Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Shooting on the street

Published in the South Shore Breaker - November 2, 2016
Picture yourself walking down the street, maybe with a friend or maybe youre alone. Someone comes up to you and shoves a camera and flash into your personal space and click! Youve just been startled, maybe even frightened, and the image of you that has been recorded is probably less than flattering. Are you okay with that?
That is how a famous New York street photographer works, but I find this method exploitative, and not true street photography. 
Similar to the fact that we are all taught different manners while growing up, ethics vary from person to person. There is a fine line somewhere between capturing a true representation of someone, and invading their personal space to create a sensational image.

Other photographers who specialize in street images recommend that you carry your camera low and "shoot from the hip" so that people dont know you are taking photos. Another technique is to hold your camera up, take the image you want, and leave the camera up to your eye until the person you have photographed passes by. That way, they are less likely to be aware that you have taken their picture.

A lot of people will agree and believe that they have a right to photograph whatever and whoever they want, but I have a problem with this. Whatever the reason, I say if you are trying to hide what youre doing then you shouldnt be doing it.

I am more of a landscape and scenic photographer, and have been known to wait for quite some time for a person to move out of my viewfinder before I make an image. However, a few years ago I had the opportunity to go to Toronto for a couple of days. An online book publishing company flew me from Halifax and interviewed and filmed me as one of only six people across Canada to be featured in some promotional videos. I knew I would have a few hours of personal time, so I took my camera with me on the trip. Carrying my camera almost made me miss my flight, but thats a story for another time.

Feeling like a country mouse in the big city, I wandered the downtown streets trying to capture images that I wasn
t familiar with. I did take lots of photos of buildings, but that didnt convey the feelings that I was experiencing. I did try the shoot from the hip technique, but that just felt wrong to me. In the end, I took an image of a woman who was walking ahead of me. Since I was shooting from behind her, she didnt know I took it, but no one else who sees the image will recognize her either.  To this day, I enjoy looking at this photo. It conveys the feeling I had while walking, a feeling of solitude amidst the traffic and confusion of the city streets.
Feeling like a country mouse in Toronto, I tried to take an image to capture my feeling of solitude amidst the hustle and bustle of the city street
On the other hand, a few weeks ago my husband and I were on the Halifax waterfront and saw a ceramic artist with a portable throwing wheel. "Port-o-Potter" Julian Covey had a storage box filled with wet clay, and was making pots while we watched. I asked if I could take his photograph and I also asked him if he had a business card so I could send him the image when I got home. He was happy to carry on with his work while I took some images, and even posed for a portrait. I saw this opportunity as win-win. I got the images I wanted, and I shared them with him, who then shared them with his followers online.
Halifax “Port-o-Potter” Julian Covey was happy to have his photo taken while throwing pots on a portable pottery wheel on the waterfront.
Laws vary in different countries, but in North America simply photographing someone in public does not require a model release, or even consent. Also, contrary to public opinion, its not against the law to take photographs of children in open spaces. But you could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you do. If someone is aware youre taking pictures, a simple way to gain consent is by pointing at your camera and nod. If they indicate its okay, then go ahead and take the photo. It might also help to raise their comfort level by showing them the image afterwards.

A general rule of thumb is that if a person in your photograph is identifiable, you should obtain a model release if you intend to sell the image or show it publicly. And be aware that different countries have different rules, so a little research before your trip would be prudent.

How to do street photography is highly subjective, and there are no official rules. My personal rules are this. Respect people, don
t exploit anyone or take embarrassing or compromising photos. Ask for permission for photos where people are identifiable. Try to capture a human connection. Smile. Say thank you. Offer to share.

If you treat others the way you would want to be treated when you
re walking down the street, then thats something good to focus on.


  1. I agree entirely.

    I was surprised that it is OK to photograph children without permission.

    I actually like images of folk taken from the rear.

    Your Toronto street photos are most effective.

  2. I agree with what you have said here. And when I think of street photography, I like to see images of buildings, traffic, store fronts and that sort of thing. Unless a person has given permission to have their photo taken, it isn't polite or wise to do so. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)


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