I’ve been talking about this for a long time, so I wanted to go ahead and give you some free tips for on-the-street people photography.
From various conversations, I think that photographers are REALLY interested in taking photos of people they see on the street. We can’t help it, right? Our eyes are drawn to interesting “things” — not just landscapes. And if we see an interesting person, we really want to take their photo, yes? But then, often times, we don’t even pull the camera up to our eye because we are shy, embarrassed, or think about all the horrible things that could go wrong. So, maybe these tips will help!
Look, honestly, I don’t know if these will do you any good or not. But these are some things that I personally think about. So, insofar as some of my insights are useful to me, maybe they will be useful to you too!
Even though I’m known for “landscape photography”, I actually enjoy all kinds of photography! I take hundreds of people photos, object photos, food photos, model photos, B&W photos, etc. I assume that you take many types of photography too.
1) Keep an extra camera ready for people shots. When walking the streets, I normally have my “big” (D3X) camera ready to go for city landscape shots. My tripod is on. My wide-angle is on. It’s in that “mode”. If I am going to have to switch lenses, it will take forever, and the moment will be lost. So, I carry a second camera (D3S) on a sling around my shoulder for people shots. On that camera, I have a 50mm prime lens. Now, you don’t have to have this exact setup by any means, but having ANY kind of second camera for people shots is recommended.
2) If they are clearly not looking at you and will not notice you, just start taking photos. You’re a photographer, dammit. Just do it.
3) If they ARE likely to notice you, be confident and deliberate, softly asking permission with your eyes. This is a very subtle and hard thing to explain. I usually raise my eyebrows while I raise my camera, clearly indicating, “I’m about to take a photo. Everything is okay.” If they don’t want you to, they will make it clear. Usually, they say it’s just fine. People like to be thought of as interesting.
4) If they are very close, I ask permission out loud. Often times, I don’t want them to pose… so I say something (smiling!) like, “You look very interesting — can I take a photo?” Once they say yes (98% of the time they do), I usually ask them not to pose and carry on about their business. Then I start taking a bunch of photos and enjoy the pressure of capturing the moment.
5) Don’t be shy! You’re not a 9-year-old girl.
Regarding that last one, seriously, folks, just be cool and confident with it. If you want to do it, and it feels right, just do it. Do not worry so much about rejection. Yes, you WILL get rejected 2-10% of the time depending upon how likable you are. Out of 500 people photos, I’ve been rejected maybe 10-13 times. It doesn’t bother me a bit. So what? People say no… big deal. The fact is that MOST people LOVE to have photos taken of them. To be interesting in a world of same-ness is a tremendous thing. Chances are that no one has ever taken a photo of them before, and they will feel special that you thought they were special.
Most of the time, after I take a photo and people look over at me, wondering, “Why did you just take a photo of me?” I usually say, “You look cool!” Or, “You look awesome!” Or, if they don’t speak English, I give them a thumbs up and a facial indication that I think they look cool. 99% of the time, they smile and carry on.
If you’re taking a photo of a kid, just get a steady nod from the parents before. Bend down to take the photo, look up at the parent, saying, “is it okay?” with your eyes. They’ll say yes or no… There is a significant number of moms out there that watch too much sensational news and assume that 50% of the population are pedophiles… but, maybe you’ll hit that other 50%! Again, we’re all just photographers, and if we see a cute or interesting kid, of course we want to take a photo! It’s what we do! There is no need to apologize for it!
Daily Photo – Salaryman in Tokyo
While I was in the middle of making a time-lapse sequence (see the video below the photo), I was using my D3S on a sling to take quick photos of interesting people. They were everywhere!
Behind me, waiting for the light to change, was this young salaryman. Salaryman is the Japanese word for “businessman”. That word salaryman always cracks me up for some reason. Anyway, he was this young kid, standing there in a most unassuming way in this nice suit. I spun around and grabbed a quick shot.
He looked a little confused at me after I took it. I gave him a nod of thanks, and he smiled in a surprised way then went merrily on his way.
Videos – Life in Japan
While I am busy shooting landscapes and people in Japan, I also take time to make some videos. Below are a few of them from recent past. The music from both is by the great Patrick O’Hearn (buy his stuff!). Enjoy!
It’s finally here! The nice team from This Week in Photography has put up my interview – TWIP Episode Jan 13, 2010 (you can also get it on iTunes). I hope you enjoy it. We talk about everything from Creative Commons to Wide Blogs to HDR Photography to Mentally Unstable People Who Dislike HDR.
There is a spiritual and peaceful place on the edge of Japan. I had to get off the bullet train and make a series of extremely confusing train changes to get to this place, but it was worth it.
The nice thing about photography is there is no such thing as bad weather. Every scene has its mood, and whatever the scene is, that is the mood. You learn to roll with the situation, and whatever is happening can be beautiful if you look at it for what it is. It was a foggy and wet afternoon, so I walked peacefully up and down the shoreline for interesting things here and there…
You can win a copy of “A World in HDR” over at FrederickVan.com. Note, if you can somehow evade his haunting stare, you can then leave a comment to win!
Fred is a an awesome guy, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him. We hung out together in Northern California a while ago and got along like a Starbucks on fire. Take some time and visit his blog… he’s got all kinds of good stuff on there. Also, he recently interviewed me for an upcoming This Week in Photography, which I will link to as soon as it goes live!
Daily Photo – The Rainy Forest in Hakone
Hakone is a wonderful and remote part of Japan. The bullet train only took me so far before I switched to a smaller series of trains to get me out to this spot. It is nationally known as a place for rest and spiritual relaxation. I was already on vacation, so I decided to double down and take a vacation from the vacation and super-relax. I spent the day out exploring places like this before retiring in the evening with the most intense hotbaths of my life.