Since I began blogging, several people have asked me about photographing people on the street – Do I get their permission? Do people ever confront me about taking their photo? Street photography has become much more common in recent years, but it still jars people’s thinking. We all want a sense of privacy even when while out in public. And we are are our worst critics when it comes to seeing ourselves in photos.
So, I understand how the idea of street photography hits a sore spot. At the same time, it is the only way to portray real people in real life; for street style, nothing beats it. I for one, am much more inspired by someone looking fabulous in her everyday life than by a photoshopped model in a magazine.
I thought I would answer these questions about candid photography by sharing some of my recent experiences on a shoot in New York. I’ll let you form your own opinions – and give you some tips in case you’d like to give it a try.
Tip #1: Before hitting the pavement, I make sure to dress stylishly.
Knowing I’m dressed stylishly boosts my morale and gives me courage – I am basically an introvert. It also conveys the sense that I am a style blogger. For this last shoot, I wore a striped Alexander Wang long-sleeved tee – a recent fave – with pretty much all black (pants, cardigan, pants, and booties).
Tip #2: En route to the City, I remind myself to focus on the art of shooting.
This includes composition, lighting, and focus, rather than if people might get freaked out. When I do this, I seem to inspire trust. My eyes are not darting around nervously. I also love my Sony RX100 III with pop-out electronic viewfinder for enabling me to hold the camera waist-high and look down to see my subjects. With the volume off, I appear to be looking at old photos while taking fresh ones.
Tip #3: I ask people to pose for me right away.
In New York, people are quite open to a smiling photographer asking to photograph their fantastic outfit. This spikes my personal conviction, and although candid shots are often more attractive and natural-looking, I am surprised by some born naturals. Take for example, Carly from Long Island, who I met at a taxi line. I admired her sweater with cut out shoulders and the way her black quilted Chanel bag – love! – matched her black quilted vest.
Tip #4: Have business cards on hand.
I gave Carly a card with my URL, which I pass out in order for people to check out theSTYLetti on their smart phones and see our positive spin – celebrating people’s individual styles rather than shaming them for a “wrong” outfit.
I confess that the most lovely, natural, and endearing photo I caught of this stylish and willing subject was immediately prior to our “actual shots.”
I photographed this next woman as she passed by – there was no personal contact. I love capturing the look of someone who seems to know she is on top of her style game.
Tip #5: Sometimes a fabulously dressed person rushes by before I get a chance to click the shutter. I let it go.
I have learned that once I start beating myself up over the one who got away, I lose my composure for capturing the next great photo op. I mean, street life is so unexpected! There were so many delightful surprises that day – people asking me to photograph them with their cameras, street musicians, this interesting street performance/protest.
Tip #6: The most important thing during a shoot is to be present.
Notice everything around you. There is so much life on the street, so much improvisation,…
…so much in the architecture and trees and store windows. Everything and everyone are mutual influences. In order to really see a person, it helps to take in everything around him or her.
Sometimes you cannot even capture the most fascinating aspect about a person’s style with a still shot. The woman pictured below, for example, walked with a serious sense of purpose -style in motion!
There is so much to cherish on the streets, especially in New York City. There are, however, limits on my photography.
- I avoid photographing children and do not publish photos of them.
- If I want to point out a style which does not resonate with me, I only show an item or two of clothing while cropping out facial features.
- I never publish a shot of someone who doesn’t want their picture taken.
- If I see that someone is unhappy with having a photo taken, I immediately erase it. I was once sprayed with water by a street person who looked like an art installation: her clothing, suitcase, and a piece of cardboard upon which she stood were all black, splattered with speckles of white and pink paint. I instinctively shot a photo of the fascinating scene, but after the water incident, erased the images.
- I never intentionally show someone in a bad light.
Following these guidelines and strategies, I am excited to see my photography evolve – to now include more posed shots. As a somewhat shy people-lover, taking photos of strangers on the street is the last thing I thought I would end up doing – and enjoying. But it has become a truly satisfying creative adventure. Do you think you might want to give it a try?