I identify with portraiture more than any other type of photography. So, this is going to be about street photography on a human level; street portraiture, more than anything. I am fascinated by people and their faces, the way they hold themselves and present themselves to the world. I love to look at faces as other photographers see them, too. We’re hard-wired that way; we are drawn to look for signs, cues, and stories in the faces of others. It’s the first step to making a human connection.
Street photography is that strange place between people-watching and portraiture. It can be a way to connect with the world, or facilitate the on-going disconnection (yes, lurkers exist off-line, too). Subjects can be brought into your camera as the real people they are, or simply captured as objects, ornaments in the landscape.
It’s all good, except for one pet peeve that I’ll mention and then I’ll move on: taking photos of the homeless/destitute as candid portraiture is unsettling to me. For one, it’s been done to death. For another, these types of photos, especially when obviously taken from a “safe” distance, feel exploitative, where the subject is not looked INTO as much as looked AT. A photographer’s quick street capture of someone else’s despair is not automatically art, or edgy, or some type of profound statement.
Approaching and talking to someone about their kids or pets, or what they’re wearing, or what they do in this life … and letting them know that you think they’re interesting enough for you to make initial contact and request a picture is something real. It’s something human and people respond to that. Everyone’s not going to be in the mood to have their photo taken at the time that you approach them. Offer to do it if you run into each other again. But when you are allowed in, and capture a real representation, a slice of someone’s life, it’s a privilege on all fronts; for the subject, the photographer, and the viewer.
Street Photography Tips: Good Examples
I want to share the first few examples (off the top of my head just now) of some good street photography:
- Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton). I came across this at the book store and announced to my family that it was something I wouldn’t mind getting as a Holiday present. Watch the video and take a look at some of Stanton’s work.
- Orchard Beach (Wayne Lawrence). The photographer became a regular feature of the beach in the Bronx, made friends, took photos. Amazing work.
- Shooting Strangers (Danny Santos II). I did an interview with Danny Santos II here, and you can learn more about his images and process at his website.
- Scott Strazzante. A truly gifted street photographer earning his living as a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune.
- Fair Witness: Street Photography for the 21st Century (David Lykes Keenan). He’s crowdfunding this new book. Looks like it’s going to be a good one.
Try street photography. Even if you’re a little intimidated by the idea, just know that it gets easier the more you do it. My tips:
Be friendly. Smile. Say, “Hi,” and ask them about their dog, or hat, or shoes, or whatever catches your eye. Tell them you’re a photographer and ask if they wouldn’t mind a quick photo.
Get close. Yup, I’m saying it again. Make that connection. Anyone can use a telephoto from a distance and grab a shot that just looks like what it is, a disconnected tourist-style snapshot. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there’s a point to doing candid street photography, but it’s often uninteresting.
Give something in return. Definitely thank your subjects. Give them your card or take down their email address so that they can get a copy of your shot. Street photography should be a gift to everyone involved.