Sometimes the pictures are looking straight at you

 Many great street photographs have been made where the subject, or at least one of the subjects , is looking straight at the camera.

“You go out and the pictures are staring at you”- Lee Friedlander

It is a different style of approaching street photographs and one that I try to do more often. It is not the easiest style of  because if the subject is aware that we are taking their picture then there is a chance that we might have to interact with that person, and most of us don’t feel comfortable doing that.  But that is exactly the reason I try to do it more often, so I can practice my reaction in those situations.

West Village, New York City, NY (C) JJR

There is one right moment when the subject looking at the camera works for the image. It is usually a fraction of a second after they became aware of the presence of the photographer, before they have a chance to change their pose of expression. Once someone   becomes fully aware that they are being photographed the element of surprise gets lost and the picture goes in another direction. It goes into the realms of street portrait, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

South Beach, Miami Beach,FL (C) JJR

The key to making this type of shots work is to anticipate what the subject is going to do next. This requires, as every street photographer knows, that we pay attention to what’s happening around us. Requires that we get out of our heads and be present on the street.

Once we recognize an interesting subject in an interesting situation or with an interesting background then the next step is to wait until the situation peaks,  at the point when there is no other option but to press the shutter. Sometimes that happens before the person looks at us but sometimes happens right after. The choice is yours.

I’ve had many situations when the person looked at me after I took their picture and they immediately approached me, somewhat confrontationally, to ask “Did you take my picture?” or “Is that my picture you just took?.  The best answer I’ve heard for the last question comes from Jay Maisel who is brave enough to say: “ Is not your picture, is my picture”.

I sometimes try that but generally I would answer: “No, I’m taking pictures of the street”.  I try to be sensitive to people in this situations because the objective is to have fun and create a good image not create tension and bad feelings.

Downtown West Palm Beach, FL (C) JJR

I recently was confronted by someone who thought I was taking pictures of him but I actually was taking pictures of two ladies next to him. He demanded to see the picture I just took. He said: ”it’s illegal”. Every street photographer should know that is perfectly legal to take pictures of anyone in a public space, so don’t be intimated by this statement.  I told him that is legal to take pictures in a public place and that I didn’t have to show him my pictures because, well,  “they are my pictures” (thanks Jay!). The situation didn’t escalate because I remained calm and friendly. Sometimes a smile or a joke goes a long way.

The more we practice how to handle this situations the better we are going to get at it and the better pictures we are going to get.

The main point is not to create an uncomfortable situation for anyone. Be respectful but also know your rights. Ultimately is our choice to decide if the picture is worth the aggravation. Most of the times is not, just keep walking and enjoy the day.

The street will provide you with plenty more opportunities.

Let the street do its job



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