cigarette and we were able to shoot the breeze and enjoy the process together. I definitely recommend it, and the next time you see them I'm sure they'll give you a warm smile and wave. I was later able to track some of them down and give them some finished prints - this made them VERY happy and I got a couple of good hugs and handshakes out of it.

So you can be discrete and shoot without people knowing or try to be slightly obnoxious in your outgoing attitude and see what happens - chances are the more outgoing you are the more attention you will attract from other outgoing people - try to get people to notice you - if people stare for more than a couple of seconds it's a good way entry for you to ask them if you can shoot them.

That's my 2.

09-09-2010, 05:23 AM
It's awesome.

The related Bruce Gilden videos are good too...

09-09-2010, 05:45 AM
after not reading any of the posts, my answer is to bring a person and PRETEND to shoot them... just shoot right past them and nobody will be the wiser

09-09-2010, 06:38 AM
I don't do much street shooting but when I feel like it I usually grab my TLR. People response positively to a TLR. Some people even ask me to photograph them (youngsters or winos mainly). I just wish I had a 135 film adapter.

09-09-2010, 07:15 AM
I have been photographing people on the street for years. My experience is that generally they are unaware that I am doing so and extremely rarely do I get a negative response. You need to know your equipment inside out and be able to use it instinctively, rapidly and smoothly - I use an RF, generally with a 35mm lens, but sometimes a 28 or 21, focused to either 2 or 3m, and work quickly Body language is important, you have to feel positive, respect your subjects and smile if you get eye contact. Practice helps! Have a look at the photos on my web site.



09-09-2010, 07:32 AM
I did a lot of street photography in NYC a long time ago. The place is so busy... even pictures I would stop and compose for (often it was people lined up to get on a bus for some reason) they wouldn't really notice me. Sometimes, I had the camera around my neck, and would keep it there, having it set for the light, and focus at infinity, and just release the shutter. I wouldn't necessarily know what I got, but I have a few great pictures made that way. Also, in winter, when the light is low, walk the streets so that the sun is behind you, but in the eyes of people walking toward you. They'll have a hard time seeing that you even have a camera.

I think the best way to avoid pissing people off, is to work as a kind of "fly on the wall" so that you aren't really noticeable. And if someone does see you... question you, tell them honestly what you are doing. It can be done if far less intrusive ways than Bruce Gilden.

09-09-2010, 12:05 PM
First, don't shoot homeless people. It's cheap and hardly ever makes for good street photography.
Second, a small camera with a single lens is crucial. Obviously most street shooters use a rangefinder for this reason.
Third, no telephotos. This will only cause you grief. The lens is big and intimidating. People think you're stalking them because you're pointing a giant lens in their direction from across the street. It makes people uncomfortable.
Third, make yourself invisible. This means small movements that are deliberate. Running around snapping at everything draws attention. Don't fiddle too much with your gear.
And last, be humble and empathetic. Smile when someone notices you've taken their photo. Don't try to hide the fact or turn around in shame. Make eye contact, give small smile ;) as to say "it's all OK, thank you for sharing a moment of your life with me that I'll keep as a photograph" and then move on to your next subject. I've never had anyone get in my face screaming and yelling. Occassionally, I'll get a head nod or a smile in return.

09-09-2010, 12:28 PM
That's part of the gig sometimes. I can honestly say that I certainly received more negative feedback when I have attempted street shooting, in the past, with a big SLR or DSLR (and forget about MF obviously). I now exclusively use my M3 and an old Summicron. I rarely get noticed and, when I do, 99% of the times is a smile (maybe it's because I'm so handsome...just kidding).
Two weeks ago I was in NYC shooting some Kodachrome 25 and noticed this pretty young lady, with a beautiful flowery yellow dress and a feather in her hair. She looked like straight out of the late '60s. I was using a 50mm and get as close as possible, snapped a couple, then she turned around, smiled, I smiled back, and let me snap two more. Another guy who noticed that, tried to get a shot with a Canon DSLR fitted with one of those cannons...he got the finger as soon as he lifted the camera to his eye. I don't think he got a shot off.

09-09-2010, 12:42 PM
First, don't shoot homeless people. It's cheap and hardly ever makes for good street photography.

The exceptions, IMHO, are mainly cases of portraiture, like Bill Jay's "Men Like Me". It's the difference between "shooting HOMELESS people" and "shooting homeless PEOPLE".

Personally, I don't seem to have the right body language for street shooting; people invariably notice me, and while they don't get confrontational they usually turn away. I've basically given up trying, except for the occasional "environmental portrait" type of shot.

ISTR that in a previous thread on this, someone mentioned using a TLR, putting a bit of black tubing on the focus knob, and facing as if *that* were the lens, so people thought they were shooting 90 degrees off from where they were. It's a clever idea.

Finally, I'd like to note that the search page truncated the title of this thread to "Street photography without pissing", and my immediate reaction was "well, I've never had *that* problem!"


09-09-2010, 12:54 PM
I haven't done much street photography, in spite of being very interested in the genre. I've tried the telephoto lens thing and I don't like it, it makes me feel like a paparazzi which I definitely am not.

The best shots I have made in this style were done with either a Nikon FG and a 50mm f/1.8 Series E or 35mm f/2.8, a Yashica 635 TLR, or an Olympus Stylus Epic. Nobody seemed to find these cameras objectionable. I've even had a few people look right at me and smile! Especially with the Olympus, nobody paid any attention to that camera. I preset my exposure and focus, and just take the photo.

Sometimes I ask permission, and if I don't get it I just keep walking. The only time I had a problem on the street I WASN'T actually taking the "gentleman's" picture.

09-09-2010, 01:27 PM
When I was a lot younger, I worked as a photographer for a University newspaper that published three times a week. I shot a lot of photographs of people without first asking permission.

My favourite response? -

It wasn't strictly a "Street" circumstance, but it was certainly a photograph taken without warning.

It was taken at a well advertised and very well attended talk in one of the largest auditoriums on campus.

The speaker responded to my impromptu photographing of him with a big wink.

It was Yousuf Karsh :)

Colin Corneau
09-09-2010, 01:43 PM
Street photography, for some people, seems to be like getting a needle...the anticipation is worse than the actual thing itself.

Just do it. If someone objects enough to say something, be simple and straightforward. I've been doing this in my downtown for over 2 years now, and haven't had an objection. I've struck up a few conversations, but never a problem.
Be at ease, know what you're doing and more importantly why.

Most times I just wander and shoot if something catches my eye. I pre-focus and have my settings right beforehand. I'm stealthy but I'm not dishonest. I'm part of the passing scenery just like everybody else is. Beyond that, I don't know...you gotta just go out and do it.

09-09-2010, 02:07 PM
Be an old guy, use a twin lens preferably with a strap in case you have to use it as a weapon and give them a "Jack Nickleson" type smile.

I prefer landscape but some times people being themselves can't be beat. I've never had a problem - just blend in and be respectful, a smile and a nod usually does the trick.


09-09-2010, 02:13 PM
Street-photography can be on of the most rewarding and the most frustrating things to do.
But the your main weapon is your smile, or/and a friendly face. And when got caught, just explain what you are doing.
It's been said here before; Know your gear, and look confident. And a small rangefinder is less intrusive and intimidating then a Nikon D3 with a tele. The reactions will be accordant most of the time.

09-09-2010, 02:20 PM
Wonderful about Yousuf Karsh :)

09-09-2010, 02:22 PM
Size matters. Small 35mm cameras with a 28mm to 50mm are unobtrusive(e.g., Nikon FE/FM series or FG bodies work best for me). Larger AF film and digital bodies with honking big zooms+hoods are asking for trouble and/or unwelcome attention. Chimping also draws notice once it's clear you're not playing with a phone. No one seems to notice when I shoot my Bronica SQ-B with a WLF or even a hulking RB67 on a tripod. I assume people think anything that takes that much time to set-up and shoot couldn't be harmful. It's the "hunter-drawing-a bead" stance that's considered provocative and intrusive.

Behavior matters, too. Stalking, chasing or cornering people is dumb. Asking permission seems defeatist. Watch some footage of Cartier-Bresson at work. Simply blending in and patiently waiting for shots works, too. I've used a Manfrotto SuperClamp and a small ballhead attached to Toronto's curbside bike racks for great shots. With pre-focusing and some DOF, I used a cable release to catch people walking by or stopping to check-out a shop window just by tripping the shutter a few fet away from the camera.

Overall, it's totally dependent on the street gestalt of the area, something you have to figure out by yourself.

09-09-2010, 03:54 PM
Try pointing in a different direction and use this: http://www.camerafilters.com/pages/rightanglelenses.aspx


I have one of these, purchased years ago from Spirotone. It works. However, its something you have to plan for in advance rather than shooting spontaneously.

What I found works better and can be used with almost any camera, is learn to shoot from the hip, like a gunslinger. Practice will increase accuracy. No, not as accurate/reliable as aim and shoot, but no one knows they have been shot. They might suspect but if they are looking at your eyes, won't notice a slight flick of the finger. This also favors wider lens.