Street photography is its own beast. Lately I’ve been reading a thread on the DPReview forums about the supposed perils of street photography. The original poster wrote about a person accosting him with a knife and threatening him. Others followed suit with their own stories of sketchy encounters while photographing people on the street. Outside of an old lady scolding me for photographing her cat in Kyiv once, I’ve never had any problems.
The thread veered off a bit when some expressed that it was impolite to photograph people without their permission. Some of the reasoning was a little goofy. Here’s how I look at it. If someone is on public street it’s fair game to photograph them. I’m no attorney, but from what I understand, photographing a person in public space is legal. Well, in the USA anyway.
Now snapping someone without their permission or knowledge when it’s not in a public space does begin to get a little creeperish. Or upskirt nonsense. That is definitely creeper behavior even if it is in a public space.
But, generally, I don’t have a problem with photographing someone in public. I’ve never had it happen, but I suppose if someone did come up to me and demand that I delete their pic, I might grant them that wish. Maybe. But, generally speaking, most people don’t mind or don’t care. Some even ham it up.
You can always ask people for their permission and I do sometimes. Especially if I want a different kind of photograph. Shooting an unexpected snap of someone in the street or asking their permission will result in a completely different photograph.
For example, this pic.
I saw this girl walking in a crowd of people and I simply asked her if I could take her photo. I mean, look at her, why wouldn’t I want to take her pic. She said, sure, go for it, and I did.
And this pic:
This one happened in much the same way; crowd of people, look at her, she’s a combination of both beautiful and interesting. Of course I’m going to take a pic. Like the previous example, I simply asked her if I could take her pic. I took several, this one is the one I like the best.
As much as I like the above photos, they are very different than had I not asked for their permission.
I saw this guy walking across the street, again in a crowd of people, walked up to him and snapped the pic. Again, why wouldn’t I? Look at him. The guy weighs heavy on the scale of interesting. Right after snapping the pic, he stopped, kind of startled, then his face erupted into a huge smile, he threw out a fist bump, “Dude!” and walked on. If I had asked him if I could take his pic he probably would’ve said yes, but the pic would have been vastly different and probably not near as interesting.
Same thing. I pulled up my camera, she looked at me, I snapped, her face lit up in a smile. Yes, a smile is nice, but it completely changes everything about the photo.
Asking people permission in the street to take their photo is certainly a valid approach, but just be aware that it will result in a completely different photo than if you don’t.
Why not mix it up?
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