Greetings from Palermo, on the beautiful island of Sicily. I have just finished running a workshop and now I am shooting and filming. It’s been a great week for me!
Di and I were talking recently about why travel feels so exhilarating to us.
We travel to see the beauty of nature and the ingenuity of people.
We travel to see the majestic buildings, the ancient sites of worship, the beauty of the old.
We travel to see different formations of nature, animals and wildlife.
We travel to see different colours, smell different smells, try different foods, feel the air of a faraway place.
But we also travel to remove ourselves from ourselves. To find other ways to live, and to be away from everything that traps us into who we have become.
To experiment and explore other ways of being – and that is exhilarating.
It brings life, and it’s meaning to us, into focus in way that being at home day after day doesn’t.
I wonder if you like to travel? What does travelling mean to you?
When I travel I have one essential need – and that is to meet local people.
Even though I am not a people-centred photographer, I have more photos of nature, empty streets and sunrises than the humans living in these places.
But it is the people I meet that makes my experience of a new country deeper, more fascinating than anything I could do on my own – by simply bearing witness.
Meeting local people brings to life everything I am seeing. Instead of just seeing history I become part of local culture, living history as it were.
Instead of just eating the local foods, observing local culture, seeing the sights – by meeting people, and becoming involved in the community, I become part of life being lived.
I recently came across the Instagram account @everydayeverywhere. Growing out of the success of @everydayafrica, whose aim has been to break down stereotypes of the continent, tell stories and show those outside of Africa a different collection of images than the ones we just see on the news.
I like that it reflects my experiences of travelling – where I see people living their lives in almost exactly the same way, with similar values, as I have in my country (or what has recently become my many home countries :))
Why is this important?
Because we often form view of countries we don’t know from our media, and they are usually highly selective views about a tiny collection of events.
We start building up ideas in our mind of cities, groups of people, whole countries or continents being dangerous or totally poverty stricken or inhospitable – when in fact the majority of life being lived in that place is just like ours.
We often think – over there – is so much more dangerous than right here at home.
For me – one of the best way to eradicate stereotypes is to travel.
“I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance. What better reason could there be for travelling?” Freya Stark
And if you can’t travel or you just love to explore – thankfully we have fantastic projects like Everyday Everywhere where we can see lives all over the world.
In an age where stereotypes are becoming used politically to alienate and separate – I can’t think of a better way to combat this than be focusing instead on our similarities.
As I am always looking to improve my photography by learning, part of the process is seeking inspiration from others who create. I don’t, though, confine myself to just learning from other photographers.
I cast my net for ideas wide, and look to artists, writers, musicians – whoever it is that will inspire me with new ways of seeing and fresh ideas.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Spain lately, close to Pablo Picasso’s birthplace. After visiting museums to see his work, and reading more about his creations, I found myself pondering over some of the ideas he talked about in relation to creating art.
Some of his ideas are fantastically inspiring and I’d like to share them with you today – and show you how they can help develop your photography.
Let’s get started because, as Picasso said:
“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.”
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” Pablo Picasso
Wherever you are, you are absorbing the energy and emotions from everything around you. If you are in the right mental state, of being open and receptive, it can help generate wonderful ideas.
Being peaceful and quiet – really looking at things, not necessarily in a super-focused way, but just allowing your attention to drift – is very helpful for your creativity.
In fact, I encourage everyone to do as much of this type of ‘open awareness’ as it generates ideas for your creativity.
I read on the Siyli website about open awareness in relation to meditation (which I think also applies to photography). Open Awareness – “is your ability to maintain your presence of mind while allowing different stimuli to pass through your awareness – and it’s incredibly useful…When you cultivate open awareness, you open the doors to tremendous insight.”
This helps pull us away from our usual barrage of thoughts (and things to do) and allows us to connect to the world around us, and draw ideas from it.
I also like this from Picasso:
“A piece of space-dust falls on your head once every day… With every breath, we inhale a bit of the story of our universe, our planet’s past and future, the smells and stories of the world around us, even the seeds of life.”
So go find the stories!
“If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.” Pablo Picasso
The mind is a busy place. It always seems to have a lot to sort out, think about and organise. But the busy mind is the worst state to be in when you are taking photos.
Learning to see is about learning to ignore that busy, analytical mind and become present, learning to observe the world around you. It’s getting in touch with the present moment.
I would also add – use your heart, your guts, to guide you. This is where our instinct lives. It’s where we get our ideas about photography without consciously knowing.
Intuition is that knowingness, in a way where you are led by ideas and interests, and not by your logical, analytical mind.
It also connects with what Picasso said:
“My hand tells me what I’m thinking.”
Your eyes, your instinct, can lead you in your photography. (Your busy mind will mostly lead you astray :))
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!” Pablo Picasso
We often think, especially as photographers, that we are photographing what we see. Of course we must ‘see’. I talk about it endlessly because the ability to see and notice things in your environment is the number one thing most people are missing in their photography.
But we are also photographing something that has generated a feeling in us. Something that has probed and provoked our interest.
We see, we feel and then we create. And what you end up creating can be anything! It can look like anything, feel like anything – the photograph, your art, is yours to make your very own.
“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” Pablo Picasso
This is the same for any creative medium. If you don’t know where to start – don’t worry! Just begin – and that’s often when ideas start to flow.
If I am busy with work and family life, it can sometimes take me a while to really get into the creative flow when I am out shooting.
Instead of waiting, though, for inspiration – as Picasso said at the beginning of this article – I just get going, and wait for the ideas to find me when I am in the perfect place to do something about them – with my camera in hand!
“The more technique you have the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is the less there is.” Pablo Picasso
This quote sums up so much for me about why learning technique makes things easier when we are out creating.
When you know your kit, you aren’t interrupted when you are in the creative flow. Instead of battling with your camera, you can get totally absorbed in that beautiful location, that interesting subject or that absorbing light – and create some incredible images.
You become so at ease with your tools that your creativity just takes over.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re particularly technical or confident with technique, I have seen hundreds of people on my workshops learn that with practice and focus, you can grasp anything.
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso
At the moment I like to think of not knowing how to do something as something to celebrate. It’s an opportunity to exercise my (always ageing) mind; it’s an opportunity to learn and see something in a different way.
Keep yourself young and your mind agile by learning new things!
“He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” Pablo Picasso
I totally, totally agree. I didn’t think I could be a world-travelling photographer, teaching photography online and selling my work internationally. That seemed impossible to me ten years ago. But now, here I am!
If I can do what I thought impossible, then so can you.
“In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish, love must be proved by deeds and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.” Pablo Picasso
There is never a better time to do something than – now. Picasso said so – so get started, OK?
Enjoy this exploration into Picasso’s ideas, and I hope that it’s a little nudge to do something cool with your photography in the week ahead.
This is a photo from my workshop last week. The busyness of a city like Hong Kong gives you so many opportunities to play with long exposures.
Good day to you,
I hope life is really super good, and that you are happy, nourished, enjoying life in all the many places that you live.
Today’s post is inspired a little by Vangelis, the composer who scored films such as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. He composes quite spacey, evocative music – melodies that seem to often grab you by the emotions (see Conquest of Paradise, although I love his more sedate, laid-back music like Blade Runner Blues).
I read an interview with Vangelis in which he was asked:
Many of your fans might have expected a synthetic, ‘Beaubourg’-style score for Blade Runner, rather than the rich and emotional tapestry of themes that you came up with. How concerned were you with disassociating the Blade Runner score from the bombast of Star Wars and the ‘artificial’ style of many previous sci-fi themes?
Vangelis – In order to answer your question I need a special talent that some people have to talk about their work endlessly, something I find very difficult and boring to do. So, I will just say that I did what I felt like doing at the moment I did it.
Awesomely funny! But as well as making me laugh – it made me think that really this last point is the essence of creating and photography.
Creating anything happens in a moment by moment basis – and it is dominated by the choices you make and how you feel.
Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field – Peter Adams
What is happening in the moment that you take the photo?
You may think by that I mean what’s happening outside of you. But what I really mean is what is happening inside of you?
Now – the biggest problem I’ve seen for most photographers is actually – they are not in the present moment.
Most photographers are being distracted by the place they are in, the thoughts running through their head about things in the future, thoughts about their camera and things like ‘am I doing this right?’
But what we need to be aiming for is being totally and fully present in the moment. Totally there in the place, totally connected to what we are doing. Almost pretending there is no past or future, because, actually, is there? All we have for sure is now.
So when you have anchored yourself in this magical present moment you want to figure out how you feel.
How do you feel about this place that you are in? Alone? Excited? Exhilerated? Nervous? Unsure?
Because all of those feelings will translate into your photos.
A very common emotion in photography is nerves, especially when photographing people and street photography.
Nerves lead to people ‘holding back’ and not truly jumping in and embracing the moment.
And I can see when people are holding themselves back, I can see it in their photos. When they are not giving the experience everything they want to give.
To fully embrace the experience, the moment you are in. Surrendering to what is happening now, and pulling yourself away from anything else that will distract you.
You will see in my photos of Hong Kong how I felt about the city. What my dominating emotions were.
Life is fleeting. We get obsessed with the little things – the day to day when we are running around so don’t forget to fully embrace the times when you get to do all of this wonderful creating. Don’t forget to fully embrace the moment.
So those are some thoughts about photography and the essentialness of being ‘in the moment’. I hope you enjoyed them (as well as some of my new photos of Hong Kong).
That’s it for now. Any thoughts, questions or queries – just comment below.
On my workshops, taking photographs of strangers seems to conjure up a wild mix of terror and excitement. Most people are naturally drawn to photographing people, and I understand. I love it too.
I think it’s a tremendous honor to photograph people, as they go about their lives and reveal themselves in such interesting ways to us.
I’ve already written about fear and photographing strangers, so I won’t go over that again (street photography really is an ‘inner game’). But I will repeat this point, in case you are feeling a little nervous. Just remember that:
“Most people love to be noticed. Taking someone’s photo says to them: “I see you and you interest me”. For the majority of the population, that’s an exciting and affirming act. That’s your key.” Me
Here are five ideas to help you get awesome photos out there on the street – tips from me as well as from other photographers I love.
“If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.” Bruce Gilden
In this post I’m talking about two different styles of photographing strangers. One is street photography – which is a “type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places. Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying “unmanipulated” scenes, with usually unaware subjects.” Urban Picnic Street Photography.
The challenge with street photography is actually making a great photograph. Maybe 1 in a 1000 is worth looking at again. Trent Parke is famous for shooting thousands of images to get a few good ones. (I love his feeling for light. Incredible.)
The other type is street portraits, where the subject knows you are taking their portrait. They are most likely posing for you or allowing you to capture them in situ. This is how I photograph most, it’s just my personal preference as I think I’m drawn to people’s faces and I love exploring their facial and physical expressions.
This is a nice comparison of the two styles of street shooting, and here I am classifying street portraits under ‘documentary photography’:
Bottom line – do what you love! Do what thrills and excites you. No right or wrong answers here.
Photographer: I quoted Bruce Gilden above, a street photographer who is famous for (usually) photographing his subjects very close up, without their permission, using flash so that the light is very harsh. The results are pretty intense, so you can almost see people’s life history in their skin, see his site. I’d say his methods are pretty controversial.
2. Don’t be (too) dazzled by the humans and their behaviour
Sorry to say this but most street photography, and street portraits, are boring! I think one of the reasons is that we get dazzled by the humans we see around us and think they are being way more interesting than they really are – meaning our photos can end up being too obvious or just quite dull and ordinary.
Humans are usually pretty private animals – and yet it’s amazing how easily people reveal so much about themselves as they go about their day to day lives. I think most people are so wrapped up in their world they forget about people around them. So, as photographers, when we start paying attention to people we can fall into the trap of thinking they are being more interesting than really, objectively, they are.
It can also be a super intense experience photographing humans – especially ones you don’t know. Often the adrenaline starts pumping as you enter the orbit of strangers and again you get overwhelmed by the experience of photographing strangers, rather than by the uniqueness or compellingness of the shot.
So the aim is to get away from taking the ‘obvious’ shot. There has to be a certain je ne sais quoi about the person you are shooting. There has to be something about their person that makes your mind think – interesting…. And really that’s a lot to do with your own personal intuition. Trust it!
With any portraits – it’s always good to remember that people will have their barrier up initially, the ‘person’ they show the world. And everyone has their photo ‘pose’. You need to get beyond that, because that is very unlikely to make an engaging photograph. So you need to wait for their mask to drop, and it will, usually quicker than you think. Just keep watching them or photographing them. It’s like unpeeling like an onion, getting down to the deeper layers of a human being.
Look for what the story the person is telling you with their eyes. Eyes give so much away about how a person is feeling. There are also striking, subtle gestures that people make with their hands, legs, bodies. It’s extremely hard to hide anything for long.
Photographer: If you’ve never looked at Vivian Maier’s photos, I would totally recommend you do. Her work only became widely known after she died, a tragedy as it’s some of the best street photography I’ve seen, especially as much of it is from a time not as well documented as our current one. Love her colour work.
Photo project: Brandon Stanton Humans of New York project is a good example of how we are drawn into learning about those people who surround us. I listened to this interview with Brandon and his key advice on approaching strangers was: be confident – anything less than total confidence will stop people from trusting you.
3. Pick a theme
One of the easiest ways to get started is to pick a theme – like the amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle who shot old people passing by his house in Dublin. All the photos from the subsequent book were shot within a half mile radius of his home (excitingly for those joining me for my Arles photo retreat, Doyle has an exhibition at the Arles photo festival, plus here are some other great street photographers showing there.)
I like how Doyle explained his vision for his work:
“The one guiding idea was to strip away the visual noise of the street so that the people emerge in a different and hopefully more surprising way.” Eamonn Doyle
Having a theme gives you a focus if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of just stepping out onto the street and taking photos.
Other interesting themed projects are Stan Raucher, who photographs people on the underground all over the world, and Tirzah Brott ‘Women of a Certain Age’. Brott’s project reminded me that even though it didn’t sound particularly original idea, it was in fact not something that has been done that much. I think there are certain parts of society that are very well photographed, and some that aren’t. There are some people who are ‘seen’ more than others, and that’s an opportunity for us photographers, to seek out the ‘un-seen’.
So, inadvertently, I’ve taken a lot of photos of people taking selfies. It’s such an intriguing concept to me, people photographing themselves and totally controlling what they look like.
4. Photography as poetry
“Living in modern and crowded cities make photographers forget about poetry as a part of their lives. Gazing upon street scenes through our lenses reminds us of our lost innocence.” Ako Salemi
I think all photography is a form of poetry. Photography is about rhythm and creation and recognition of beauty. What I believe is so special and important about street photography is when you get away from being overwhelmed by the human experience and into the natural flow and spirit of the humans around you – that’s the poetry part.
Photographer: I love Ako Salemi’s photos, particularly This,this and this from his story asking Iranian professionals about the nuclear deal.
I also agree with what photographer Andrew Hinderaker says, that his photos are like finding little gifts around the city:
“But my favorite photos aren’t so contrived, they are little gifts that you happen upon, some weird moment, or some strange interplay of light reflecting off buildings in midtown, for instance. I look for subtle moments, gestures, people interacting. Generally I just shoot and move on, but I love that having a camera basically gives you a license to go up to anyone and ask them what they’re doing and why.”
5. Photograph what scares you
There are people who are easy to photograph – their demeanor is so open and friendly and warm that you move easily toward them and photograph them. My suggestion is – don’t just go for those people, that’s the obvious shot!
Now think about those people that you stay away from because there is something that scares you, or a place (OK have to state the obvious here – don’t endanger yourself OK!!!). People you are super intrigued by, but maybe their energy is less encouraging. Step towards your fear, rather than away from it. You will be surprised that more often than not their response will be positive.
This, for me, was actually the most scary photo I’ve taken on the street – for some reason I was totally intimidated by shooting these French guys, but I got over my fear and I did it! And I love this photo:
Thanks for reading this and I hope it has given you some ideas or inspiration for your street photos. Taking photos of strangers is such a cool and fun thing to do when you get into the vibe of it. I can’t recommend it enough.
And please do share this with anyone you know who loves photography, sharing is so helpful! I also have a very cool free creative photography e-course for everyone who signs up to my newsletter 🙂
Plus – I’d love to know what you think of my post – and what ideas you have for taking photos out on the street? Comment below.
Finding the confidence to make brilliant portraits out on the street
About ten years ago, on one of my dawn escapades, I came across a homeless man who was asleep in an alley. He had covered himself in magazines and newspaper to keep warm. Lying on his chest was a magazine-spread of a lady’s buxom breasts. It was a perfect photo.
But I was struck by anxiety – was this crossing my internal ethical line? He was asleep, not participating in the photo. Was I using his misfortune and the naked lady who was keeping him warm, to make fun of him? I battled internally for a few minutes and then I walked away.
I still think about that photo and wonder if I made the right choice. Sometimes I think I should have taken it, but most of the time I know I was right not to. And the reason I start this post with that story is that I think that it’s really important to consider your ethical line when you are taking photos of strangers.
The world is your oyster when you are a photographer, and you have the right (often enshrined in each country’s law, not in Hungary though!) to take photos (although usage is a different matter. See the P.S. below).
Considering the people you photograph and their right to be represented fairly is essential, in my view.
Last year my family and I were at an exhibition in an empty car park in London. My kids were having a great time running up and down a ramp. Suddenly a man appeared and started taking lots of photos of my daughter.
My wife approached him and asked him what it was for. He said “ohhhhh, I am a new photographer, it’s just for my website.” Even though she is married to a photographer my wife was really nervous about approaching him. I eventually went over to talk to him and told him it was definitely not cool to photograph someone’s child without asking them first and, secondly, to be so vague about usage.
You should always give your subjects the courtesy of knowing where the photos will be and what for if they ask – particularly if you’re photographing children.
So once you have your ethical code in order, I would like say that photographing strangers is awesomely fun! Not only can you get great photos but you can also meet some really cool people. It’s a brilliant way to penetrate a new culture and get under the skin of a new place. And for the most part, people like to be ‘seen’, to be noticed and that’s a point to focus on.
Be friendly, polite and hopefully relaxed, you will rarely encounter someone who doesn’t respond in kind. And for those that don’t want to be photographed – just smile, apologise and be on your way. Don’t try to force the issue, or wait until they aren’t noticing.
Everyone has their own style My style is more environmental portraits. I am not a ‘street photographer’, although I occasionally delve into that territory. Street photography is a candid genre, focusing on capturing moments of life – not creating or pre-visualising a shot but seeing and capturing what’s happening out there on the street right now (the street photographers collective In-Public have a good explanation)
My style is to take portraits on the street, which fall into three categories, which I am going to explore here:
Portraits I ‘find’ and ask permission to photograph
Another (yes, another!) amazing thing about shooting at dawn is the fact that when you encounter people they are usually really friendly (and drunk) and want to know what you are doing wandering the dawn streets with a camera.
The photo, above, was a very typical experience for me. Two inebriated young men fell into conversation with me and wanted me to take their photo. They decided to climb this tree (it was completely their idea not mine) and I got this shot, one of my favourites from my London book.
Now I know many people don’t feel safe wandering around alone at dawn – I totally get it. I probably feel more confident alone because I spent the early part of my career living in Los Angeles. The city not only has horrid crime statistics (America’s great gun culture), but feels really hostile because everyone is in their car, not engaging with each other and making themselves feel even more paranoid and frightened of each other.
When I moved to Europe it was like a great big sigh of relief. Walking around on actual streets does a lot to combat people’s fear of strangers. That’s not to say I haven’t had any dodgy encounters (I love that English word, dodgy).
But of the hundreds and hundreds of mornings I’ve been out, I can only remember two, and it was intimidation not actual violence, so fingers crossed, it stays like that. The upshot being, take out a friend or two (or five!) if you feel a bit strange wandering at dawn (or join me on my workshops!)
I do a lot of these posed portraitson the street (my entire Belly Project is exactly that – over 100 bellies of strangers). You would be amazed by how many people will pose for a photo (even people who aren’t drunk). Amazed!
There are people who are just perfectly happy to be photographed, and those who are down right exhibitionists and hams in front of the camera (both my son and my wife are of the ham variety), but there are only a small, very small proportion of people who hate being photographed. And that’s OK. So – remember that the maths is in your favour.
If you are new to photographing strangers I would start with this type of photography. You need to work up the nerve to ask the person but once you have their permission, you won’t have that fear of them noticing you and smashing your camera (that’s a fear by the way, very rarely a reality even for hardcore street photographers). So you get to relax and then work on composing your shot.
I usually smile at someone I want to photograph If they seem welcoming I will approach them, tell them what I am doing and ask if I can photograph them. I try to say something about why I want to photograph them – “You look like you have an awesome belly! I love your hair!”
Although it’s hard not be scared, I think it’s important to seem fairly confident so that people trust you. Taking things slowly, being relaxed, not rushing – are all ways to imbue your approach with confidence.
I came across the above scene in Paris and was mesmerised. I was super quick (you are not setting up a tripod for this kind of shot). Now, what would have happened if the man had turned and seen me? I would have smiled and gestured ‘OK?’
If he wasn’t happy I would have apologised and walked away. That simple. At the very worse you can always show them the photo and delete it if they are truly unhappy (although this was shot on my still amazing Hasselblad on film, I presume most folks in this modern age are, you know, shooting digital :))
So if you are scared of doing anonymous portraits like this, or street photography, think what’s the worse that can happen? And then work out what you would do if that were to happen.
Elliott Erwitt is an endless source of inspiration for me. I love what he says:
“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”
Portraits I ‘find’ and ask permission to photograph
I often come across a ready made amazing shot with people in it. But I know that if I just snapped they could notice, and it would be weird. Can you imagine me coming across these two lovers lying on this empty bridge and chatting, then putting up my tripod and taking a photo? Weird! So of course I just asked them.
Now you will notice that this photo is in Paris. I don’t speak French. So if there is a language barrier (I admit I do just break into English), I just point to my camera and smile. Again you would be astounded by how most people are perfectly happy to be photographed if you are warm and friendly.
Even in such an intimate moment as this. I sent the couple in this photo a copy and they were both very appreciative.
Now a few other thoughts / ideas / tips:
Attitude is everything. Being friendly, open, polite and relaxed is the best thing to focus on when you are out taking photos.
Don’t hide your camera. I know quite a few street photographers who advocate hiding your camera (and many who suggest otherwise – but that just feels really creepy to me). Be honest. Be human.
Have a few lines prepared. Sounds strange, but have a few lines prepared for people you’ll talk to, like: “Do you mind if I take your photo? I’m working on a photo project about fur coats.” Then when you are out and about you’ll be less likely to stumble over your words.
Have a purpose: If I could sum up my purpose as a photographer I think it is ‘beauty in the every day’. I think my purpose is to show people the incredible beauty of what’s right here on our doorstep which I hope will lead you to feeling more connected to this wonderful world, and loving it more.
I have always been fascinated by light, I’m a bit of a loner, I love empty/quiet places and I love nature. So that’s what you see when you look at my work. My passions and my personality shining through.
That’s when you know you have really got somewhere as a photographer, when people can look at your work and see your personality.
I recently came across the photographer Ruddy Roye and I love his work. He calls himself a ‘Humanist/Activist Photographer’ and has found fame by shooting what he is most passionate about: people who are usually ‘unseen’ (he has an amazingInstagram account).
In this great interview on Longreads he said he thought about something that Eugene Smith said, and that propelled him to focus his photography in a different way:
“You know, there are enough photographers photographing the pretty things, and not enough photographing the things that aren’t as pretty.”
He then decided that “I want to introduce white America to people who they might never have met, and I want them to fall in love too.”
In the interview he also talks about how he engages with his subjects. He’ll often chat to them and get to know them before he shoots them. Sometimes he finds a subject and ends up not photographing them, just chatting. Just being human.
And that’s something we photographers sometimes forget. Humans love connecting, so just be human.
When you have a purpose photographing strangers on the street is much easier. It’s easier to talk to people, to communicate to them why you want to photograph them.
It doesn’t have to be something really epic like Roye, it can simply be that you find people interesting, you want to show people your vision of the world, that you care about people being seen in an engaging, interesting, compelling way.
And this is where ethics comes in again. I think people can feel your purpose, they can sense if you are a genuine person and you have their best interests at heart (unlike the rather misguided photographer who was shooting my daughter).
Deciding on your purpose before you go out helps set you up for when you start shooting.
All of this advice is rubbish though…if you don’t practice, practice, practice. By doing it over and over you will find your style, what you are comfortable with, how you like to photograph strangers, what attracts you and what doesn’t.
I promise it gets easier and easier every time you do it. There are endless opportunities out there for you so just try, fail, try and fail, try and end up with something really special and completely unique that you created.
Be polite and friendly
Remember most people like being noticed for their uniqueness – and will welcome you photographing them
If someone isn’t happy to be snapped, just apologise and walk away
A smile and a relaxed attitude will take you far
Remember your humanity
Have a purpose
And after all that…STOP thinking. Once you have thought all of these things through, and done some mental preparation, then just forget it all and get on with it. And again I use this Picasso quote “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing”.
Anthony and Diana
PS a note about usage and permission
In most countries you only need people’s permission if you are going to sell the photos or use them for commercial gain. Photos for art and editorial usage usually don’t require individuals’ permission (but there are exceptions – like Hungary! Where it’s now illegal to photograph anyone without their permission).
There are exceptions, particularly for children, so always check out the law in the country you’re in. I have yet to find a website that covers all countries – here is one for the UK to get you started, and remember laws change all of the time
Plus, when you are travelling it’s important to be aware of cultural sensitivities before you blaze out there, camera in hand. There is a tonne of info out there on the web. Load up on knowledge and that will also help you feel confident as you go out to shoot.