This article on Street Photography was originally published on my photo website.
A prominent sub-section of the Photo Galleries menu on my photo website is labeled “Street Photography.” I’m often asked two questions: What is Street Photography? and – once people understand what it is – Why do you do it?
What is Street Photography?
Street Photography is sometimes called Candid Photography. Simply stated, Street Photography can be defined as ‘capturing unmediated chance and random encounters in public places.’
In other words, while I may have a general idea of things I’m trying to capture when I set out on a photo shoot, I really don’t know what I’m going to find until I see it before me.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as a man sitting on a bench reading a book and smoking a cigar. Or it might be an artist, making a chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Maybe it’s a young couple walking down the street hand-in-hand.
Sometimes it’s humorous — a man driving by a golf cart who most for the camera when he sees me raise it.
And sometimes it’s poignant — a young woman listening to music on her phone while, beside her, the homeless man digs in the garbage for food.
Whatever it is, it’s a moment in time that’s either captured or gone.
Despite the name, ‘Street Photography’ is not confined to the ‘street.’ It’s candid photography in a public place. Sometimes, that place has taken the form of a model air show, people with the zoo, or people attending a free street performance.
Do You Get Permission to Photograph?
This is probably the most often asked question. In the short answer is, “No.”
As a general rule, you do not need permission to take photographs of anyone and anything that is visible from a public place. There are a few exceptions to this which go beyond the scope of this article, but in general, if a person is in public, you do not need their permission to photograph them.
From a practical standpoint, stopping and asking permission would pretty much negate the whole idea of capturing people just being themselves. As a street photographer, I usually don’t want people to pose. Often times, the subjects don’t even know they’re being photographed.
That doesn’t mean that I will never talk to people. In some instances, I may take a candid photograph of a person and then decide that I would also like something slightly more posed. In those cases, I will take the initial shot and then contact the person and ask them for something less candid.
Why Street Photography?
I must confess that when I started on my photography quest, I had really never heard of street photography. Once I learned what it was, I was still filled with some trepidation. How would people react to having their photograph taken on the street? Would they objective, even violently?
I began by taking pictures of people at a distance, occasionally with a telephoto lens. However, I quickly learned that not only do most people not object. Even when they become aware that they’re being photographed, they very often smile and sometimes even strike a pose. Now, I rarely shoot with a long lens, and often am photographing from a distance of only four to six feet.
To date, I’ve only had one person ask that I not photograph her, and I agreed. There are so many interesting shots and interesting stories on the street that is easy to move on to the next shot.
Street photography quickly became my primary genre. My life has been filled with watching people. Certainly, during my working career, I was watching for signs of criminal behavior. But even in those days, I couldn’t help but notice the interesting variety of people in everyday situations. So with Street Photography, I’m just taking the observation one step further — seeing it and photographing it.
It is also a factor that you can go back to exactly the same location a day later, or even an hour later, and find completely different reactions and situations.
What do you think about Street Photography? Would you object to having her photo taken while you were walking down the street?