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PE Street Photography Myths

Sat Jul 20, 2013, 12:29 AM


Myth No 1:
People will stare at me, sue me, beat me up, break my camera, think I am a terrorist, shoot me and dance on my grave.

No, most likely people won't even notice you. Most likely they will think you are taking pictures of something else around you. Even if they do notice you, most likely they will pretend not to see you. Sometimes they will look at you as if you were a weirdo (which you are) and they will keep away, but most often they won't mind being photographed. Sometimes they will even feel flattered by it (well, ok, don't think you will get girls' phone numbers this way, though). I never had problems taking photos of strangers. If after taking a photo you look intensely to something else, people will think you were photographing it. If after taking a photo you turn and take another one...the same. If you get spotted and caught, just smile. People will be less likely to break your nose. If somebody complains about having his picture taken, don't insist, and delete it, while explaining why you took the photo. Avoid dangerous situations, trust your instinct and feelings towards people.


Myth No 2:
Street photography is against the law

No, it is not necessarily. It is always good to be aware of local laws especially concerning children, commercial use of photos, publication of photos. Taking photos in public places is accepted and normal in most of the countries. It is very unlikely that people will find themselves in a published photo and complain about it. Especially if you avoid taking photos that could be offensive and detrimental (which IS against the law) and avoid taking photos of recognizable children (delicate matter, and a written permission from parents is usually required). Let's remember that everybody nowadays snaps photos of everything all the time, and that internet is such a de-regulated place where everything gets reblogged, retwittered, shared, stolen, etc. that pretty sure a street photo is not such a big deal.

Myth No 3:
I need permission/a model release form when shooting people in the streets.

Sure, street photographers usually take a photo in a public place full of people, and then they freeze the time with their superpowers, open their raincoats where hundreds of release forms are hidden in hidden pockets, and they start getting signatures from each person in the frame. Then they start the clocks again, just to stop them a minute later for another photo.

I am kidding!
Street photography is candid. Unposed. Unstaged. Subjects are not aware of being photographed.
No, street photographers don't ask permission, neither before nor after taking photos. It would be impossible. It is not even necessary. And the absence of consent does not imply unethical behavior.

"Photographing without the subject’s knowledge lays at the crux of potential ethical conflicts – without knowledge there cannot be consent. On the other hand, the absence of consent does not imply unethical behavior. Moral codes come into play for all parties involved: the photographer, who is looking to exercise his/her artistic freedom while safeguarding an individual’s dignity – the subject, who might ask for the deletion of his image, realizing he/she has no say in the creation or distribution of the photograph – and the public, who demands both access to street photography (in form of entertainment, news, or art), and to be shielded from excesses. A group not supposed to be guided by moral considerations is law enforcement. However, an officer called to the scene of a dispute may or may not be knowledgeable about the law he is supposed to enforce. The ensuing vacuum is likely filled with the official’s own moral code".…

Useful articles On Street photography ethics and laws:

- Street photography and moral codes…

- Voulez-vous photograph avec moi, ce soir?…

- The Ethics of street photography…

- Why street photography is facing a moment of truth…

- Woldwide photographer's Rights by DougNZ…

Myth No 4:
A street photograph is a snapshot

Duh, of course not. Well, sometimes (ok, often) the catch of a great moment is a matter of luck. Sometimes, the photographer just happens to be in the right place in the right moment, notice it and catch it. What makes a snapshot different than a Street photograph, is that the first lacks of composition, technique and a story to tell.
A good street photo is the outcome of a wise direction work. Which doesn't mean staging or posing elements, but playing with unaware 'actors' in a candid setting.
Composition and technique help the photographer making the watchers understand what captured his eye and what made him take a photo.
Composing means selecting the elements to include in the frame and organize them visually.
Depth of field, composition rules, technique solutions, expressive capacity, personal sensitivity and artisitic vibes are what make a good (street) photo.
In street photography there is not a neat separation between form and content. The two concepts are complementary.

From the bible of street photography (Genesis, 1.1):

"To take photographs means to recognize - simultaneously and within a fraction of a second - both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis". (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Myth No 5:
I need a 10,000 USD-EUROS-POUNDS Leica to shoot street

Well, who couldn't use this amount of money? Though not everybody have them, right? So you don't 'need' a Leica camera. If you can afford it, great for you, go for it. Though street photography doesn't really need to be taken with a Leica camera, or a certain other brand, or type,  or on film, or with expensive gear in general. What you need is a reactive, fast camera, preferably silent, preferably not bulky.
Film cameras, DSLRs, mirrorless, point and shoot cameras, mobile phones, everything can work. You need to adjust to your tool, though, each tool has limits, each tool has pros and cons.
You can hardly take 'in your face' photos with a bulky and noisy DSLR, you can hardly split the second with a point and shoot autofocus, you can't afford taking tons of photos with film, you can't expect fine art prints out of the mobile phone.
Though technology is doing miracles, and while the perfect camera still has to be invented, 'discontent is the first necessity of progress' (Thomas Edison dixit).
And anyway knowing your camera by heart makes up for a lot of tech stuff.

Leica M9-P by Acolite

Leica M9 Pinhole by never4getthis

You are welcome to add your own myths regarding this wonderful genre of photography and/or discuss the myths mentioned above!

conscience and countenance by SimonSawSunlight

38 by felixlu

Cuba Untitled 023 by sagi-k

Valencia dfg by DualMechanized

Matching Ties by MARX77

Add a Comment:
Maclunar Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014   Photographer
Great writing, Mary :-)
raquelvonkaminaru Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2013   Photographer
I always wondered why people think that Street photography has to be done with a Leica. ;)
Great article!
lintu47 Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
    Great article :clap:
X-LunerStarEclisp-X Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013  Student General Artist
where did you get the pics?
myraincheck Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013
from dA's photographers, click on them to find out
X-LunerStarEclisp-X Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013  Student General Artist
Kay! <3
noperson Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
all written here is right and well. great article
Manlarr Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013   Photographer
Gary Winogrand was a very aggressive (in your face at times) photographer. Fearless and extremely good. Diane Arbus, on the other hand, made conversation first with most of her subjects, sometimes becoming friends with them . Also an amazing photographer. They were friends and took different approaches to get their work done. Henri Cartier-Bresson was rather shy and tried to be inconspicuous to the point of putting black tape over his camera. He was a master photographer. I suppose the way you do things can differ with equally great results. 
(Note: I am not a street photographer but I enjoy seeing this type of photography.) 
Thank you for the wonderful advice and examples.
DougNZ Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Hey, I  take 'in your face' photos with a bulky and noisy DSLR and you did too until recently :D
Cool journal and photos, thanks Mary!
myraincheck Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
yours are not really 'in your face' photos, you don't cross the personal space of people :D
Me neither, the kind of photos I look for are more 'discrete' :D
DougNZ Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Oh, you mean Bruce Gilden kind of thing? Yes, we're much more civilised than that :D
PatrickMonnier Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
"Civilised"? you two?? I've seen your photos!


DougNZ Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
:lol: Uh comes Bruce's protege - street fight!! :turbopoke:
DougNZ Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
You missed the best of all
Mind you, all of these were taken at protest marches, they're photojournalism so the people are there to get publicity. 
I couldn't shoot Gilden style. Well I did when I was a young lad but it's too intrusive for me. 
And from the look on some of the people's faces when they're caught Gilden style you might as well shove the camera up their bum rather than in their face :lol:
PatrickMonnier Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
I agree... Maybe it means I'm still young, well at least I've only photographed street for a little while...
(1 Reply)
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July 20, 2013
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