Psychology behind street photography...

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by anatole, Apr 14, 2011.

  1. This past weekend, I made a personal resolution to do some real street photography. By this, I mean actually going out and decisively capturing any scene that I thought was interesting, without embarrassment or hesitation. Most of my previous work (and I have to admit, I have done rather little in this genre) was the result of trying to be inconspicuous, and I often missed good photographs because I didn't have the confidence to make them happen.
    Some of the results are shown below, all from a single roll of film shot on Saturday and Sunday late afternoon. There are, of course, many faults with the images... for one, most of them are shot at an angle, which I find jarring especially when viewed as a series. (The reason for this probably lies with composing in my mind's eye, rather than through the viewfinder). I am, however, very happy with this roll - in fact, more so than I have been with any other roll - largely because some of these faults are ones I can easily improve next time round, simply by being conscious of the issues.
    So... I want to encourage any budding street photographers out there to try and make this leap. If you go out determined and confident, you will not find yourself embarrassed. You will find the process much more enjoyable, and once you get a flow, everything pieces together.
    It would also be interesting to hear any comments or thoughts about this, since there are lots of highly talented individuals on this forum. So without further ado, here are the photos... (location - Cochabamba, Bolivia; shot on Neopan 400 and semi-stand developed in Rodinal).
  2. I understand and appreciate the attitude shift you talk about and it will be interesting to see your evolution as you work with it more and more. There's a lot of good stuff in these photographs. Some very expressive use of lighting, particularly in the first one and the one with the three people and the bicycle. I don't get much from the 2nd or the 5th photos. You have a good eye for space and there's an expansive sense about some of the work.
    Though you may have been conscious of no longer trying to be inconspicuous, I'd say that's not necessarily reading in the photographs themselves. The photographer, as I experience him in these photographs, is pretty inconspicuous, distanced (visually as a matter of perspective and stance) from the action. You'd have to say a little more about avoiding the inconspicuousness you used to experience. You may have something different in mind that what I'm interpreting. Do you see a lack of inconspicuousness in the photos themselves? To me, lack of inconspicuousness could be visually read many different ways, as engagement with subjects, as the appearance of being part of the scene (usually accomplished with perspective). Some street photographers are even quite successfully confrontational in style, and you see that in their photos, in-your-face, as it were. I'm not saying you should be any of those. I think you are finding your own way!
    Congratulations on your discovery and on a successful shoot.
  3. Fred,
    Your comment is among the most insightful critiques I have received - many thanks.
    Perhaps being 'conspicuous' isn't quite the right word. What I meant was more a change in confidence; with this particular shoot I was not put off by being noticed post-capture. I have had trouble before hesitating on a photograph because of a sort of fear of being noticed (which, of course, I inevitably am, but only having taken an image with more compromises than I would have wished for). It will of course be interesting to play with degrees of conspicuity, and to try becoming more involved in the photograph.
  4. It's interesting that the one subject, of these shown, who shows direct eye contact with "you" is the white dog. I suppose the question of subject "consent" doesn't arise there anyhow. ;)
    The question has come up before of subject awareness of street photography; but, of course, it has never been resolved as to whether the subject should show awareness or not. Like so many things in life as we get older, it "Depends". ;)
    I always have a slight edge of uncertainty about metaphorically "stealing someone's soul" by taking pictures of them without their consent, yet pictures taken with them aware of me are in a whole different category, with the end product there being a result of collaboration between photographer and subject rather than the supposed neutrality of the 'snap shot'.
    I often, especially when faced with people of different cultural backgrounds than my own, ask by sign if I can take a picture, then get the posed portrait over and continue shooting as they move back into their own routine. Sometimes, I do steal a shot, of course. When operating in my own milieu, I presume most people are aware that being in a public place is a kind of consent. However, I sense that is changing, ironically, just as public surveillance has dramatically increased so that to be in public is a virtual guarantee that someone has images of you as you do whatever it is that you do. All the crime shows, and sometimes real life, have the cops calling up all kinds of public and business owned video. As this happens, people seem to become less willing to have themselves captured by another civilian, so to speak?
    Egad, Billy, this seems unusually philosophical for me -- perhaps I am ready to go back to the Philosophy of Photography forum now? Probably not...
  5. To me the best of these are the first, third, and fourth pictures, and strangely, I don't even mind that they aren't shot level. The slightly ominous shadow of the signpost crossing the little girl's path wouldn't bisect the lower right corner the way it does if you had shot it level, and the relationship of the motorcycle wheels to the little boy looking back at the camera would be different and less balanced. The backlighting also works nicely. I think these images are exactly what they ought to be.
    I can see Fred's point about the photographer seeming to be somewhat distanced, but not every street image has to be in the thick of things. How close or far you are affects the emotional content of the image, and particularly in the third and fourth pictures here, I think the distance is just right.
  6. Craig, I agree that not every street shot needs to be in the thick of it. Because Anatole mentioned a conscious effort not to be inconspicuous, my comments were geared toward his particular interest as expressed in the OP. Much good street and documentary work is very "distanced" and "objective"
    JDM, just to take one point a little further. I think one can shoot a photograph that is very involved, even confrontational, engaged, etc. without the subject necessarily knowing about it or making eye contact with the photographer. A lot is a matter of perspective, timing, placement, composition, energy, emotions captured. One can even create a sort of compositional geometry that includes the unseen photographer to complete the picture. That's a kind of engagement without consent or even knowledge of the subject. The whole consent thing, I think is a different question and has recently been hashed over in another thread. It does get a lot of blood boiling - LOL.
  7. Of course in my time in Bolivia (I am here for a total 4.5 months, working with a charity), I'll have the freedom to experiment with different levels of involvement. My only previous major project was of my school (there are some photos from my book on my website), but this was more a documentary project, and since I knew most of the people the main problem was capturing images without them acting for the photo, making faces and the like - which has thus contributed to my tendency to be less involved.
    I have heard that the Bolivian people have a tendency to cover their faces when photographed by strangers, which was a further reason for the slight distance I kept in the images. However, I don't know how true this is; it may well only be the case in villages, etc., where I am sure the indigenous people are very much the subject of constant personal intrusion by tourists.
    To reiterate, when I mentioned my previous inconspicuousness, it is perhaps more accurate to say that I had a nagging concern of being noticed... it boils down to (unnecessary) embarrassment, which both hinders the photograph and, somewhat ironically, makes the subject more uncomfortable.
  8. I really enjoyed 4, 6, and 8. JR
  9. The reason for this probably lies with composing in my mind's eye, rather than through the viewfinder​
    Does the previous quote mean you are hipshooting, or are you looking through the viewfinder but concentrating on the subject to the detriment of the frame? Can you describe your technique?

    In either case, I'm curious as to why, if you don't like the horizon you shot, you didn't correct the fixable photos in the darkroom?
  10. Good set, with 1,3,4,6,7,8 rising to the top. Keep pushing...
  11. Damon - what I meant was that when I find an interesting scene, I try to compose it in my mind´s eye, thinking about what angle would work well. Once I´ve decided, and see the elements falling into place, I move into the right position and capture the photograph - but this last step is done sufficiently quickly that I can only have a cursory glance at all the elements in the scene. End result: I often end up tilting the camera to fit everything I want in, whereas *perhaps* it may have been possible to do that all with a horizontal horizon given more care and time (but then maybe missing the moment).
    I also haven´t "fixed" any of the photographs, largely because as they stand, I think the current angle works best (a horizontal horizon demands different composition). Also, I´m not particularly against having a tiltled horizon; but having photograph after photograph with a similar tilt (i.e. when viewed in a series), I find it a bit distracting.
    Now off to go shoot some strikes, which are apparently heating up a bit; I will certainly try to keep suggestions in mind... (btw, should anybody be interested, resulting photos will likely end up on my blog)
  12. Anatole:
    I really like the feel of those images, and of course, the local color. Plus, I'm a sucker for including the sun in the frame. I think the Dutch angle really works--it adds to its organicness. I've only dabbled in street--one day last summer when I was testing a new lens, and one other time when I was trying a new 50mm. I just bought two ultra-fast short lenses, perfect for street, and I'm dying to try my hand at it again in earnest. My first street outing last summer was with an 80-400mm, so I had quite a bit of distance. This time, I'll be shooting with just a 24mm and an 85mm, so I'll be right in it. I haven't decided if I'll solicit permission beforehand or not.
  13. Got it, Anatole. Nice stuff.
    My two pieces of advice for shooting strikes has to do with picket signs.
    When shooting a person with a sign as a portrait, it can sometimes help the composition to have them hold the sign a little lower. Something like this...
    As opposed to this...
    Also, try cropping picket signs to their salient message and don't worry about carrying the whole sign in the frame. Something like this...
    Above all, have fun and be careful.
  14. Well, just come back from shooting to report that I missed the protest. Apparently it was in the morning... but Bolivia is hardly short of strikes, so thanks for the advice Damon.
    I´ve only recently started working to get the sun in the frame, and I do like the effect - although flare can be a bit unpredictable. I messed up a couple of shots in the roll for that precise reason. If it is of any interest, all the shots are taken with a 35mm f/2. I find that if you are composing without the use of the viewfinder, you really need to stick to one fairly normal focal length - otherwise it´s too hard to calculate and decide. I went out with a 28mm today, and it felt just a little two wide to use in the same way.
    I tried to work closer and more conspicuously this time, but didn´t quite get into the mindset needed. Maybe next time...
  15. I think you have a good start at it. You are getting yourself into the mix. If I had to guess - - and this is simply a guess by looking through the photographs - - I would think you are rushing your shots. Perhaps a little too nervous yet to see, compose, check for flares and whatnot, then shoot. Don't take that personally - it is just an impression I got from some of the unevenness of the photos.
    The two most common strategies in street shooting are stealth and participant. In stealth, you try to get a shot with anonymity or even without any chance of anyone identifying your actions. Catlike. In participant, you mix right into the action like you belong there. Chatting people up, being as obvious as possible, and letting people know you are around for the purpose of taking pictures. There's no right or wrong, but they yield different results.
    I very much like to mix in and meet people if possible. I like talking with people on the street. "What are you doing? Where'd you get a bike like that? What a cool tee-shirt! Where you guys heading? How did you catch a fish like that?" I like engaging people and then getting photographs of them doing what they do, doing their work, or sometimes posing too. Some of my favorite photographs have come from just asking, "You have intriguing character, could I take a few photographs?" The one advantage of this method is that people don't freak out, and they don't find me suspicious. Years ago when I tried the anonymous catlike approach, people would see me and get perturbed at my "sneakiness."
    And if not directly engaging in conversation, you can just make yourself much more obvious - more matter of fact. Plant yourself on the sidewalk, and say to yourself: I am the photographer now, and I am here to do my job! I am often walking around with three cameras, a light meter and a tripod over the shoulder. So, no one is in doubt that I will be taking pictures. Stop on the corner - put your camera to the eye and sweep the area. Let people see you are a "photographer" - and your job is to "take pictures." In a few seconds they will ignore you, and then you can really get to work!
    Again, I am not suggesting that is the right technique, only that it is a technique that some find useful. There are people who believe street photography is only valid when it is anonymous in both directions. That's not my belief. I think street photography means using the street as your subject. Good luck, and experiment away! It is an awful lot of fun.
  16. Good advice from Brad keep pushing. I would add keep shooting. Just keep going out and shoot, your style will evolve. Today I was in New York city for the day shooting street. Great Day. I shot 5 rolls and won't be suprised if there is not a single shot worth printing. However I know that there are about 3 or 4 that might make it. Shooting a great street shot is damn difficult. As said above there are different strategies for street, they all work for any given photog. For the most part I don't socialize with my subjects, I am looking for an interesting candid shot waiting for the elements to come together. Frequently I am just standing there waiting. Today in Washington Square I wanted to shoot a portrait of an intersting man. I stood 4 feet in front of him set up the camera and waited until he was in the position I wanted . I took the shot and walked away. Almost everybody in Washington Square knew I was shooting today. I am 6-4, 230 lbs and don't hide that I am shooting. Yet the vast majority of my shots the person doesn't know I shot them or realizes it afterward. Sometimes like Brad, I engage the people I am shooting and shoot while Iam talking. Sometimes I am not shooting whom I am talking to. I am posting a shot taken on Prince and Broadway,NYC, last fall or summer taken with a 21mm. The 2 main people in the photo never knew I shot them and I could have touched both of them (21 is very wide)
  17. Sorry double post from the computer idiot
  18. I do a lot of street photography, esp. here in California - mostly Los Angeles - (see where you do not have to be sneaky - here everyone wants "to be in pictures."
    While I hesitate to offer advice, following the direction of of the mathematician turned philosopher Kurt Godel who said (paraphrased) - " All generalizations, with the possible exception of this one, are false." - I can say from shooting tens of thousands of street photos around the world, that if someone notices you and does not want to be photographed, they will let you know! (And I obey their wishes.) Most are flattered! Relax and enjoy the work.
    I will, however, suggest that instead of shooting at random, pick a theme and shoot for that. I do "whacko" photos and signs mostly, as well as abstracts. And I often use my cell phone camera.
  19. Wow! Really great advice from all of the above! Well, I just got back from shooting for about an hour on my first "street" assignment (aside from those two days last summer). I pretty much followed the advice above, and was surprised at how cooperative everyone was (it helps that I was at a tourist area). No one seemed to mind--most seemed oblivious. One street performer even solicited my services--I freely obliged. When I first arrived, I felt very tentative . . . I felt the same kind of trepidation you have when walking up to a strange girl to ask her out on a date. However, after I "settled in," I became much more at ease. I used my judgement, and shot at will. Of all those I asked permission, they all obliged with a smile. No award-winners yet, but here's two frames from a few hours ago . . .
  20. Ralph,
    Street photography on Hollywood Blvd. is like shooting fish in a barrel! Be sure to look down too - there are more photo ops than just stars on Hollywood Blvd!
  21. Ralph,
    Street photography on Hollywood Blvd. is like shooting fish in a barrel! Be sure to look down too - there are more photo ops than just stars on Hollywood Blvd!​
    Copy that. That's hilarious!
  22. Yes, indeedy, there are lots of different kinds of "street photography", even of streets as the subject. ;)
  23. Walk, don't run.
  24. Bolivia is setting a great example by the way !
  25. Anatole said . . .
    Now off to go shoot some strikes, which are apparently heating up a bit; I will certainly try to keep suggestions in mind... (btw, should anybody be interested, resulting photos will likely end up on my blog)​
    Sorry, I didn't mean to take your thread off-topic . . . I'm excited to see your next series! My thanks to all for the excellent advice in this thread!
  26. I really do find people like being photographed - like this guy in a rest stop on I-5 near Oceanside, CA.
  27. Let's try that upload again - hotel connection is iffy...
  28. Jim - I think some people do like to be photographed. But with the most interesting characters, they can take offense, or at least it will make them uncomfortable. When shooting in a developing country such as Bolivia, there are also two other considerations: first, there may be some superstition involved, and second, people dislike being photographed because they think you´re capturing them as subjects of poverty.
    I´m afraid I´m going to have to disappoint you Ralph - I went up a second time to try and find the blockades; but since they´re illegal, they are deliberately positioned to make life difficult while avoiding riot police. However, they are a common occurrence in Bolivia, so I´m sure I´ll be able to capture something in the future.
    In the meantime, I did a bit more street photography, certainly more ´conspicuously´this time (photographing individual people). Unfortunately it will be a while before I can show them to you all - I only have an 8-reel development tank with me, and would prefer to do everything in one go...
  29. Anatole said:
    I´m afraid I´m going to have to disappoint you Ralph - I went up a second time to try and find the blockades; but since they´re illegal, they are deliberately positioned to make life difficult while avoiding riot police. However, they are a common occurrence in Bolivia, so I´m sure I´ll be able to capture something in the future.​
    Looking forward to it! You have a great eye!
  30. Took me a week to get these out of the cell phone. Both were taken with permission - and enthusiasm by the subjects. The corset was on an attendee of the Leather Fetish convention at our hotel in SF last week. No shy folks there....
  31. Photo from sidewalk cafe near Presidio

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