How to approach people on the street to shoot them - etiquette & payment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unless you're in France!!
The reality is that taking pictures of people on the street is not illegal in any way.
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!
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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.
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.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
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/
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.
Originally Posted by 2F/2F
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.