Not always, but it definitely helps frame better expressions.
This obviously depends on the kind of photography you intend to do. I ask people for making their portraits sometimes, other times I don’t. Street photography is a very generic term and there are many sub-genres in it. But, I definitely don’t recommend being sneaky with your camera in public. That is clearly creepy and unacceptable. It is the same as taking photos of kids without their parent’s permission or the homeless. Be kind to people even when you make portraits. But I definitely think being somewhat discreet or invisible in the crowd while being respectful – helps frame natural expressions on people’s faces. And these natural expressions are what make photos steal a moment in time! That’s what gives me happiness in street photography.
Openness to strangers
People seem to live in an alarming state of panic. I don’t necessarily think this is a good way to be. Yes, there are a lot of bad things that happen in the world. But there are equally good things happening all around us. This often goes untold. We need to celebrate these little miracles too. I wonder how many more beautiful moments we would all capture if we were more open to change and accepting of people we don’t know. Being open to the idea of strangers taking photos of you takes photography to another level. Giving street photography and street portraiture a chance to grow and showcase the cities you live in or visit.
An uncomfortable incident with a good outcome
Two weeks back, I was happily shooting the streets of Sydney when two plain-clothed policemen (a man and a woman) decided to approach me. Little did I know I was being watched. And I’m guessing they had been watching me for a while. As I crossed the streets and got to the other side where the police officers were… they stopped me. The policeman showed me his badge – the policewoman didn’t. She coughed constantly. A smoker perhaps? I was baffled. And for about two seconds I was indeed gobsmacked. Are you serious?
Nanny State Sydney. Aren’t you charming!
They wanted to know why I was taking photos and observing people. Well, how else does a street photographer take photos? I tried to explain street photography and explained why it’s important to take a photo in a candid mode to capture real human feelings. I showed them the last 10 – 15 frames. At this stage, I could sense they had lost interest in my rant and even my photos! The policeman luckily had a sense of humour and said he was more than happy as long as I didn’t take a photo of him. Ha!
On a side note… do you even know how many street cameras monitor people and take their photos every day? They are at nearly every street corner, lifts, supermarkets, banks, shopping malls, parking places, schools, libraries, offices, parks, and cinemas. The list goes on and on. And you question me when I take photos on the street!! Oh, the irony!
Being yelled at is not fun, but it happens
Well, this is not the first time I’ve been yelled at with the camera in hand. It started in Brunei back in 2008 when I was photographing construction workers on the street. Few uncomfortable moments being followed around by a street hawker in Hoi An after I took her photo. She followed me around everywhere in Hoi An the next two days and even knew where we were staying. Yes, Hoi An is a small sleepy yet picturesque town. Sadly though for me, I was glad to get out of Hoi An. Don’t get me wrong – I do love Vietnam.
This was followed by many a yell in India over the years — the one I clearly remember was while trying to take a photo of a wireless tower in 2010. The irony is I grew up about a ten minutes walk from this wireless tower. There are many childhood memories associated with this particular landmark. In the end, I didn’t take the photo since the guard yelled at me relentlessly! Reasoning would have failed. Only money works in India and I was determined not to pay. I shouldn’t have to pay someone to take a photo of my own hometown landmarks! And now Sydney in 2016.
What can I say — It’s a badge of honour. But, this is to be expected a little doing candid photography! Challenges like these make one grow and be more determined to work the scene and shoot better photos with passion. Obstacles are nothing but pillars of growth.
Be a good messenger
If you are a street photographer, chances are you are going to be stopped one day too and asked to explain what you were doing with a camera on a crowded street. The answer is simple: Do as I did. Be humble and honest, don’t fight it or tell them what the law is. Explain why you shoot the street, show them what you do with your camera. Be a good messenger for streettogs. Talk to them about street photography if you still have their ear.
People that question you are not always ill-intentioned. They are probably uninformed or plainly curious. Help them understand you better.