Although I don’t really consider myself a street photographer, I do have an appreciation for the genre and will dabble in it occasionally. I also tend to think that a lot of my travel photography has a street aesthetic about it. I love trying to capture the sense and feel of a place through my images, the nitty gritty backstreets, and the places where people actually live and work and interact.
John Batdorff just published a blog post on 6 tips for improving your street photography. One of the suggestions he made was to understand that you are probably going to feel nervous and to accept and get used to this, that this nervousness comes with putting yourself out there. Maybe there’s little distinction but for me it’s not so much nervousness as discomfort. This is especially true in places where I already stand out as a foreigner. Walking around pointing a huge camera everywhere makes you even more conspicuous. Although it’s not easy, as John suggests I think the best thing to do is to embrace this nervousness or discomfort.
Another point John makes in his post is a common one made with respect to street photography, which is to get permission from your subject before snapping the shutter. Although I generally agree with this, I do think it often depends on the circumstances. There are situations where it’s definitely most appropriate to get your subject’s acknowledgement, particularly if it’s a portrait-type image. But what about those times when what you’re wanting to capture is people going about their daily lives, without awareness of the camera? Personally I think there’s many times when it’s perfectly acceptable to photograph people in public situations without asking their permission. The problem is that the line between the times when it’s appropriate to photograph someone without asking and the times when you should ask can be rather blurry. I can’t say that I always know where that line is. In the image below, I was standing in plain sight taking a picture. The gentleman smoking simply ignored me so I took that for implicit approval. I think the most important thing to remember here is something another photographer, I think it was Chase Jarvis, said (and I’m paraphrasing): Always respect your subject and never present them in a way that would be embarrassing or humiliating.