In honor of
Cartier-Bresson & Robert Frank
Taken in part from The Street Photographer’s Manifesto
a forthcoming artist’s book by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
From DP Review…
protocollie (Max Pollack)
Street photography – getting started, dealing with nerves
I’ve read lots (lots) of articles, threads, etc. about street photography, both from an artistic side and from a psychological side, and I still find I’m having trouble getting started.
I think there’s a little bit of both nerves and being new that keep me back – I wouldn’t say my “good photo” hit rate is very high right now, maybe 1 in 40 or 50 – and I feel like this compounds my anxiety in trying to capture pictures of things happening in the street.
A) I don’t want to bother people. I feel like a dude with a camera snapping photos of you could be a very unwelcome intrusion.
B) I can still sometimes be slow framing shots. I worry that the more time I spend getting the photo, the more sketchy I’m going to look.
C) I feel like a lot of street photography is really… contrived? Cliche? I don’t mean to offend anyone; I simply think there’s only so many kinds of things that happen semi-regularly, and interesting people are fun but at the same time I guess I do have some self-conscious feelings of coming across as pretentious or invasive. I look at the work of so many other people and find that often I’m just not confident I can do something that good. That makes me nervous about approaching or interacting with people, and I wind up taking pictures of birds eating trash.
So my roundabout question is how do you get started? The potential risk feels very high in comparison to other kinds of photography. I wouldn’t judge myself incompetent or awful; I was in school for film long ago, dropped it as it really felt more like a hobby when I finished college, and have recently picked it back up and been enjoying it a lot. I’ve found it to be a great creative outlet, but I feel like fear is making me waste good opportunities on trips, etc because I don’t want to get too close or disturb people.
A) How do you build confidence to approach, bother and photograph people?
B) When you do street photography, are these all off the cuff shots? Do you spend a little time getting the feel of things and take your time framing it?
C) How do you deal with potential confrontation? When I’m dealing with street performers, I tend to toss a couple bucks in their hat in exchange for some photos (which is a wordless but seemingly easily-understood exchange) but how about all the other cases?
D) I genuinely get self conscious walking around with a camera and being “that guy” wandering the streets shooting photos. Tell me I’m dumb.
I know this is probably a well-trod topic, but I’d like the opportunity to speak to some of you back and forth for more insight.
Infrared flash photo – Pucker up! (Candid) Hollywood Blvd street selfie 2015
The controlling prick that runs DP banned me ages ago, just after a few days there, so let me answer this topic here.
Well Max, from my point of view, the goal of the successful street photog is not to bother people. Your goal should be to get the shot without bothering people. Now, if you are after reactions from the people, then you will have to provoke your subject.
There is no magic bullet to success when it comes to street work. Just putting in time does not do it nor does buying equipment do it. It is kinda like being able to draw well… if you don’t have the natural talent within you, no matter how you try, how much to study, your drawings are still crap compared to those with natural artistic ability.
Same with street photos. Either you can do it or you can’t. Even if you got balls to get the shot, you need artistic talent to produce good street work. Most of the what is out there by the camera fondlers are just a mish-mash of strangers on the street that have little interest to anyone other than the photog that took them. They smack of “Wow, look at me, I just took a photo of a stranger on the street!”
If your a good street photog you got to be a little off your rocker to shove you cam into a strangers face at 2 in the morning. Good chance the hardcore street photog is going to have a different attitude and ego than a landscaper or startrail photog. Maybe your not of the street photog makeup? Only you can decide where you fit in, but no matter what you think, it will be evident when someone looks at your portfolio.
When I was a young photog growing up in L.A. I wanted to be a studio / fashion photog. Only after years of anguish did I finally accept that I had no talent in those areas…I wasn’t anal enough. I could have been still stuck in that place, trying to force my will over my natural talents, but luckily for me it finally sunk in. The day I accepted I had no talent I those areas was a day of enlightenment for me – I moved on and never looked back.
I’ve looked at your Flickr portfolio Max. You have the ability to do good street work, but you lack balls. Your balls are the size of green peas. To do good street work you need balls the size of oranges…ball size is your problem Max.
If you don’t have enuf boldness to point your cam in a strangers face and press the button, then take up landscape work or birds. If your scared of birds pooping on you then try one of the camera fondlers tricks. Play stupid and pretend you can’t figure out your camera and oooops…it just happens to go off.
Or do like this camera fondler did in Vegas. He set up his camera on a tripod and shot it by remote control as people walked by. He stood in a corner pretending to do something else while blasting off hundreds of photos of everyone walking by. I guess if he had to actually point his cam at someone and press the button, he’d shit his pants.
In the old days, we didn’t have milky moms (photo forums) giving us the tit when we were having trouble on the street Max .
We weren’t breast-fed it all like the young digital photogs are nowadays. We learned on our own. Our cams didn’t have shake reduction, instant review, on the fly ISO, BW or color options, zooms, AF, remote control, auto exposure, white balance and the rest. Yet, we still managed to get the shot…many times as one shot wonders.
Film era shots from the early ’70’s…
There is no shortcut or magic bullet to doing it. I’d love to be an artist that can draw well…but I can’t. I’d like to be able to paint realistic paintings…but I can’t. I don’t have a shred of talent in those areas. Consequently I apply what talent I have to what I can do well. I’d advise the same to you.
“I think there’s a little bit of both nerves and being new that keep me back.”
Miyamoto Musashi was one of the greatest samurai warriors. His credo was “Think only of cutting.” GD, with all those worries, self-doubt, fear and crap in your head, how can you EVER get the shot? In your case I wish I could advise you to ‘think only of getting the shot.’ But in this day and age, you have to think about the consequences as well Max . Even so, if you have stealth skills you will be able to drop all that crap renting space in your head and concentrate on the photo.
Infrared flash photo
I wouldn’t say my “good photo” hit rate is very high right now, maybe 1 in 40 or 50 – and I feel like this compounds my anxiety in trying to capture pictures of things happening in the street.
I’d be thrilled if my keeper rate was that high Max. Street shooting is like fishing…you are not guaranteed to get thing when you go out. In the film era sometimes I would not get any keepers for weeks or months. What is a keeper for me? Something that is going into a museum’s collection, a book or my portfolio…everything else is trash.
“I don’t want to bother people. I feel like a dude with a camera snapping photos of you could be a very unwelcome intrusion.”
You are right Max, many people are suspicious and don’t like being photographed. But, this has been an ongoing problem from the early beginnings of photography. Here is an early 1904 ad offering a right angle spy camera…whatever it takes to get the shot.
George Eastman House Collection
The (hetero) guys always love their girls…don’t they Max. The deceptive angle graphic spy cam was not the only one. They had many detective models that were secreted in purses, canes, cravats, vests and the palm of your hand.
I advise to start in tourist areas with a small cam like a M4/3. Develop skills for sneak photography and get used to pointing your cam at people. If you are not one with your cam…then become one! I looked at your gear and it is all typical camera fondler gear. While you can do good street work with what you got, it is not the best gear for the job when it comes to fast, stealthy shooting. Read through my posts and see what I use Max.
Staten Island Ferry NYC candid from The Americans…60 years after Frank artist’s book by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
“I feel like a lot of street photography is really… contrived? Cliche?
You are right, most of online street work is garbage…artifices of convention. Rise above it and do something different Max. The vast majority of street photography out there is done by camera fondlers that get hard-ons from fingering their cameras more so that bringing home great street photos. Snapshot aesthetics is their credo!
The ‘know nothing camera fondlers’ out there have been very tough on me from the start, so I don’t feel the need to pull punches. Since I’ve been banned or blocked by virtually every photo forum out there I will tell you how it is without sugar coating things. I don’t have anything to sell you Max.
“I don’t want to get too close or disturb people.”
You don’t want to disturb people??? Well, don’t do street photography.
For others that want to grow some balls, start shooting with a wide angle…it will train you to get close to people! The bold street photog does best – not the timid one that is scared of their shadow. Although if you have great stealth techniques, then it does not matter either way.
From an interview of Clint Eastwood…the Pussy Generation.
We live in more of a pussy generation now, where everybody’s become used to saying, “Well, how do we handle it psychologically?” In those days, you just punched the bully back and duked it out. Even if the guy was older and could push you around, at least you were respected for fighting back, and you’d be left alone from then on….I don’t know if I can tell you exactly when the pussy generation started. Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life.
…you gotta love Clint!
“I genuinely get self conscious walking around with a camera and being “that guy” wandering the streets shooting photos. Tell me I’m dumb.”
Your an overthinker Max. Just press the GD button. When I go out to shoot street I seldom have an agenda. I shoot what I come across that interests me. You prob wont believe this, but I am pretty shy. If I can avoid it I don’t like talking to people. Sure, sometimes I can be bold and do all sort of things to push people…if I need to. But it zaps my energy as it isn’t my natural way of being. My preferred M.O. is to get as close as is needed to get the candid shot all the while staying undercover.
If you are asking my advice on how to ask people if you can shoot their photo I am not the best one for that question. That topic only comes up when I can’t get the shot candid. I’ve found many times when I do ask, the person still refuses. Also realize that asking people to take their photo is not real street photography, it comes under street portraiture.
I did more of that type of work in the 1970’s. My M.O. back then was ‘meet on the street…shoot at the home.’ If an old cruster in his 60’s like me goes up to a young lesbi couple on the street and asks them to take him home with them, take off their clothes and cuddle up for a pix, I don’t get very far nowadays. But when I was 19 in the 1970’s strangers were open to letting me into their house.
In any case, you want freezing time to be fun. Use your head when street shooting. Dress plainly and subdued so you don’t stand out. Leave flashy jewelry at home, you don’t need to advertise ”rob me!” (I wear no jewelry, only a cheap watch.) For street photography, fortune favors a low profile and those who develop a good technique for candid ‘sneak’ photography.
If you are caught shooting a person and they come up to you and ask for a few bucks, just give them something. You took something from them…they helped you out being your model…now you help them out. If they ask for $, don’t offer to email them a pix of themselves. That is not what they want. If you don’t want to pay, apologize and offer to delete out of courtesy to them.
“The potential risk feels very high in comparison to other kinds of photography. “
People are my landscape-but people photography also has its dangers. Yes, it can be risky. Manage risk – work smart. Don’t be a blissninny and get hurt…
“I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
We all know how that worked out for Lincoln. I take opposite view Lincoln had. I view everyone as a potential attack and am ready for being attacked. This fear of people was ingrained in me from an early age. When I was 7 or 8, kids would gang together to beat me up as I walked home. When I started to drive in my teens, gangbangers in L.A. would take shots at my car on the freeway.
You don’t have to shoot everyone you see Max. Decide if shooting the pix is worth getting killed or attacked over. There is a reason why Bruce Gilden choose the subjects he did when he used to ambush them with his flash…old people, ladies in wheelchairs and the rest. Good chance they wont kick his ass.
Shooting flowers and sunsets generally don’t have the same risk as street photography does. Eric Kim talks about becoming a fearless street photog. That is stupidity at its highest. Always remember…no one’s head is bullet proof. Only idiots are fearless, for when your fearless you think you are impervious to death and do stupid things. Fortune favors those that are not idiots.
If all this talk is making you feel squeamish about street photography, then don’t do street photography. Every time I head out on the street I am situationally aware and armed for self-defense. And it does not matter if I have a cam with me or not. Our world is getting tougher and more desperate every day that goes by.
In your case, no one is going to force you to shoot street. If your uneasy about street photography, shoot flowers, shoot sunsets, slap a sunglass filter on your lens and shoot smoky water or cutsie dogs and cats, star trails, burning steel wool or whatever you feel comfortable and safe shooting. Or do the watered down ‘Eric Kim brand of street photography’ where you ask permission and shoot 80 photos of the same subject while they strike different poses for you.
Even so, there is a tool you can cultivate if you don’t have balls of kryptonite. That tool is shooting from the hip. When I refer to ‘shooting from the hip’ I am talking about shooting blind. The shot does not have to be exactly done from the hip. The shot can be taken overhead, chest level, behind the head or back, down low or from the proverbial hip.
Shooting unframed, from the hip is a good skill to develop. Some people are for it, some against it. Well, it does not matter what ANYONE says…the proof of the pudding will be in bringing home the goods.
Personal prejudice is a big problem with many photogs. As I read the original thread I could see this problem first hand. One replier says don’t shoot street performers they seldom produce great photos. Vaughn Winfree sent in a nice one that proved just the opposite.
Photo by Vaughn Winfree
Another responder, Fred Eriksson advised, “don’t shoot from the hip.” Here is one of Fred’s shots that stuck out like a sore thumb as an interesting one…
Photo by Fred Eriksson
My ‘from the hip’ shots below prove Fred wrong. Still, Fred had some nice work at his Flickr, so to each their own. From reading the thread I could see there are all sorts of styles for ‘street photography’ and all sort of pet prejudices and techniques. Some advise that you must make and have eye contact with the subject. Others say a big DSLR is good while others advocate a DSLR is terrible, use a mini cam. One camera fondler on the forums wanted to shoot video on the street and extract a single photo from 72,000 frames of video. I’d tell you in the realm of freezing time there are no photo police or rules as to how to do it…do as you like.
Shooting from the hip is nothing new – Robert Frank did it in the 1950’s shooting for The Americans. The old timers before Frank even shot from the hip when needed. Here is a vintage 1960 pix from Japan showing photogs shooting overhead and unframed.
HCB got one of his early iconic shots overhead, unframed.
Alfred Eisenstaedt would shoot from the hip with his TLR back in the 40’s.
Sure, no one disputes that if you have time you can be as anal as you like and frame it up to do a good job.
But time does not stand still and successfully freezing time of live persons is our job. Consequently if you are serious about bringing home the iconic shot in our fast paced world, the skill of shooting sans viewfinder is a must.
Beside using shooting blind as a tool for bringing in the photo, shooting blind is an important tool for self-preservation if your a street photog. I was in my 60’s when I shot most of the digital work here. I’m not looking for a fight, I get into many altercations as it is and am not looking for extra problems. There is more danger and pissed off people on the street every day that goes by. People are paranoid and don’t like to have their photo taken. More and more people are carrying guns nowadays and looking for en excuse to use them.
A gal in Hollywood was stabbed to death for trying to do street photography…
People are having a hard time getting by and in a bad mood. They can’t find fulltime work – benefits are gone. The Uber economy is disrupting our traditional way of life for many. Or diet is degrading and we are fed an unhealthy diet. Some are drunk / drugged up and half out of their mind. I only see things getting worse. For your own safety as a street photog, being low key is a good practice if you want to avoid confrontation and getting injured.
Shooting kids is another problem, esp for male photogs. In today’s society, if a male photog points their cam at a stranger kid they are looked at as a sexual predator.
The Lost Princess…an unframed, off the cuff shot.
Here is an article on how to shoot from the hip…
The photos in it are OK, nothing spectacular, but a good primer on the subject. Compare his photos to mine and see the difference in expert, from the hip shooting.
It is important to note that just shooing from the hip will not bring in masterpieces. There are technical aspects as well as artistic aspects involved in my photos I show you here. I will go over it all in a forthcoming limited edition artists’ book called Secrets of Candid Photography.
Here are a few of my unframed shots from….high, low and from the hip, chest level, even behind my head one time! I’ve also included a few photos from my book on infrared flash photography Piercing Darkness. When shooting at night with infrared flash I can’t see anything in the viewfinder. If I didn’t have the skills for shooting blind I would not do as well as I do.
Your goal when you shoot blind should be to shoot decent photos, not crap like Winogrand did. If your a fan of snapshot aesthetics, then by all means shoot off kilter, crooked photos of nothing. When shooting blind it is impossible to shoot them all perfect. But as you see, with practice and the skill that hopefully follows, you can do a decent job. Almost all of my photos here have been cropped and straightened. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I take perfect pictures blind. Almost none of these photos were near perfect as shot.
All unframed shots. No viewfinder used…
Adult themed horror house – women examining their clitoris in the dark with a flashlight and mirror. Infrared flash…pierced the darkness!.
Lesbian separatists…they didn’t like me shooting there. Infrared flash photograph.
Always remember, there are no photo police or head photo accountants to say what counts and what does not count. If you have the skill the only thing that is holding you back from getting that iconic shot is your ego, fear and your pet prejudices. Unless your a camera fondler or a constipated anal perfectionist, the job IS to get the shot…get it any way you can Max .
Photos used herewith are taken from the following limited edition artists’ books by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
Peephole / Portfolio 1970’s series
The Americans…60 years after Frank (a)
Bikers Mardi Gras
De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Red Light District
Piercing Darkness (a)
Gender Benders from the 1970’s
Gone…up in smoke!
180: The circular fisheye at large!
Secrets of Candid Photography
Women are beautiful: Beyond snapshot aestheticism
(a) Jointly under consideration for a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship.