When I shoot street, I’m not trying to hide, because I don’t feel that there is anything I should be ashamed for. I try not to stand out either to draw attention (since the photos I take should not be about me, but about what I see and where I am). There is a big difference between trying not to influence a scene and trying not to ‘get caught’ - because then people assume that you’ve just done something nasty. Not having this thought changes the way how you act with the camera in general. Also the moment someone realizes, you’re taking a photo of him/her is completely different when you don’t feel caught yourself. Besides, it is a fact that you’re part of reality as a street photographer.
I still try to take photos that capture the look of being a silent witness. We like to look at images that make us believe we’re watching something as it has happened, like a play of reality, where we, as the observer, stay invisible.
Violating People’s Privacy
I don’t feel that I enter someone’s privacy, shooting in the public (and if I would, which is obviously depended on my own definition, then I won’t take the photo). I try to treat people with respect and take photos that won’t harm the person being pictured. Why would I? That’s not why I shoot street. In the end those images are taken for the reason of documentation of the human condition.
In some cases a photo turns out in an amusing way , because of a juxtaposition or moment that happened for a split of a second. This is not because I try to make fun of someone or expose people. Humor, cynicism, satire and irony are luckily part of human nature.
It takes Balls.
I’ve often heard that ‘it takes balls’ to shoot strangers, but balls are not enough. It takes knowledge of human nature, self-esteem and a meaningful reason. If you want to do it right. I find it embarrassing how some people think the closer they get the bigger their balls are. I guess they misunderstood the meaning of “If your photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t not close enough” (a famous quote by Robert Capa).
Photography is not just a competition, of, in this case, who got the closest.
A lot of photojournalists and street shooters are even too close to make images that tell a story. They distort reality or crop people. The reason for taking photos close, is to make people feel that they were there, viewing the print. The moment you distort or crop or blur out too much information, that feeling of being there gets lost. That’s why focal lengths between 24 and 40 are frequently used. A wide angle tends to dramatize the actual situation and a portrait or tele lens keeps too much distance. Of course for portraits that’s perfect and a wide angle to exaggerate the content, but when you shoot street (as in taking photos for people to relive the moments you’ve captured) you should stick to the focal lengths that are similar to the interpretation of the vision of the human eye.
So having the balls to go so close to use wide angle won’t be useful for this attempt on street photography.
I tend to prefer being a step too far to a step too close. Often you lose important details in the frame that would put the scene into a clearer context.
Of course, every situation has it’s best distance to shoot from, but street is definitely not about jumping into people’s faces, no matter how you will explain your concept to make it sound reasonable.
The same counts for using a flash. By flashing your subjects, you add a light source that wasn’t naturally there before you took the photo. People usually react on light, when they can see or feel it. A flash only exists for the time of the photo.
Imagine taking photos of people watching fireworks. Their expressions will be influenced by what they are watching. The same happens when sunlight hits somone’s face. They close their eyes, to enjoy the energy of the light. Some are dazzled and shut their eyes quickly.. They react on it and that’s a real moment.
When you flash, you add a light-source that was not part of the scene before you captured it - you create something new (which of course can be desired for a certain photograph, but I’m strictly talking about street and not photography in general).
In 2010, I was commissioned to take about 200 head shots of employees of a company. After the job was done, I calculated that I had about 90 seconds time for each person I had photographed in that week. When I shoot street, I usually have only a few seconds time to take a photo.
There is a reason why I don’t think those head shots can’t be good portraits, because I didn’t know any of these people. I’m sure, that there is a probability, that I had captured some of them in a way that their friends or family will agree that’s them. But how could I ever judge?
When I’m on the street and I see someone that I want to take a photo of, then it’s that moment, pose, light, context, frame, look on his/her face, conversation he/she is in.. or many other things, that make me take the photo.
I wouldn’t say that I was taking a portrait (I also wasn’t intending to take a portrait), since I don’t know anything about this person. There it doesn’t matter if you isolated someone by using an open aperture and/or a portrait lens. Those photos are just studies of strangers you encountered, not portraits.
The moment you get to know someone and talked to, it changes the whole thing. You can tell something about him/her and got a story with the photograph. That’s much closer to a good portrait than a snapshot of a stranger.