Let me start by saying that street photography is not my thing, at least not when it comes to bringing people I don’t know into pictures. I love to photograph architecture and street details, but when it comes to featuring strangers in my photographs, I am not comfortable unless their faces aren’t showing (as at right). That’s why I joined an A2 Shutterbugs meetup hosted by Patrick Morgan last week – to see if I could break out of my comfort zone.
What is street photography?
From Wikipedia: “Street photography is photography that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.” Sounds reasonable enough, but it turns out that there is much debate about this definition, especially with regard to “unmediated chance encounters.” The guidance from other photographers in the group encouraged asking people if you could take their picture – quite the opposite from the formal definition. You might be interested in the comments of Eric Kim, who presents his own views of street photography along with great examples of photos that may break the rules.
Definitions aside, the challenge was on. After a few warmup shots like the woman covering her face, above, I dove in and started asking people if I could take their picture, always starting with a complement:
“That’s a great looking red coat!”
“May I take your photo with this neat background?” I was blown away – she said, “yes” and gave a great smile.
“You look pretty cool with the flagpole behind you!”
“May I take a photo?” Wow – yes again! And, multiple photos…
Wow! This is pretty easy.
So, now I have to try a few without asking. It works great when they have their back to you.
Another Street Photography Trick
Ann Arbor has this graffiti-adorned alley that serves the stage of the Michigan Theater. As we were walking into the alley, I discovered one co-ed using her smartphone to take a picture of her friend. I asked, “Since you are taking a picture of your friend, do you mind if we do, too?” They said, “sure”, as three or four of us surrounded them! I offered a few composition tips in exchange and ended up with a fun photo.
A similar introduction worked with two men taking a selfie. In this case, I suggested they move into a brighter part of the alley, and then they agreed to a photo.
So, why St. Patrick’s Day?
We picked St. Patrick’s Day expecting to see some wild and crazy people for our photos, but didn’t find too many. I only found one group truly in the spirit of the green to agree to a photo – and they obliged with reckless abandon.