How to take candid shots without 'stalking'

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by jeff_hoffman|1, Jul 3, 2002.

  1. I love candid shots of people, whether they be going about their
    business, arguing--whatever. I just saw one posted entitled "Last
    Date," which captures what I like: A couple sitting at a coffee shop
    on what appears to be their last date.. But I envision the following
    (example) situation: I'm discretely trying to set up the shot and the
    subject notices me and is either disgusted, angered, curious, or some
    combination of the above.

    How is this avoided, or how is it typically handled? I'm an amateur
    who is going to get more serious about it when I get more cash..

  2. "Discretely trying to set up the shot" sounds like you intend to discretely set up your tripod, focus the camera, sneak over to your subject to take an incident reading and then go back and make the exposure. I hope I'm exaggerating :)
    Anyway, some tips from my own short experience:
    • Prefocus (or focus quickly). For small adjustments, move yourself rather than refocus.
    • Preset exposure (making one good grey reading will often give better exposures following it anyway)
    • (Particularly in quiet surroundings) a non-motorised manual focus camera is preferable. They're quite audible, even the famous Leica M, but the click of the shutter and even the slap of the mirror in an SLR is a lot less obtrusive than the whirr of a motor.
    • Know your lenses and previsualize. Knowing what you can expect from your camera before putting it to your eye reduces the "setup time" considerably.
    • Practice shooting from the hip. This is closely tied to the previous point, just taken to the extreme.
    • Almost forgot: In low light, use fast film and fast lenses and turn off the autofocus assist light. The last thing you want is the flash going off at an unsuspecting subject or even worse a series of bright flashes to help the focus or reduce red eyes. Even if they don't mind having their picture taken, they just might beat you up for flashing in their face.
    • And for people you know, take lots of pictures, they may ignore you eventually.
    If you're still discovered, the simple result is that you don't get that particular candid shot. If the subjects look likely to beat you up, make sure you're not noticed, in the worst cases that just means don't take the picture.
    But you may be surprised how often people are too absorbed in what they're doing to notice anything. Just a few days ago I sat and took pictures for five minutes slightly in front of and in plain view of a girl reading a newspaper four feet away. She said afterwards she didn't notice a thing, and I guess I almost could have set up a tripod and taken an incident reading. Then of course there are those who can see a camera with the back of their neck and instantly turn to smile at it.
    When I'm discovered, the usual response is either a smile or some other pose, fleeing (for some reason I've only seen that with people I know - maybe because they are the ones I take most pictures of) or attempts to ignore me.
  3. Another approach is to meet them, talk, let them relax their guard, and then start taking pictures. This way, you will be closer and avoid a conflict.
  4. Once you talk to someone and engage them, it no longer is candid, but posed. HCB based a whole career on, ". . raise the camera, shoot, and scram!"
  5. Man I hate that! What about the release for the image you took of me? Are you going to atleast ask me if you can use the photo? Are you going to be as unscrupulous as HCB too? Once you talk to someone and engage them, it no longer is candid, but posed. HCB based a whole career on, ". . raise the camera, shoot, and scram!"
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I don't agree that interacting with someone makes them pose. I usually get them talking about themselves, and eventually there is very little awareness of the camera. People start relaxing if you can find the hooks that will get them going. A photograph of someone talking to another person isn't changed just because the person is a photographer.

    However, sometimes that doesn't capture what you want. I do sometimes shoot from the hip, or even from eye level, without permission, but sometimes speak to them afterwards.

    Another method I have used successfully is to stand in one place long enough that I become part of the scenery. I've done this with a camera as large as the Mamiya 7 with the 43mm finder on it, not a small setup. It's sort of like the Shadow - you become invisible.

    People see cameras long before they hear them, resulting in my observation that silent cameras are grossly overrated, except in theaters. If you believe that silence is essential, the Konica Hexar AF is quieter than anything else, even in its non-silent mode.
  7. A digital with a rotating LCD viewfinder (like the Nikon 995) works extremely well - as does a traditional TLR.

    >Man I hate that! What about the release for the image you took of >me? Are you going to atleast ask me if you can use the photo? Are >you going to be as unscrupulous as HCB too?

    If you freely choose to appear in a public place, what makes you think you have exclusive rights to your appearance there? All a photograph does is expand the number of potential "bystanders" to that moment in time.

    The answer of course, is greed. If someone is going to make some money, I want a share too - even if I didn't have any input to or knowledge of the process! In today's media-dominated capitalism, we are obsessed not only with "our fair share," but with packaging and selling anything and everything that someone will pay for - no matter whether it has any intrinsic value or meaning for us.

    I think the obvious solution is to take the picture - but to send the subject 50% of any proceeds. Of course, they will first have to reimburse me for film and processing, travel, equipment costs, insurance, etc. I guess I'll just get some invoices printed up and hand them out to my subjects from now on.
  8. It is not greed. I want input in the usage of my image. Being in public is not a release for profitable use.

    I fully understand what fair use. Most street photography does not fall under that. If I had seen HCB try to profit from my image with out permission I would punch him in the nose.

    The bad part of his work and many street photographers is that if s/he just asked me after taking the exposure. I would almost always say, "sure go ahead".

    In a typical release it says in the compensation part for the subject "due consideration". Asking permission is acceptable due consideration, in many cases.
  9. It is greed (but that's valorized in our society). The fundamental mode of capitalism is that if it can be packaged and sold it will be. The first harmonic of that is, if it's being sold, I want a share.

    The "rights" of the subject versus the "rights" of the publisher are just two sides of the same coin (which is a fitting icon for capitalism anyway).
  10. I wish taking photos of everyday people in public was even one tenth as profitable as people on the internet seem to think it is . . .

    Most of the time, "setting up" good candid shots is mostly a matter of being observant so you notice developing scenes. Approximate focus can be set, exposure can be set, and even approximate framing can be figured out before you ever raise the camera to your eye.
  11. The only time i ask for permission, is after i have taken a shot of Children.. I always ask if i may put the photos on my website, and i write down the address for them as a courtasy... with all the child pornography and such, its the polite thing to do.. with anyone else, i rarely talk to them unless they ask me about it.. I took one not to long ago of a girl and her boyfriend sitting on the curb... after i was done, and he had left, she asked me why i had taken her picture, i politly told her i thought they looked interesting, and becauce i happened to be shooting Digital, i showed her the image.. she just smiled and said ok and that was that.. no harm done... I was shooting for a newspaper once, and after taking pictures of a little girl in a pumpkin patch i went to get the info from her parents... they said no problem, and then when i started toi leave, they wanted to know why i wasnt takeing and photos, i explained that I already had.. then they got upset that i had done that and not asked permission first.. i explained the whole thing about not wanting to contaminate the scene or anything... they were ok with that.. they said they understood, but that i should be careful because when it comes to parents and children, some are far less forgiving then they were.... I still stand by my actions though.. I won't ruin a shot and talk first.. just like i used to pay homeless people for taking their pictures... but not anymore.. im strictly and observer... people say but.. you are making money off of them... well, if they would like to pay me for part of my college tuition, years of experience, film, processing, and what not.. then by all means.... I believe that if you show up at a situation where your help is needed ie, a car accident and no one on the scene yet or something, then you should help as you can.. but once its taken care of.. time to start shooting....

    no situation is the same.. you have to have judge on a case by case basis... do they need your help.. will talking to them first contaminate the scene, should you ask permission.. it all depends.....

    It does help to understand the Legal rights of photographers.. many people dont, and once you explain it thats that... the biggest problem i have with asking permission, and the reason i usually dont, is that they may say no.. and then what....... so i dont ask...
  12. Can someone give me a link to information on the legal rights of photographers? (Or summarize the law here?). Aside from dealing with people's reactions, I'd like to know what I'm legally able to do.
  13. If you are really worried, you should find a lawyer versed in the laws for your specific area. I'd try calling a legal referral service. You could probably get a decent explanation of the relevent points for $50-$75.

    However, it seems to be pretty clear from the situation with celebrities and the papparazi that if you are in public, you are fair game to have your picture taken. (Though they are starting to outlaw taking certain types of shots - like the "upskirt" shots you see on the internet.)

    At the same time, if you are on private property, then the owner can ask you to stop or leave.

    If that picture will be used for commerical purposes - and the subject is identifiable - you'll need a model release.

    Also, if publication of the shot causes the subject embarrassment or other harm, then they can sue (if they weren't a willing participant - as the publication of all those celebrity sex tapes seems to prove).

    But I think you rarely get good shots of total strangers who are completely unaware of your presence (though I have a couple). One way to mask your intent is to use a wide-angle and aim off-center, cropping later. Another is to just act like you are shooting indiscriminately so that the people start to ignore you.

    But at public events, most people expect to see photographers and often enjoy being photographed. At events like this, if you show up with a big camera and bag, they often think you are a pro and don't question your intentions.
  14. In my case, I always ask if I can photograph the subject(s) while they continue whatever they are doing. This does not apply in those cases where I do not single them out of the crowd or scene. An ideal camera for street photography is the Yashika T4 Super. No focusing, quiet and it has a top-mounted viewfinder that makes it look like you are fiddling with the camera. This feature is especially useful for holding the camera over your head in a crowd. The Zeis Tessar T* lens is wonderful. The attached link will take you to three shots where I asked the subjects first. They did not "pose" in any way. They just ignored me. Here's the link...
  15. Jeff--

    I don't think you have to "stalk" subjects to get good candid shots. I agree with Jeff Spirer's comments that approaching people for photos does not necessarily make them less candid. I saw this couple in Tulsa and asked if I could take a photo, to which their response was to answer "sure" and then ignore me. I'm still figuring out how to post photos in the message, so for now have a look here:

    By the same token, sometimes asking for a photo results in something more interesting, as with this girl in London's Hyde Park:

    And sometimes you just don't want to ask, as it would competely change the scene. This couple was sitting across from me on the Underground in London, and if I had asked for a photo, or even just raised the camera to my eye, the dynamic between them would have changed, they would probably have stiffened up. So with the camera sitting in my lap I just snapped a few pics:

    This last one may be construed as "stalking," I suppose, but then many of my street shots are made with the subjects unawares. I'm okay with that, as I never try to misrepresent people or their actions.

    My advice is that you get some film, go out and start shooting pics of strangers, and you will soon develop a sense of what works for you in different situations.

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