It seems that everyone loves street photography yet it is the one genre that most people fear. I understand this fear all to well. Sure it is easy to snap a picture of someone you know but to walk around a street taking pictures of strangers seems odd...and that is the challenge, we equate running around snapping pictures as being somehow weird and a danger to society.
But that is our own perception. If you see someone taking pictures of street scenes, not hidden, but open, in plain view, do you consider this person a danger? This is the perception one must overcome to shoot the street. When you look at the photography masters do you believe that they just walked up and snapped the picture only to walk away unnoticed? Look through Magnum Contact sheets and you will see the number of images taken, the different angles tried and the compositions picked up and discarded frame after frame.
They took those pictures by creating an understanding with the subject. 'I am here to take pictures, you will be in them, but I do not expect anything from you and I will not harm you in any way.'
So how do you develop those skills? You drop your fear, fill yourself with false confidence and go shoot. Fake it till you make it...or Fake it until you become it...either way you must start by faking it.
In the shot above I am standing across the street, I have zoomed in and you can tell as the image is compressed. This gave me a wonderful vantage of the lady with the break salesman int he back. These shots are a bit easy as you are farther away from your subject. They may not know you are there. Easy to get a natural expression but a bit of a cheat as you are not involved in the scene.
These images are a great way to warm up to street photography. They are good images, but rarely great. But they serve to get us into a rhythm which is so very important in street photography. When you are on a roll, walking around, shooting, moving, shooting, moving, smiling, chatting and shooting, you are confident and this allows you to shoot great street photography.
Here is another tool to use. In this image I am completely separated from the subject, but I have used that separation to form part of the image. The door helps to frame her, the car in the background gives some depth to the image. Her expression is clear, but unguarded. It is a natural image with wonderful lines and motion. Again I am not involved in the scene but I have used the separation to help the image instead of distracting. With these, if you are lucky and frame it right, you can grab some wonderful images. This can also build your confidence as you fake it.
A wonderful picture of the street...sort of. Here I have captured a common scene in Buenos Aires, that of a taxi cab. The driver and passenger are both looking at me but are not afraid. I am part of the scene they have driven into. Plenty of energy and a good street shot but now way to capture a real expression. Building the confidence a bit more.
Here is another image in the similar vain. The carriage rider saw us as part of the scene and that curiosity led to the peace sign. Another confidence booster to show that most people view people with a camera as completely normal. A nice capture of an era that is coming to an end as the horse drawn carriages are virtually all replaced by trucks.
So here I got closer. Everyone knows I am taking pictures, but they are comfortable with me. I am part of the scene, a man with a camera, no harm. If I had seen any resistance or defensiveness I would have backed off and found a different spot. I walked in and began snapping pictures, when they turned to look at my I smiled. The smiled, waved and went back to what they were doing. Bang, image captured.
Same market, different stall and same approach and result. A smile, a friendly wave and business continues. Compose, wait and fire. Then I kept shooting and began speaking to the man behind the counter. The owner came out and we chatted for a little while. He invited be to the back.
There is Alberto, in the back of his store showing off his inventory. A man who understood our curiosity, and was happy with us taking pictures. From street to environmental portrait after a friendly word and smile. Confidence growing with every shot and with every shot my hit rate increases. My confidence sets people at ease.
A real test as I approach a man with a knife and start taking pictures. If he took offense it would have been a short conversation. But I have a great deal of confidence at this point. But to show that this image was not a quick snap, but the result of methodical composing, framing, shooting and repeating, here is the contact sheet of the image above.
I move on, leaving the market, with a confident walk. I have found my rhythm and I am happy with the images I am taking. I walk down he street, shooting some different scenes but there are few people on the street. I then find an old store front, selling shoes. It is a cobbler who will make shoes for you. An old profession which is quickly disappearing. The shop looks amazing so I step inside.
I ask her permission to take some pictures in the store explaining that there are few cobblers left, and I would love to have some images of such an amazing store. She is flattered and happy to share. She pulls out an old photograph, she is a young girl on the bottom left of the photo, and it is a picture of her family and employees at the store. Her father began the business and he brought over the entire family from Italy. They all worked at the store, they raised families because of the store and sent their kids to college. Their kids became doctors, lawyers and engineers. She stayed with the store, it can no longer support more than her family. But it made so many dreams become reality.
While she tells me her amazing tale, I snap pictures, I talk and snap. I smile, the story is sad but the happy faces in the photograph show that while the store is in its final chapter, it made a family come together and helped them thrive in the New World. Of all the images I took, this one was my keeper. Her gesture to her heart showing what the store and memories mean to her. She will continue to make shoes until her time is done. Her kids will likely sell the building which they own. The final gift from her father to three generations of family members.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.