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Business / Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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Things I found out about shooting people surreptitiously
Old 08-06-2015   #1
lukitas
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Things I found out about shooting people surreptitiously

In Brussels, we use the bilingual term 'en stoemelings' to denote something being done without being seen, hiding what you do. I shoot photos 'en stoemelings'

When I lift my camera to my eye, people know I am going to take a picture, and react accordingly. Sometimes, this is exactly what is needed. Other times, I'd rather be a fly on the wall.

The evident trick is to take the camera away from my face. People may wonder why I am pointing the camera at 90* to what I am looking at, but it doesn't quite look as if I were taking a picture.

It helps to be familiar enough with the angle of view of your lens to be able to imagine the virtual pyramid that has your eye as its point, the base resting on infinity. Then you can move the camera anywhere within arms length, and still get a reasonably accurate frame.

I put the camera on my knee, on top of the bag in my lap, anywhere but in front of my face. Or I walk past my subject and then turn around and snap.

Of course, most of you know all this since forever, but it would be uncharitable, not to share this information with the fresher members of our community.

And to make you pardon me for a load of b******t, here are a few samples :







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Old 08-06-2015   #2
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Nice. What camera were you using?
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Old 08-06-2015   #3
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It is amateurish myth about " surreptitiously".

First. Guy in Russian T-Shirt. He doesn't care. Even if he does care, say "nice doggy" and he will wag his tail for you.
The guy in the background is looking at you, because you are taking it.

Second one. Four people are looking at you because you are taking it.

Third. Those usually see nothing around. Conversation takes it all.

Four. It is zombie snapshot. Millions of snapshots like this one. They are all zombies while on the phone.

Where is no point to take is from a.s level at all four.



Cheers, I was drinking Belgium beer this evening
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Old 08-06-2015   #4
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I think even the most daring of us have had days where we didn't feel like being so right-up-in-your-face and instead went superwide, or from the hip, or even worse.. tele. A**s, when that's the only way of shooting (and I'm NOT saying that's the case for the OP), it tends to give rather monotonous and uninteresting series, IMO.
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Old 08-06-2015   #5
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the shots I want must be taken without permission. it's the way i shoot, it's perfectly legal, and i'm not invading anyone's personal space when i do it. i have a strong suspicion that the majority of people that are strongly against 'surreptitious shooting' are just too afraid to do it.
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Old 08-06-2015   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bayernfan View Post
i have a strong suspicion that the majority of people that are strongly against 'surreptitious shooting' are just too afraid to do it.
I'm sure there is some truth in this. What we believe and who/how we are tend to be connected, in most respects.
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Old 08-06-2015   #7
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As Fashion goes... Stripes are in In Brussels
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Old 08-07-2015   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Nice. What camera were you using?
Fuji XE2, 18mm f2

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
It is amateurish myth about " surreptitiously".

First. Guy in Russian T-Shirt. He doesn't care. Even if he does care, say "nice doggy" and he will wag his tail for you.
The guy in the background is looking at you, because you are taking it.

Second one. Four people are looking at you because you are taking it.

Third. Those usually see nothing around. Conversation takes it all.

Four. It is zombie snapshot. Millions of snapshots like this one. They are all zombies while on the phone.

Where is no point to take is from a.s level at all four.



Cheers, I was drinking Belgium beer this evening
Ko.
Russian t-shirt : yeah, he looks zonked out. But he might have reacted if I'd brought my camera to my face.

Second one : I can see only one person who is looking at the camera for sure. The girl on the left, I don't know.

Third. Women have amazing multi-tasking skills.

Four is a zombie all right. But there are interesting people in the background.

I'll join you with that beer.

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As Fashion goes... Stripes are in In Brussels
Stripes are "it"



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Old 08-07-2015   #9
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That is why i love my Nikon F4. I can remove the prism and use it at waist level.
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Old 08-07-2015   #10
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Originally Posted by p.giannakis View Post
That is why i love my Nikon F4. I can remove the prism and use it at waist level.
Yeah, the poor-man's TLR, but make sure you set your exposure before removing the prism, or use an external meter!
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Old 08-07-2015   #11
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There is certainly some truth to being afraid (or reluctant) to 'surreptitiously' shoot people. I guess I'm not too keen in being shot this way myself (not being photogenic or particularly aesthetically interesting is a factor!) and unless travelling in countries where people are very different - ie. 3rd world - it's something I've not really tried, but have thought about.

However I love the idea of adding 'waist level shooting' to the repertoire with my RFs - a very useful skill that must do wonders for pre-focussing and visualisation etc. in the context of whatever camera you're holding.

Having just bought a Rolleiflex I'm keen to give it a go here in my hometown (Sydney, Aust) as a stepping stone to being a bit braver with other cameras.

Thanks for bringing up the subject and I'm always up for a Belgian beer or three!

Cheers,
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Old 08-07-2015   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrea Taurisano View Post
I think even the most daring of us have had days where we didn't feel like being so right-up-in-your-face and instead went superwide, or from the hip, or even worse.. tele. A**s, when that's the only way of shooting (and I'm NOT saying that's the case for the OP), it tends to give rather monotonous and uninteresting series, IMO.

How often do you see tele being used in street? I've seen maybe a couple of tourists using it. But no one whose work I'd really be interested in viewing. Everything in street work you see is wide!

So, in my opinion, if you can get good shots in the street using 75mm+, I applaud you. Because it is hard.
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Old 08-08-2015   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by p.giannakis View Post
That is why i love my Nikon F4. I can remove the prism and use it at waist level.
not something i would have ever considered. now you've got me wanting to try it. i wonder if the DW-20 VF is any good.
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Old 08-09-2015   #14
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not something i would have ever considered. now you've got me wanting to try it. i wonder if the DW-20 VF is any good.
I would say that it depends on the length of the lens. Are you using a screen with split-image rangefinder in the viewfinder or just matte?

I've been using my F3 with a Beattie matte screen without the prism on. It's great, bright and I can easily discern on framelines. But the focusing is not optimal here and the longer the lens and the closer the subject the harder it gets to focus... You'd need a split-image screen I think for that.
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Old 08-09-2015   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deldridg View Post
There is certainly some truth to being afraid (or reluctant) to 'surreptitiously' shoot people. I guess I'm not too keen in being shot this way myself (not being photogenic or particularly aesthetically interesting is a factor!) and unless travelling in countries where people are very different - ie. 3rd world - it's something I've not really tried, but have thought about.

....

Cheers,
David
Well, I ventured out a couple of times with an OM-2 in rather busy places (a market and slums) in a large provincial city in Nigeria and the problem is that there is ALWAYS someone eyeing you and VERY OFTEN once you point camera at them they either start asking for money or go aggressive.
In fact, it went to the point I was asked a few times for "a snap".... It does not seem to make a difference whether I train the camera at someone or something or try to shoot form hip - you are certain that once you touch the camera within twenty seconds some gets at you in those places.
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Old 08-10-2015   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popavvakum View Post
Well, I ventured out a couple of times with an OM-2 in rather busy places (a market and slums) in a large provincial city in Nigeria and the problem is that there is ALWAYS someone eyeing you and VERY OFTEN once you point camera at them they either start asking for money or go aggressive.
In fact, it went to the point I was asked a few times for "a snap".... It does not seem to make a difference whether I train the camera at someone or something or try to shoot form hip - you are certain that once you touch the camera within twenty seconds some gets at you in those places.
This is why I keep the camera in my hand, with the strap wound around my wrist. With the camera already in the hand, and looking studiously somewhere else than the camera is pointing, you can get away with more.

cheers!
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Old 08-10-2015   #17
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I think the easiest way to take candid pictures is to know, before you head out, what you'll say if you're asked what you're doing. Having an answer that is adequate to that question will give you all kinds of confidence and to just take the photos and once you do you'll be surprised how little of an issue it is. The biggest advantage of taking a photography class is just that it gives you access to what is really the most disarming answer to that question -- taking a class and my teacher wants us to take pictures of everyday life on the street for an assignment. If you know what you're doing, though, you should be able to describe it and if you don't, maybe think it through more so that you do.
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Old 08-10-2015   #18
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I try to be surreptitious, but I tend to be rather ungainly when I approach, so that rarely works for me.... except for this one time. I'm almost 100% certain I was 'en stoemelings' when took this one.

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Old 08-11-2015   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by helenhill View Post
It seems rather a sneeky way of shooting
Or shall I put it more blunt: A cowardly way of taking photos
Sneaky, yes; cowardly I find a bit strong

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Originally Posted by JHutchins View Post
I think the easiest way to take candid pictures is to know, before you head out, what you'll say if you're asked what you're doing. (snip)
I'm not quite furtive. Big belly, big beard, top knot and a camera in my hand. 'Are you taking pictures?' 'Of course I am, I'm holding a camera'.

Of course it is preferable to frame through a viewfinder. But in fast moving situations, it is often much faster to move my camera to the spot from where I want to take the shot ; getting my eye in position would take too much time. Having the camera away from my face makes it slightly less obvious that I am taking pictures - at the same time it makes me work harder at reading a 3D environment in movement, at visualising the different angles from which a scene can be shot.

I love a static, composed and posed portrait. I promised myself to do a series of 'state' portraits, preferably with several people in the frame. But something happens to peoples faces when they find themselves in front of a camera. They pull a face that is meant for the gaze of an important other, the 'Big Other'. I want to capture the 'private' face, the face that is not conscious of being seen, the face that is intent on its own thoughts and rumination. It's a bit like wildlife photography : one hides in a camouflage tent not to scare the zebras, not because one is scared of the zebras. Trying to remain invisible does not necessarily equate with being a cowardly sneak, a pervert collecting freaks.

Yesterday being my birthday, I treated myself to a prolonged shooting spree in the car-free centre of town. Lots of people, no cars, paradise for a student of 'street' photography. I didn't hide the camera, but I tried not to attract attention to the fact that I was using it.
A young man saw me taking a picture from the corner of his eye - he wasn't even in the frame, and I was using a wide angle - and objected loudly that I had no right. I tried to defuse the situation, approaching him with a smile, using the argument that if I could see it, I could shoot it. I was about to try flattery, when he erupted in a drunken rage, hid behind a girl and then threw her at me, followed by several feints and unfinished attacks. I stood my ground, and then walked away, trembling with suppressed rage. Maybe I should have tried flattery first.



This is why I often try to be surreptitious when taking pictures : not so much that I am afraid of the wildlife, rather that I don't want to spook the wildlife.

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Old 08-11-2015   #20
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The last photo delivers a message, at least.
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Old 08-11-2015   #21
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Drunken people scare me. In so many ways.

I can appreciate the photo class "excuse". I remember when I could use that. Today, I have a similar (and honest) "excuse" when shooting in public places: "I'm doing a photo project on _____" Sometimes I'll add that I'm in a photo group/club and we have photo projects, and I'll explain the theme of the "project" I'm working on. My truthfulness and sincerity comes through and I think its very disarming. Even works on drunken people -- occasionally.

It helps that I am actually a member of a photo group, and that I assign myself projects. It also helps that I avoid the bar scene on Friday night, or homelessness. If homeless people are in my photos, its because they happen to be somewhere or doing something interesting, or interacting with subjects of my current "project". I really try to avoid the drunken.

I have had few serious negative interactions. I get plenty of suspicious looks and unspoken suspicious behaviour (which usually dissipates immediately if I happen to have a reason to provide my "excuse"), but few blow-ups or violence. The few times there was an incident, it was drunk people, or mentally-ill homeless people, or drunken mentally-ill homeless people.
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hmmm...
Old 08-12-2015   #22
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hmmm...

Quote:
Originally Posted by helenhill View Post
It seems rather a sneeky way of shooting
Or shall I put it more blunt: A cowardly way of taking photos

then i guess bruce gilden, mary ellen mark, paul strand, gary winogrand, others were all sneaky!!!

one man's sneak is another man's artist!

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Old 08-12-2015   #23
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I used to do a decent amount of street photography in college in Philadelphia. Really liked getting close and capturing images. Until one day I was at an outdoor food market and saw an elderly male fishmonger using a stripped down palm frond to shoo away flies. Just as I was about to take the photo with my trusty OM-1, I heard someone yell out "WATCH OUT!!!" I lowered the camera just in time to see an elderly deranged looking woman (probably the fishmonger's wife) lunging at me with a big knife. It narrowly missed me and I quickly backed off, followed by a stream of hissing and curses. I don't know if she would have actually stabbed me, but she looked deranged enough to make one not take that chance.

Guess this is the kind of experience that is in the back of many photographers' minds when they get a bit nervous about taking street photos. This experience really made me much more hesitant to take close street photos. Indeed, some years ago, I was walking on the lower east side of Manhattan, Oly 35SP loaded with Tri-x, when I wandered by a homeless shelter and saw some residents (some obvously with mental and substance abuse issues) smoking and taking drugs and joking around and singing. Quite the scene. Light was really good too. I was really tempted to stop, start a conversation and ask them if I could photograph them. But then I thought about my Philly experience, got gun shy and dropped the idea. Real shame.
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Old 08-12-2015   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by helenhill View Post
(snip)If you can't have a certain Rapport with People You might as well forget shooting them & Portraits
stay will still Life ... Flowers, cats, architecture ,landscape
Helen, I must most emphatically disagree. I see several hundreds of people everyday, it is not possible to establish a rapport with everyone. Moments of rapport are rare, and those where I can point a camera even rarer. Yes, I very much appreciate those magical instances when an exchange takes place. They are exceptional.

The endeavour is to anonymously take pictures of anonymous people. I cannot see that as being wrong in itself.

Photography is in essence voyeuristic : at the simplest level, we take pictures of what we want to see. When unsuspecting people are in the picture, there is always a touch of intrusion, a taking of something, even if it is but an image. Often, this sense of intrusion is apparent even when the subject was willing. Taking a photograph is an act of aggression, of appropriation. This is just as true for microphotography as it is for pictures of zebras.

My defence is that photography is also the democratic art form par excellence. Anyone can click a shutter button; anyone, anything can be the star of a photograph. 16 seconds of fame.

cheers
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Old 08-12-2015   #25
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Quote:
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I'm just a tad blown away by your thinking that " taking a photograph is an act of aggression"
I don't perceive Photography that way... not sure if it's a 'male' perspective
You are capturing a Moment in Time, Why should that be considered Aggressive ?
Actually that's a paraphrased quote from Susan Sontag, so not so much a male's perspective. That particular concept is interesting - I don't agree with it, but it's interesting.

As for surreptitious photography - I don't like to do it, but it's a valid way of using a camera. I prefer to use the viewfinder.
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Old 08-13-2015   #26
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Well Lukitas, I really like your shots, especially the one of the guy on the bus with the dog and the girl in the stripy dress. This style of photography is one that has always interested me although I must say that I lack the b***s to do it really!

I used to work in Brussels and have many good memories of the city.
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Old 08-14-2015   #27
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Hey, Simonankor cheers for noticing the near Sontag quote.

I just got to the part where she talks about Chinese Photography. (She wrote in the late seventies : things may have changed.) It was all about the official version : no photograph was unposed, groups were shown 'at ease' or 'at attention', never 'in action', things were shown in full, centered in the frame. Photography as the 'truth' of persons and things. Close-ups were bourgeois, less than flattering depictions and photos of things growing oldwere not acceptable.

I quite like this sort of photography : the state portrait is not without its attractions, as is the well composed landscape and the grandiose view. But I do love the other kind. The unposed, the accidents, the Areh, Bureh and Bokeh.

Of all artists, photographers are the least connected to a style, it is the discipline where it is hardest to assign someone to a school. Photographs tend to anonymity of the author : it doesn't really matter who took it : how many people can remember the name of the photographer who shot the portrait of Che Guevarra, found on billions of T-shirts. Who cares what his name is? It's the Che!

As I am already invisible as the author of my images, I want to go one step further, become invisible when making images. Fly on the wall. All that remains is a residue of images.

Cheers.

P.S. Helen, I love you!
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Old 08-15-2015   #28
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I have to say, Lukitas, this is one off the most civilised threads I've seen on this topic. It's nice to be in a place where the virtual tomatoes of prejudice are thrown a little less often!
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Old 08-19-2015   #29
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I always try to "own" the moment, point the camera straight at them, and if they saw me or heard the shutter, I look into their face with a big disarming smile. Sometimes someone says "(Why) did you take a picture of me?" and I simply reply "You are beautiful!"
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Old 08-19-2015   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giganova View Post
I always try to "own" the moment, point the camera straight at them, and if they saw me or heard the shutter, I look into their face with a big disarming smile. Sometimes someone says "(Why) did you take a picture of me?" and I simply reply "You are beautiful!"
I've tried that too. Can be disarming.
But for some subjects such directness doesn't always work.
I"m fifty and a half, fat and bearded. If I were to approach a young muslim beauty in that manner, I expect I would get clobbered.
I see hundreds of these saintly young ladies, and I so much want to get pictures of them not looking posed.

I guess there are the limits of shooting 'en stoemelings', you can't always get your camera to where it should be.

mebbe I'l find a way.

cheers
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Old 08-19-2015   #31
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They did not primarily shoot that way.

Winogrand, I know his work, though know nothing about his shooting style cept for liking wide
Winogrand always brought the camera to his eye. He was very quick about it but certainly not "sneaky"

I read he used a 28mm lens.
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Old 08-19-2015   #32
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Well, I'm a coward when it comes to street photography. But it's a thrill to try and overcome that and get better. Good thread.
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Old 08-19-2015   #33
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Well, I'm a coward when it comes to street photography. But it's a thrill to try and overcome that and get better. Good thread.
Yes, I think many of us are, maybe most of us. It takes confidence and assertiveness to overcome that tendency to turn away and lose the photo.
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Old 08-19-2015   #34
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The endeavour is to anonymously take pictures of anonymous people. I cannot see that as being wrong in itself.

Photography is in essence voyeuristic : at the simplest level, we take pictures of what we want to see. When unsuspecting people are in the picture, there is always a touch of intrusion, a taking of something, even if it is but an image. Often, this sense of intrusion is apparent even when the subject was willing. Taking a photograph is an act of aggression, of appropriation. This is just as true for microphotography as it is for pictures of zebras.
Lukitas, I appreciate your thoughts here, as they remind me that photography is essentially an extension of the act of seeing, one step removed through the intermediary of the camera device and its resulting image.

Yet, I am reminded that in some cultures and contexts even the direct human gaze can be confrontational, the so-called "mad-dogging" commonly seen in youth gang culture, for example, where the mere act of being seen as the observer is a direct confrontation.

As I recall, this is also common to some animal species, the direct gaze by another presenting a direct challenge.

And so I see the challenge to photography is increasingly a challenge to our role as observers; there are those who do not wish to be observed, however the method.

~Joe
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Old 08-20-2015   #35
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Joe I actual have had a much different experience. One of my final portfolios when I was in college was a documentary on Maxwell St, Chicago. It was in the mid 1980s before it was cleaned up, the university of Illinois Chicago took possession of the area and moved to a designated, sanitized area. That was really me first real taste of shooting on the streets and I was the only one out with a camera shooting there. I was hassled daily, all the time. Sometimes it became dangerous but I was lucky and able to defuse those situations.

Today you can't go a block in the city and not see several photographers. People have become numb to it especially if you are carrying a small discrete camera. I rarely get hassled.
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Old 08-29-2015   #36
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I just saw a documentary on Moriyama Daido (there are several on youtube).

Very happy to note that he also uses the 'studiously looking at something else than the subject' trick. I also like the Winogrand approach : scope out a developing situation, move to about where I need to be, and then do a very fast up-and-down with the camera. If I'm fast enough, they often don't notice. And when I move the camera to anywhere else than in front of my eye, they may notice, but not fast enough to change their expression.

I got lucky a few times today :



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Old 08-29-2015   #37
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Here's another sample :
I was sitting in front of the Café Central, talking to a couple of Ethiopians, when this rather diffident guy came up, unsure of wether he could occupy a seat. As soon as he sat down, I lifted the camera to the right of my face and snapped. I don't think I could have got the same expression if I'd taken the time to frame.



It is liberating, to let loose, not worry about framing so much, or focus, just look and click.

cheers
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Old 09-15-2015   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creenus View Post
YMMV, but I think that there are limits to street photography, and I believe I met my own personal limit on that particular day.
If he wasn't ashamed of showing himself in the attire he chose, you shouldn't be ashamed of taking his picture. I wonder if his ire wasn't a ploy to make an event out of your taking the picture. People should know that they are filmed the moment they stick their nose out of the door...

But to avoid this sort of 'event' is one of the reasons I often try to shoot without being obvious about it. The other is that I like to catch life as if I wasn't there.

It really helps, not to have the camera in front of your face. If you watch your subject, you can react faster to the way the person looks at you, an apologetic or admiring smile can do wonders. If you look attentively at something else than what your camera is pointing at, very few notice anything. If they don't notice, it doesn't matter : only seven people will look at the photo, and by the time it becomes an Icon of twenty-teens photography, they'll be flattered.

Cheers
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Old 09-15-2015   #39
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If someone snaps at me in the streets...better get ready for a conversation...about lenses. LOL

Great thread lukitas...thanks.
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Old 09-24-2015   #40
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It is time to show some more of the results of my experiments.

This lady was walking towards me, on my left. I swept the camera up and to the left and shot when she was closest. Pleased about the motion blur in the background :



Similar, but not :



I lifted the camera to the right of my face, he was intrigued, but i got him just before he smiled :



This kid was looking at my face, guess how I held the camera :



Camera on my belly, hanging from the neckstrap. Getting better at judging the distance at which to shoot :



Fiddled with the camera while walking past. shot at near 90 degrees to my angle of view. Clearly, she was at most mildly interested :



It feels good to be a bit more adventurous about how I hold the camera. I don't spray and pray, every one of those shots is a one of. I aim and shoot, but it is not required that my eye be looking at the viewfinder.

Cheers!
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