Street photography is absolutely one of the most exciting genres to shoot. For me it’s not just the outcome that fascinates me but the experience itself. The photographer has a chance to interact directly with the environment and the people in it. This is a very rewarding experience, which can charge you up with a lot of creative energy. Honestly, for me, it has been over 6 years since I shot street portraits. I must admit that although I felt a bit rusty at this craft, it felt great to blend with the crowd and shoot away. Therefore, I would like to communicate to you what went right and what went wrong during this particular shoot.
photo by Sasha Gitin f5.0, iso 100, 1/125sec 24-70mm @24mm
It all started quite spontaneously. A buddy of mine phoned me earlier that day and I mentioned to him that one day he should come out and film me shooting some street portraits. On what he replied: “Today is the Mermaid Parade!” Alas! I had been planning to go out and shoot the Mermaid Parade for a while and it had totally slipped from my head that it was actually happening that day. So I replied: “Let’s do it”
“Let’s do it” is easier said than done. I don’t know if it’s my wife or all women react to sudden change of plans in the same way? However, my lovely wife definitely hates sudden change with a passion. Therefore, I negotiated that we would all go to the parade together (Sammy 11 month and Juliette 4), but that she would have to give me 45 minutes of kids free time to shoot portraits and make this video. “Sure I’ll just walk around with kids” she said. We all agreed. My wife went ahead and got the kids ready while I prepared my photography gear for this event.
Double-checking requires a few extra minutes. Women generally are gifted with patience. However, when the kids are cranky, patience can turn to irritation. So we headed off on a not so good start.
Tip: always keep the energy positive prior to the shoot. Otherwise it will backfire, read on…
We arrived to Coney Island about an hour after the parade.
Tip: The best time for character portraits is prior to an event or right after. Participants are more relaxed and are surrounded by more natural environment, as appose to marching among the rest.
photo by Sasha Gitin f3.5, iso 100, 1/400sec 24-70mm @24mm
It took a little while to train my friend on how to shoot video with the Canon 7d. We were finally ready to start shooting when my dear wife came back and little Sammy was not at all enjoying the parade’s aftermath. I didn’t react positively on the fact that the promised 45 minutes was shortened to 20 and as a result, my wife got a bit pissed off to keep the long story short she took the baby home but left our four-year-old Juliette under my command. That added an extra variable to the whole production. Fortunately, Juliette is an outgoing child and can appreciate fun activities (especially going up on horsey, me being the horsey).
Tip: It’s easier to approach people (especially women) when you have a young child with you. You gain an instant trust. I guess if someone trusted you with a baby – you are automatically trustworthy.
Exposure: Have your exposure preset before approaching your subject. Keep the shutter speed above 1/125 sec. If you are shooting action (moving subjects) shutter speed should be above 1/ 250 sec. I personally get too excited when I shoot and that contributes to the camera shake.
photo by Sasha Gitin f3.2, iso 100, 1/320 sec 24-70mm @24mm
The fear of rejection is what impedes the best of us from asking for the shot. However, if you are refused a shot, it is ok, you just move on to a next subject. If you never ask, you will lose the shot for sure. I actually had a 100% success rate during the Mermaid Parade. The only person who refused to pose was the girl with a scull umbrella, but I approached her later while she was dancing and I still got a candid shot of her. Shooting with 40 pounds on my neck wasn’t as convenient as I would’ve liked it to be, but it was doable nonetheless.
photo by Sasha Gitin f3.5, iso 100, 1/200 sec 24-70mm @24mm
Be polite, honest – feel free to explain why you interested in taking their portrait. If people are caring stuff in their hands that do not add to the photograph ask them kindly to put it down or for someone else to hold it.
People might not be in the right spot but you can ask them nicely to move a few steps to a better spot.
Thank your subject for letting you take a photo. Most people will ask to see the photo. Hand them your card or have a pen and paper ready to write down their email address. Nowadays people are happy to receive a jpeg by email so they can share it on Facebook etc… It’s a good Karma too.
Before I end this article I would like to share my experience of taking this one shot:
One particular girl (actually I wasn’t entirely sure of the gender), the one with pink lace and army hat.) Was one of the most fascinating subjects I came across that day. At first, I took a few candid shots of her feeding mango to her friend.
What intrigued me the most was the fact that I couldn’t tell if she was wearing a costume or that was her natural appearance? Her character was too real and too believable. I approached her and asked her for a shot, but she refused. I tried to explain that she would look great under the given lighting conditions and the backdrop. She wasn’t buying it. I was determined and had no excuse not to try all that I could to get the shot. I felt light. The scene was taking place at the beach. Little Juliette got off my neck and was enjoying playing in the sand. I pretended that I accepted the rejection and turned to her friend. “You have beautiful eyes”, I complimented. “May I take a close up portrait of you?” She agreed. I took my time taking a few frames. Her vibrantly blue eyes indeed had an interesting feel for the image.
photo by Sasha Gitin f4, iso 200, 1/200 sec 24-70mm @65mm
After that shot I turned my attention back to the other girl. I pulled the time card. “I would Like to take photo of you before you finish your cigarette” I said. She replied” “Do you have a fetish for cigarette smokers?” “I never thought about it this way”, I said. After that, the conversation started to go in the direction far away from my goal (I am not even sure if it is appropriate to share in writing). So I pulled the time card again. “The sun is setting and we are losing the light, can we just take a quick shot?’ I said very casually. She agreed. I said “follow me”. We took 10 steps to uncluttered spot, which I planned 10 minutes ago. I carefully framed the shot and took one capture. “No I am not doing it, I am done” she/he said. Well I am done too, thank you very much!
photo by Sasha Gitin f4, iso 200, 1/200 sec 24-70mm @24mm
Conclusion: go out there, take some street portraits, and remember that the most important thing is to keep your spouse happy.
Which approach do you take when taking photos of strangers on the street? Do you ask for the posed shot or do you take it without consent? Share your shots here: using “Share Your Shot” link in comments box.