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Photographing people in street scenes

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Guest

Hello all,

I'd love some feedback on this. I've always had a love/hate relationship with photos of people in street scenes. I love them when they are interesting and tell a story - I hate them when I feel self conscious "intruding" into a strangers life by taking a picture of them. I have generally avoided such shots. However, I do have one image of an older woman standing in a doorway of a cottage in NE Scotland with a cat crouched in the opening of the doorway. It was only after I got that one back that friends picked it out and remarked how much they liked it.

How do you handle these street scenes with people, where people become a focal point. It nearly becomes a portrait of them? Do you find they back-off what they were doing and look unnatural when they see you taking their photos? What do you say? Do you ask for a release form to be signed in case you want to use the image later?

I would really like to hear how others handle this.

Thanks very much,
Lynn
 
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Guest

Hi, Lynn! Generally photos of people I don't know work best for me when they understand I am taking a photo of them or when I ask them to pose. There are some exceptions to this, of course, but not very many. For me the critical part is how I ask them and how I can put them at ease. I don't know how I would handle a serious language barrier (rural Alabama?) but I guess with a lot of smiles. Jack Casner
 
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Guest

Hi Jack,
Thanks very much for the feedback. I've always wondered how others handle these situations. Good information.

Can I run a hypothetical question past you? Say you're out at a farmers market. There's a nifty looking situation: beautifully displayed farm products (fruits vegetables etc) and the vendor looks great interacting with the customers .... what might you typically say? Something like, "Do you mind if I take some photos of you with your stand?" ... do you mention signing a release before or after you do the photos? Sorry to get so detailed, but it would help me to hear this sort of info.

Thanks again,
Lynn
 
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Guest

> I take pictures like that all the time. In a situation like the one > you discribed, I never ask but I make it a point to be as > unobstrusives as possible. Usually when there is a transaction like > the one you mentioned, the people involved never notice you. If you > make eye contact (avoid this if possible) then either ask permission > or move on. If you want to get real close aske permission.

The images on my web site were all taken without permission. If you ever intend to use any photos in a commercial way (advertising editorial etc., get a model release. this is not required for images for exhibit)

Please, Log in or Register to view URLs content!
 
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Guest

Sometimes people are suspicious of your motives[and god knows I'd be suspicious of someone like Jack! ;-)] , but then would be a good time to mentiona release [if you intend using them for commercial purposes] . I tended to do the sniper thing with a longer lens , but I find myself getting bolder and asking/interacting with my subjects more these days . It depends on the situation and what you're after really......... If you needa release signed you need to be fairly specific about the pics use as people are often intimidated or suspicious of legal documents - especially from a stranger . If you're going to be making something out of the deal its only fair to offer something in return by maybe buying something from the stallholder[in the case you mention] or promising a print or two for them....... Beyond that , people are often flattered by the attention and will cooperate more than you might think - its how you go about it that counts I find.... Steve
 
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>

Thanks Jack, David and Steve, I sure hope I'm sending this post right - because this is my second attempt to send via email rather than posting on the site. The first time I definitely failed. The instructions have me a bit perplexed. If this is a mess to read, sorry! I'm learning.

All of your advice has helped. This type of shooting has always been a difficult issue for me. But I think I'll give it more of a go now. Although I don't have immediate need for commercial use of these sorts of images, I'd like to create my own private stock collection for future use. That's why I'd need the releases. I can see using some of these in some upcoming projects, but not definite. That is a nice idea to offer them a copy of the photos...I think that itself might calm any fears they'd have over some stranger taking their pictures! I'm not that daunting to look at I suppose at 5'2" and I usually smile, so maybe I can manage this.

As Jack mentioned, I'll try to stick to areas where I can speak the language, my "Alabama-language" is a little weak. ;)

Thanks again all. -Lynn
 
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Guest

Lynn:
This string is a few months old, but perhaps you would still appreciate some additional information. I'm an American living in the Philippines and I've done a lot of street work. I find 98% of the people I shoot want to be in a photo. I usually smile and hold up the camera with a questioning look and get lots of "yes" grins. When the subject is spectacular I spend a lot of time with them talking about their work and life and interspersing directions about posing. Even if they speak only Tagalog (mine consists of asking directions and thanking people) smiles and gestures do it. The only time I "sneak" a photo is if someone gives me a frown and shakes their head. Ususally I abide by their decision, but if it's a great shot I hang in there and try to get a shot when they're not aware. Since I spend so much time with people I will buy something from them if I'm in a market situation, and in some areas they are used to being paid - believe me they will let you know if that is the case. Sorry this is so long, but I just wanted to mention that spending the time makes the difference. I once saw a lovely older woman in the market and wanted to photograph her, but she disappeared. Later I was photographing a gentleman and his wife and he wouldn't let me go until he found "lola" (grandma) to be in a shot as well - she turned out to be the woman I wanted to shoot earlier.
 
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Guest

Lynn:
This string is a few months old, but perhaps you would still appreciate some additional information. I'm an American living in the Philippines and I've done a lot of street work. I find 98% of the people I shoot want to be in a photo. I usually smile and hold up the camera with a questioning look and get lots of "yes" grins. When the subject is spectacular I spend a lot of time with them talking about their work and life and interspersing directions about posing. Even if they speak only Tagalog (mine consists of asking directions and thanking people) smiles and gestures do it. The only time I "sneak" a photo is if someone gives me a frown and shakes their head. Ususally I abide by their decision, but if it's a great shot I hang in there and try to get a shot when they're not aware. Since I spend so much time with people I will buy something from them if I'm in a market situation, and in some areas they are used to being paid - believe me they will let you know if that is the case. Sorry this is so long, but I just wanted to mention that spending the time makes the difference. I once saw a lovely older woman in the market and wanted to photograph her, but she disappeared. Later I was photographing a gentleman and his wife and he wouldn't let me go until he found "lola" (grandma) to be in a shot as well - she turned out to be the woman I wanted to shoot earlier.

Lyn McCoy-Tupaz
 
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Guest

> Just to add, if you're taking pictures in a poor country the type of equipment you use probably makes a difference to people's attitudes to being photographed. I recently came back from a trek round Morocco, and was horrified to see one photographer training the latest image-stabiliser zoom lens and sparkling new EOS on a small local boy that had just cleaned his shoes for about ten US cents. I could sense the disgust of the people around me. People are never going to like the idea that their stretched circumstances make a nice set of pics for your holiday album, but surely it makes it worse if you are pointing several years salary at them in the process. Professional photographers there were still using the Pentax Spotmatic. I'm sure I felt more comfortable using a rather worn 139Q and standard lens than the image-stabiliser guy must have done.



>
 
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Guest

> > Just to add, if you're taking pictures in a poor country the type of> equipment you use probably makes a difference to people's attitudes to> being photographed. I recently came back from a trek round Morocco,> and was horrified to see one photographer training the latest> image-stabiliser zoom lens and sparkling new EOS on a small local boy> that had just cleaned his shoes for about ten US cents. I could sense > the disgust of the people around me. People are never going to like> the idea that their stretched circumstances make a nice set of pics> for your holiday album, but surely it makes it worse if you are> pointing several years salary at them in the process. Professional > photographers there were still using the Pentax Spotmatic. I'm sure I> felt more comfortable using a rather worn 139Q and standard lens than> the image-stabiliser guy must have done.

With all due respect this is nonsense - to say you should only take pictures of poor people with all old dog-eared equipment is rubbish . It says more about you than the people you are photogreaphing - the average poor person in Africa living on the bones of his arse would really not know the difference between your politically correct battered 139 and a brand new EOS whatever . To him or her it is just expensive and well beyond his or her means , either way - even what I paid for my own battered old 139 would feed a family for months..... Occasional religious and cultural sensibilities aside , people in Africa are just as flattered to have their pic taken as anywhere else in my experience . Steve
 
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Steve,

Ditto,

I have shot in "3rd world countries with "first world" equipment and found people to be hospitable and very open. I think it is more a question of the photographer's attitude than his equipment. A photographer who respects his subjects and is open and friendly is more likely to be accepted than a photg who is either unconcerned or has guilt and superiority feelings to his subjects. My experiences have been that except in the "western world" poor people in poor countries have much less hang up with their circumstances. Shoot with whatever you bring and appreciate people for what they are! Guy
 
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By Guy Gonyea :

"My experiences have been that except in the 'western world' poor people in poor countries have much less hang up with their circumstances."

Very true. They carry their poverty with dignity has been my observation.
 
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Guest

Stephen, with all due respect, couldn't you find it in yourself to disagree with others' opinions without labelling them "rubbish"? I was just reporting what I took to be the reactions of people around me and how that meade me feel. Of course you are entitled to disagree but you could try to keep a civil tone. Using charged phrases like "politically correct" doesn't advance discussion either, I think.

you say

"the average poor person in Africa living on the bones of his arse would really not know the difference between your politically correct battered 139 and a brand new EOS whatever ."

That's rather patronising, I think. Can't they tell the difference between something that looks like space-age technology and something more like what local people use? Moreover, I didn't say that one should only use old battered equipment. I only said that the type of equipment you use could make a difference to the reaction of your subject. (As a general point, I think that should be obvious - people don't like having large lenses stuck in their faces, for ex&le.) I'd add that if that's the case one should be sensitive to it. Of course the attitude and behaviour of the photographer is crucially important; no one would deny it.

"Occasional religious and cultural sensibilities aside , people in Africa are just as flattered to have their pic taken as anywhere else in my experience"

the point of this thread is that they are very often not at all flattered - and why say "occasional cultural sensibilities aside"? when those sensibilities are what I was talking about.

> >
 
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Guest

Nick , I dont mean to turn this into a slanging match but misinformed opinions and attitudes such as yours really need to be challenged , so , I feel compelled to respond . You , and the impoverished people you choose to assume you "know", are worlds apart in so many areas its laughable - unlike yourself I will not presume to speak on behalf of Africa's poor , but I will say that I live in Africa , and have done for nearly 30 years . I see the stuff you are talking about , and interact with the people every day of my life . Having a foot in both c&s , so to speak , qualifies me to venture a educated and unbiased opinion on your original post and the stereotypical attitudes it portrays . Now to deal with your points:

> That's rather patronising, I think. Can't they tell the difference> between something that looks like space-age technology and something> more like what local people use?

No , in my opinion most non-photographers anywhere in the world would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the latest SLR and one 20 years old , other than one obviously looking older than the other . And why would you presume to know "what local people/professionals use" based on such a short visit??

Moreover, I didn't say that one> should only use old battered equipment. I only said that the type of > equipment you use could make a difference to the reaction of your> subject.

Maybe not in so many words , but it was clear from your post you were concerned more about the financial value of the equipment used ["horrified" was the word you used] Do you really think that the poor sod being photographed really cares whether the gear you are using represents one year or ten years pay to him??, and thats assuming the person concerned even has the benefit of formal employment........

> the point of this thread is that they are very often not at all> flattered - and why say "occasional cultural sensibilities aside"? > when those sensibilities are what I was talking about.

I used the word occasional because in my opinion and experience people only react negatively in the minority of cases , especially if approached in a sensitive manner . In fact I am often accosted by strangers in the street here asking me to just take their picture for the hell of it . You made an assumption , and you have also assumed your fellow tourists felt the same , as to the boys reaction and what was going through his head , based on your own values and prejudice . I'm sorry but that is just plain arrogance - if you really feel that badly about first and third world income disparities then do something constructive rather than fretting about which camera to use....... Steve
 
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> Steve, Forgive me if I am wrong but I think I can detect more than a touch of arrogance in your own posting. In fact i find it rather insulting. Should I defer to your opinions because you live in africa?

My comments were triggered by the audible derision of people around me and the apparent embarrassment of the photographer himself. Since you weren't there, I don't know how you can be so certain I misinterpreted things.

you say:

if you > really feel that > badly about first and third world income disparities > then do something > constructive rather than fretting about which camera > to use.......

You're presuming I don't then? Of course there are more important matters than which camera to use. I was just venturing an opinion that the person in question cut a rather unfortunate figure, and that cutting such a figure can't make shooting street scenes any easier. I know that other tourists felt the same way because they told me.

During my short 3 week visit I looked at several camera shops and also attended some public events where professional photographers were present. It seemed to me they were using equipment about 20-30 years old. I'm sorry if this opinion also offends you. If you know better I am happy to defer to your greater experience.

>
 
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Okay , this is my last word on this as its gone on too long already - clearly nothing I say is going to change anything , which is a pity because this is a much bigger issue than the petty circumstances of the incident you speak of . Obviously I dont expect you to automatically defer to my opinion because I live here , but I do expect you to open your mind and allow for the possibility that I do know something about what I'm talking about . If you accept that possibility , you have to also accept that their are people with differing views , priorities and realities to your own - and they're too busy surviving to give a stuff about your hang-ups or your camera equipment . Steve
 
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This has *definitely* gone on too long. And those who preach an open mind should practice what they preach. I get caught on this often. - Dave
 
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Guest

I think the more pithy issue is whether it is proper to photograph street= people on, let's say, Nob Hill SF with anything but a Leica or Contax? = And do we switch camera backs for the homeless people that frequent the s= ame. Personally I use my RTS III and simply switch from my f1.4 85 mm to= my f2.8. The less fortunate seem to appreciate the thought. DKozy, Perrysburg Ohio
 
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