The growing popularity of street photography is probably best explained with one word: accessibility. Street photography is accessible both because of location (big surprise – there are lots of streets in the world. Go outside. There’s a street. Right there…) – and because you don’t have to be a full-time “professional” photographer with thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Just go out and shoot. Heck, the genre of street photography doesn’t even require you to be on a street. Just go and shoot. Simple, right?
Although I am a professional photographer (which has absolutely nothing to do with being paid, although I am), street photography is my most personal work – it is for me, as opposed to a client. I also have the benefit of living as an expatriate in Shanghai, China (for nine years now), and taking a camera with me just about everywhere, is part of my daily ritual. There are images happening all around us, all the time.
Even when I’m not carrying a camera, I look for good light, and notice small vignettes unfolding around me, and I frequently feel as though I’m making images with my eyes alone. I shoot on the subway. I shoot on the street. I shoot on escalators, and buses, and I frequently shoot while riding my electric scooter through the city. I pretty much shoot anywhere I can, with the exception of places like public restrooms, and into the windows of people’s homes, or area 51, or any other place is that is both a gross invasion of privacy and/or likely to get me landed in jail. I prefer to have a camera though – because I am a photographer, and preserving those images and vignettes is one of the things I love doing most. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have the time, or rather the loss of time as a resource that could be spent earning a living – to go on photo walks in the city all day, every day. I just bring a camera with me where I am going, and I shoot what interests me.
There are lots of different styles and types of street photographers – some people snipe from a distance with a long telephoto (which is generally sneered upon by purists). Others avoid taking pictures of strangers altogether due to the awkwardness, unless they are truly passing “props” in a scene. Some people like the adrenaline rush of getting right up in other peoples’ faces, or simply snapping pictures of strangers without hiding that fact. I don’t have a single “method” of shooting – but one of my many methods is specifically to try to get really, really close to people with a middle focal length (say, 35-50mm), and get portraits of subjects WITHOUT them being aware of being photographed. This can be for lots of reasons – and don’t get me wrong, eye-contact in a photograph can be a very powerful element. But it is an intentional decision to change something in that moment – to make the subject aware they are being photographed. I like to think of street photography as my way of documenting the world as it is happening around me – almost like an invisible observer.
On the street itself, I usually just shoot and walk. On my scooter, I shoot while carefully trying not to get myself killed. On the subway, I almost always shoot with a wireless phone app to trigger the shutter on my camera.
The “technique” is this: for much of my street shooting, I use either an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (review), or a Fujifilm X-T1 (review) with the iPhone wireless camera remote app. Both cameras have individual strengths and weaknesses in this area, but the net result for shooting is the same: there is no way to get as close, or “invisible” that I have found than using these cameras, with these apps. I will cover the technical use of these cameras and apps first, and then discuss their use (and the controversy of their use) at the end.
Using the Olympus/Fujifilm Remote Apps for Street Shooting
First: if you have ever used one of these two cameras, you have probably tinkered with the WIFI app respectively. Many reviews mention the app as a useful function for downloading or previewing images onto phones or tablets respectively, and many briefly dismiss them as a somewhat useful way to wirelessly trigger the camera’s shutter remotely for tripod or self-portrait use. When the E-M1 was released, however, this feature piqued my curiosity for completely different reasons; it would allow me to get truly up close and personal with my camera, especially in tight, enclosed spaces (like the subway), and take portraits with almost completely unnoticeable effects on the subject.
Sometimes, I hang the camera around my neck with a fairly short strap, and shoot whatever is directly in front of me by holding my phone just above the camera, and close to my body. Most people assume that I am simply a geeky tourist that is wandering the subway or city with a camera dangling from my neck. This, however, is not at all useful for capturing images in anything but a landscape orientation from about chest-level, which is definitely limiting. To compensate for that, I also sling the camera behind my shoulder, with the lens pointing away from my body around my shoulder blade. I can use the strap and my left arm to angle or move the camera slightly – but because of the way it is positioned, it naturally hangs in a ‘portrait’ orientation.
Standing in the subway of Shanghai, especially during rush hour, there is not much room to breathe, let alone lift a camera to your face to take a picture. But this is not why I shoot this way sometimes. I do it because I can have a relatively normal lens (35-50mm, full-frame equivalent) and get feet away from a person’s face or body to take a picture. My favorite lenses for this type of shooting include the Olympus 17mm f/1.8, Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, and Olympus 25mm f/1.8. If it is not as crowded, and I’m not naturally mashed against people like a sardine, I’ll often opt for the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, or the Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2. I know the subway’s lighting by now, and although it can vary somewhat depending on the train line, usually I can shoot at ISO 1250 on the Olympus, and still hit shutter speeds above 1/100th of a second, which is more than enough to get a sharp image on the Olympus even with the bouncing and movement of the train car (especially with the built-in OIS). On the Fujifilm, I stay set to AUTO ISO between 200-3200, with a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th of a second (again, this is typically using the 56mm f/1.2. I can either shoot wide open, or open the aperture up to 2.0 to keep shutter speeds reasonably high, while getting a little more depth of field.
Strengths of the Olympus and Olympus Image Share iOS App:
- The wifi is a stronger signal, and produces far less lag in the app. This is especially true of the “over the shoulder” technique, which is barely useable on the Fujifilm because there is too much loss of signal and lag.
- Wide open, Olympus lenses still allow all of the benefits of gathering a lot of light while naturally producing more depth of field. You don’t really want a razor-thin depth of field when shooting in a bumpy, moving subway car, around people that are also constantly shifting space.
- The in-app focusing of the Olympus is FAST. Truly, as instantaneous as triggering the shutter.
- The Olympus app is superior in almost every way to Fujifilms. It rotates the entire app automatically in landscape or portrait mode based on your positioning of the phone/device. There is also a mirrored option for triggering the shutter with the app’s shutter release “button,” or by simply touching the focus point of choice and triggering a release instantly upon acquisition of focus. It is almost identical in this way to the touchscreen function of the E-M1’s rear LCD in this way. VERY useful.
- The Olympus app allows for continuous shooting, or single shot mode – again, mirroring the camera’s operation flawlessly.
- All major exposure parameters (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, etc.) are adjustable in the app, as are shooting modes.
- As always, the IBIS of the Olympus is incredible, and allows you to shoot at 1/60th of a second – which is generally enough to freeze very slight motion, but stable enough to produce a tack-sharp image from bumping around.
Weaknesses of the Olympus and Olympus Image Share iOS App:
- With Olympus, ISO is really limited to about 1600, which is enough for the speed, but not ideal for producing the cleanest images. By that point, in poor lighting (which is always the case with the subway!), you’ll get a lot more grain – and not always the pretty kind.
- There is no way to omit the sound of the shutter completely.
- The length of time to connect to the WiFi app is longer, and more annoying on the Olympus – although once connected, it is a very stable connection for the most part.
Strengths of the Fujifilm X-T1 and the Fujifilm Cam Remote iOS App:
- You can safely shoot at ISO 1600, 3200, and even 6400 in a pinch – and dynamic range, image quality, and noise are still very well controlled.
- The electronic shutter added in firmware update 3.0 allows you to shoot in absolute, complete silence – it literally makes no sound.
- The image quality of the X-T1 is, under these lighting conditions, a good notch above the Olympus.
Weaknesses of the Fujifilm X-T1 and the Fujifilm Cam Remote iOS App:
- The Wifi app does not rotate orientation modes at all – it is always displayed in the phone/tablet’s vertical orientation, with the image in landscape mode. It is incredibly annoying to try to shoot in the portrait orientation using the Fujifilm app – and for such a ubiquitous feature on all apps, it is inexcusable for Fujifilm not to correct this.
- The Wifi signal is weaker, probably because of the Wifi module’s placement on the rear of the camera. If the camera is in front of my dangling from the strap, it is a relatively strong signal (only inches away form the phone). But even here, it still sometimes lags and freezes as the signal catches up to the live display on the phone – which is an incredible feat (though, in the bad sense). Over the shoulder shooting? It honestly makes a big difference if you’re wearing a heavy coat, or just a regular shirt – but the signal drops and freezes very often.
- Focusing with the app takes longer, and feels far less responsive that the Olympus app.
- You can ONLY shoot in single-shot mode. No continuous. Not triggering of the shutter automatically when you tap the focus point on the screen. You must first tap to focus, then tap the shutter button on the app. Much, much slower. Many more missed shots.
- You need to shoot at higher shutter speeds to freeze action – and although most of the Fuji primes are a tad faster with f/1.4 or 1.2 than the Olympus primes are at f/1.8, you’ll have to shoot at higher ISO, and you’ll be reducing depth of field even more when shooting wide open, which is NOT really an advantage here. That being said, for pure final image quality, I’d rather be shooting at ISO 3200 on the Fuji to achieve fast enough shutter speeds at f/1.4 or f/1.8, than 1600 on the Olympus to achieve the same.
- The Achilles heel of using the electronic shutter for completely silent shooting is essentially “image wobble” – it is a frozen version of the phenomenon of using earlier versions of digital cameras to record video. Remember how video footage used to look like the world was made of Jell-o if you panned the camera too quickly? Same thing, only with a snapped frame. Really, really frustrating – and as nice as the feature is in a pinch to shoot wide-open during daylight, it is not a panacea for a lower native ISO of 100 or higher mechanical shutter speed of 1/8000.
The Likely “Controversy” of Remote App Shooting
The real purpose of this article is not simply to share a technique that I have found useful, but to provoke discussion and thought on use of the technique, from a philosophical standpoint. Personally, I am firmly of the philosophy that public life can, and should, be documented freely – by anyone. But there is a point at which the street photographer has to realize that the choice to either shoot “invisibly” or “with obvious interaction” has every bit as much of an impact on the final image as the choice of what field of view, or framing, or composing, or exposure, or anything else has on a final image. This also, in my own “reasonable” framework means I’m not going to follow someone down the street, paparazzi style, just because I can legally. It also means if I ever get someone that realizes I am photographing them, and clearly wants that photo gone – I will likely delete the photo (although I have never run into this particular scenario). It also means that sometimes I will take a picture of someone that will never know I did – and not have the ability to object.
I don’t know know (although I presume it is likely) that there will be objection to the use of this technique as a “special” violation of privacy. But in my mind, the question is, either the photographer has the obligation to show every stranger that is in their picture the final image for approval and security that it does not violate their privacy, or they don’t. It’s a shaky middle ground to say “I didn’t hide the fact that I was taking a picture” – because you can still certainly do so without someone having a fair chance to notice or object. Even your selection of gear (a small, discreet Fujifilm X100T, for example) vs. a Nikon D4s and 24-70 f/2.8G is usually made on the basis of portability, size, and discretion in street photography (I don’t know any street photogs, incidentally, who shoot with the Nikon kit mentioned for street work).
The Compositional Choice of Subject Interaction & Awareness
With regards to people and street photography, the image and the moment in time is altered by interaction with the photographer. Simply put, people behave differently when they know they are being photographed. I’m not just talking about people who start yelling at you, or give you a mean look when they realize you are taking their picture – because I’ve actually found this to be rare, and easily diffused with a simple smile, and even better – a look at the beautiful picture you just took of them with a business card so they can contact you for a copy. I mean that, in my experience, people become self-conscious because of the interaction with a camera – and this changes the moment. I’ll give three pictures here as examples.
This first picture is an obvious example – but a good one, nonetheless. I was clearly not bothering to hide the fact that I was taking this picture – the whole point was to document what was an obvious “show” going on with other photographers taking pictures of a perfect stranger. Is she being photographed in a natural way? Absolutely not. Is she changing her demeanor and the moment because of her awareness of others taking her picture? Absolutely. You see this quite a lot with foreigners in Shanghai, actually – especially during holiday weeks. One Chinese person wants to get a picture of a “foreigner”, and before long, everyone is bringing out their DSLRs for a mini photo shoot. Mind you, this was not a photo shoot, these were two tourists, being photographed by an increasing swarm of photographers. But this – that pose – which is even an ideal one, given that she (ahem) seems OK with the attention, is not what I want to capture. I want a real moment. Poses and direction are for my clients, not my street photography. The “real moment” here became documenting the frenetic crazy of photographers trying to get a picture of the foreigner who loved the attention, and that scene as a part of the life here.
This image, by contrast, was taken with the Fujifilm Cam Remote App, the Fujifilm X-T1, and 56mm f/1.2 lens, from about minimum focusing distance (roughly 1 meter). There is NO WAY this image could have been captured at this moment by holding the camera to my eye, or even by doing a waist-level LCD swivel. I was right next to him. And for me, this image captures a real story of this particular man, in a real moment (that is long since gone forever). And I love the image, because he has a powerful face, and it makes me wonder above all else, “What is the story of this man? What is he thinking of? What are his fears? What are his dreams?” For me, it is a celebration of the absolute, unmistakable individuality we all bear – I am surrounded by people that I do not notice or think twice of every day (24 million people, to be exact. In very close proximity). Living in a highly populated city has somewhat of a dehumanizing effect on most of us; we take the presence of others for granted, and seek refuge in our phones or any corner of space we can to block out other people and interaction. Taking the photo, and looking at it now, it makes me stop, and consider this particular man, this individual, who crossed my path once – two entirely unique and individual lives, that now have some small connection. But others may see this and ask, “Isn’t this a bit… exploitative? Doesn’t this violate his privacy? Shouln’t he have a right to know you are taking his picture?” I don’t think so, but I’m sure there are others that do. The reality is, I was that close to him. I am that close to other strangers (actually, closer during rush hour) every day. Arguably, that physical proximity is a far more invasive to privacy and personal space… but it is a reality of getting around such a large city.
Finally – this image is somewhat of a balance between the two. Did the man on the left know I was taking his picture when I held the camera up to my face? Absolutely. Did he have time to react or make a face, or look away? No, although he did look a little peeved. But is the image stronger because of that emotion from tough-ish looking escalator repair guy? Yes, I believe so! And honestly, for this image, I took a shot before from waist level, without getting any attention and realized, I didn’t like the image when I quickly previewed it. So, I held the camera up to my face, and waited for him to look, but it was an intentional choice to have a moment of interaction with the subject, or to bring his awareness into the image that had a dramatic impact. Sometimes, I prefer this. Other times, I do not. Sometimes, this awareness makes an image stronger. Other times, it does not. Sometimes, the moment as it is stands alone, and the image is about inviting the viewer to peer into that moment. Other times, the presence of the photographer changes that moment, and invites the viewer to stand in the shoes of the photographer and that brief, but beautifully eternal, moment of connection.
Here are some additional images that are captured using the iOS Camera Remote App technique, both on the Olympus E-M1 and Fujifilm X-T1:
Hi, just a wee update, the E-M1 has a silent shutter feature now, removes one of the weaknesses for street shooting. :)
Hello, the ideea of using Sony’s phone app to shoot my mirrorless camera for street photography just stroke me and I’ve searched the internet to see if anybody else had this ideea and how it worked.
It seems to be an useful approach to get up close and unnoticed. If you have a decent focusing lens and camera it can produce some results. Most photos will be crap though, badly framed, taken from a bad angle, askew.
I will try to see what I can get. I will try using f/8 – f/11 to get something sharp.
Most of these pictures show people who look like ‘not happy’ about somebody, Christopher Van Velzer, snapping pics of them! I always ask the person when taking photo of them. In Melbourne, Australia, about 75% people say ‘OK’!!
I think it’s obviously fine to ask people to take their picture – but part of the point of the article is recognizing that this changes the image itself… that interaction, their awareness, changes the image. And if people look ‘unhappy’ in these pictures – it’s not because I’m taking their picture. In every single one, I guarantee they didn’t know they were being photographed. It’s just a lack of reaction you’re seeing – because of a lack of awareness, even if they appear to be looking at the camera. It’s certainly not the only way I shoot (and I do ask people, or wait for a look, and smile/talk afterwards) – but again, my real point is that should be an intentional decision, because it does change the final image. :)
I must say I have difficulty in connecting with a lot of so called ‘street photography’.
OK, where it is insightful, intimate and well observed or where it tells a story (à la Cartier Bresson), I get it it, but so much of it is mundane, banal and pretentious dross masquerading under the cachet of ‘street photography’. So much of it is just shooting perfectly drab and meaningless scenes and people for no other reason than they are there. Essentially random images of random scenes shot randomly.
People sitting on park benches, shopping, standing in queues, riding in trains. Utterly average, ordinary and boring beyond belief.
However, to liven things up, we of course have the mandatory introduction of the ‘dynamic perspective’ (because the photographer couldn’t keep the camera level), creative blur (because the shutter speed was wrong) and the gritty atmosphere (because the camera had been pushed way beyond its ISO limits). Marvellous. Now we have ART. Praise and accolades all round.
Alternative points of view are what you excel at doing. We appreciate your candor.
It’s certainly a fair point, and already in my draft of part 2. :) Out of curiosity… have you ever taken a stab at street photography yourself?
No, I haven’t, it’s not something that strikes a chord for me.
I do appreciate that observation of the human condition in photography is a perfectly valid pursuit – but like most pursuits the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘why’.
Also, as in most human activity, much if not most, is plagiaristic and banal.
For instance, at its best, street portraiture can be superbly insightful and revealing, but mostly it’s just taking photographs of people because they are there.
Betty I couldn’t agree more. I have an active interest in the genre. But find the majority of what is posted pointless. I suppose one was to wade through it to find the captures of pure genius.
Excellent photos. I also like Robin’s street photography as well (been following his contributions for a few years).
Question that arises is that both yourself and Robin use ‘smaller’ mirrorless cameras for your work.
Do you find that mirrorless is ‘less imposing’ as regards an SLR for your application?
What does shine through is that mirrorless is more than sufficient for street photography.
Thanks for posting!
And thanks also to Nasim. He seems to be attracting ‘the cream of the crop’ on his website IRO ‘guest articles’ – always something to make visiting this site worthwhile – kudos.
Hi Fred(bear!), thanks. And yes – actually, I’ll refer to this again later, but I actually think that the size of a camera can also be a compositional choice *if* you are interjecting the awareness of the subject into the photo. It’s not about the size of the sensor, or resulting DOF (although this also can come into play), but literally – when you hold a huge DSLR up to someone’s face, they are self aware (and typically, self-conscious) about being photographed in a way they simply are not with a smaller camera. There is an assumption built into much of the social consciousness about a “big camera” being synonymous with a “real photographer” as opposed to a “casual photographer.” People react very differently to a little E-M1 with small prime on the front, and perhaps a little differently still with the X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2 (which is still smallish, but approaching a more “serious” look), and very differently with a full-frame DSLR and “normal” sized lens. I think it actually impacts composition, and should be a concious choice made as such, and for your intent/style. If you’re going for discretion – by all means, the Oly (especially the E-M10!) and a small prime is a fantastic choice. They’re just tools – but the tools change the interaction with the subject (not just IQ or DOF or noise or everything else we obsess about in gear reviews). Make sense?
Should you really be poking your camera or firing off a flash into anyone’s face?
I find it amazing that you apparently think it’s OK to do that.
It’s a good question. I don’t use flash (although see below on Bruce Gilden, and many others that do) – but it’s not because I think it’s morally wrong to do so, it’s not not the kind of image (or interaction) I would ever want to have. It’s not me. And partially because I don’t think it’s that actual “person” either. And it’s also not my style to get right up in someone’s face with a lens/camera that I’m holding to my face. But it is of others. If I’m going to get close, chances are, I’ll do it in the way I describe above. Maybe that will change someday – I don’t know. But the “should” implies a moral or ethical choice… and although a ‘flash in your face’ method would not work for me, i don’t think it’s immoral or unethical (well, barring straw-man arguments of the extreme).
I didn’t say it was immoral or unethical.
I feel it is bad mannered, not to say offensive, to overtly invade someone’s personal space and take photographs of them without their consent as if it were some kind of right.. The kind of paparazzi approach, often described as ‘brave’ or ‘up front’, is simply thugish and rude.
I believe good street photography should mirror good wildlife photography. Enter the animals’ (peoples’) environment discreetly and quietly photograph them so that their natural behaviour is not altered and there is no impact on their life.
Then in that case, I agree with you completely. :) With the possible exception that, unlike with wildlife photography, I think it is also fine to simple interact with the person, and ask them if it’s ok to take their photograph too. Eric Kim talks a lot about this, and it’s much more his style (and personality). Again – different image, different result – but it certainly doesn’t have to only be from completely undetected means to be ‘good’ street photography.
Yes, got you on that.
Thanks for the reply. Appreciated!
I think that your eye is good, but I question your decision to shoot wide open, or near wide open. for most of your shots. It seems to me that some depth of field would add some sharpness to your otherwise great shots. Like you, Robin Wong shoots a lot of street photography and I like his photograph also. Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Don, for the feedback. I follow Robin Wong’s work also, and love it. For this article, anything on the subway is pretty much shot wide open out of necessity for light, rather than DOF… which, by the way, is another nod to the Olympus because you get MORE DOF with the same aperture (I know people usually complain about this, but in my mind, it can certainly be a strength as much as it is a liability depending on what the image/situation requires). It certainly helps on the subway, where light is scarce, and of a particularly ugly color temp.
For the rest – it’s really a matter of how much to isolate the subject vs. include environment as a compositional choice. Usually, I want enough of the background to be in focus to give some environmental context – but in a city, sometimes, the background is just plain… distracting… and adds nothing to the composition or study of the subject. And other times, especially with street photography – there isn’t a lot of time to do a quick switch of aperture. But I’m definitely not an “f/8 and be there” kind of street photographer (not that there is anything wrong with that… I actually think it can be more difficult to achieve meaningful images without relying on bokeh and think DOF as a crutch) – but again, I guess the important thing is that these are compositional choices we should be aware of to make intentionally – not just bokeh for the sake of bokeh, etc. :)
I wasn’t questioning the need for the background to be in or out of focus, but the wide open f-stops affect the subject or center of interest. My wife thinks that I have an eyeball fetish since I’ve always tested a new lens on her eyeballs, wide open. Many of your images appear to be out of focus only because the DOF is so narrow and the shots have been taken wide open, so there’s no chance for them to be in focus. Some of your shots include more than one person, but are also shot fairly close-up and still wide open leaving no chance for an “in-focus” result. I understand that there’s not a lot of time when you’re shooting street to say to yourself, “what f stop and shutter speed should I use?” I would rather have high ISO noise than soft focus, but a number of your shots were taken at very high shutter speeds, negating the need for either a larger aperture or a higher ISO. I think that Robin has balanced this trade-off, since most of his “eyeballs” are sharp. Just my 2 cents.
A very worthy two cents. :) But out of curiosity, with the exception of the super-close up boy where the far eye is in focus, not the closest… where do you see missed focus? Typically, I’m not always (or even usually) going for both eyes in focus close up at this range – just the eye closest to the camera at least.
I have debated with myself as to whether or not I should answer your question, but ok. I have looked at every one of your 33 images. In my opinion, and remember, it’s just my opinion, numbers 10, 12, 14, 21, 23, and 25 are in focus. Number 12 is the best since she is the subject, and number 10 comes in second. I went back and looked at some more of Robin’s shots, and although he takes a lot of his shots wide open, they are generally entitled “portraits of a stranger,” so he has a chance to focus and decide upon the settings. His street shots are usually closed down at least one stop. I’ve done a fair amount of street shooting and have used both Nikon full frame and the Olympus EM- I, so I know that it’s not easy. Your shots are good, but there’s very little chance of getting anything outstanding wide open. Most of us agree that the majority of lenses are not at their sharpest until stopped down at least one and probably two f-stops, so what can you expect wide open? Once again, that’s just my opinion for what very little it’s worth.
Christopher, great stuff here. Images are really wonderful and meaningful. I am one of those stealth shooters but have no compunction of going into the street with a long lens mounted to my camera. As Keith Starkey notes, here in the US it is altogether legal to photography anywhere in public unless noted otherwise. I have been approached by folks who would object to having their picture taken. I always smile at them during their objections. When they stop to take a breath I explain that I’ve done nothing illegal but if it really annoys them I will gladly erase the picture but only after they see it. They always agree and when they admit that it is a nice picture I offer to send them a copy for free, hand them my business card, and tell them to email me and I will drop box a copy they can have printed. I never offer to make a print because that would require an address and that, I feel, get’s too personal. Since I am a journalist I spend a lot of time out recording what I feel are normal and unusual street scenes. This is not a part of my professional work as you relate but personal assignments I give myself which perhaps will become a display or book some day. Currently, I am finishing a book of homeless people who are not as down on their luck as some might think. I’ve discovered here in the US there are many homeless who work everyday, have financial resources, but have decided to simply drop out of main stream society with all its trappings. None of the 24 subjects I’ve managed to include in this work are actually poor or out of work and some are highly trained and skilled craftspeople. For whatever reason, personal to them, these individuals have decided to live an alternate life style. In some ways, I envy them, however for me personally, I could not give up my way of life.
Thanks so much, Mike – really appreciate the feedback. Certainly the legality is not in question (at least, not in the US, and most countries still). But still, there is what is legal, and what is… well, in our own belief of right, wrong, and “it depends.” And beyond that even, if you have a reasonable expectation to not be photographed if you don’t want to be out in public, there is still somewhat of a philosophical choice to make as a photographer in street photography as to whether or not to engage with the subject directly as you describe (either before or after the image is made). There is really a different post in this one (that I haven’t written, and didn’t here because it would probably read too philosophically and academically) about this broader choice in photography, and street photography above all, that parallels differences and choices one makes as a researcher (and even one’s worldview) in quantitative vs. qualitative research, and whether you believe truth and reality is something we are trying to objectively understand but that exists independently of us, or whether we are the creators of that reality ourselves (and/or construct it socially, together, as people). In photography – that’s the “choice” of presence I try to talk about here – making your presence known, and acknowledging it as an inevitable (and possibly critical) component of the image itself and your ability to have an impact on the moment you are capturing, or standing at a distance (whether with a telephoto lens, or with this kind of technique) and trying to document more “objectively” what is happening without interference. And it is maybe the latter that gives me pause at times – I have no desire to study people objectively, and no real belief that can even be done (whether photography is the tool or not). But I do realize, and reflect often, on that choice to be directly involved in the moment – to interrupt it, so to speak with eye contact and the subject’s awareness of me taking a picture – or to allow the moment to be documented photographically and pass, without awareness of my presence. It changes the image, to be sure.
Your work sounds fascinating – and I have met similar people among the homeless (here, and in the US) – although it is not a universal story, to be sure. But it was certainly a revelation to realize that some homeless people were such by absolute, conscious, active and affirming choice – not merely circumstance. Would love to see that work!
Christopher, I think you should consider writing the second article. As a member of PL for about a year now, I have been involved in discussions ranging from technique, technological advancements in photography as well as the philosophy of what we do as photographers or enthusiasts in our hobby. I think your perspective would make for great discussion.
As the individual I am one would place me in the category of an alpha personality. I can do both get in your face photography, (after politely asking, or if the assignment demands without asking), or stealth work; but I prefer to remain, for the most part, unseen. What I am trying to capture in the minuscule moment are natural actions of my subjects and for that I need to stay out of the arena as you so stipulated in your very well written article. I too often wonder what my subject was thinking, what is that persons day like, are they having a hard time today in their lives? We can never know but, in the end, the photograph has to speak for itself. As a photographer, psychologist and behavioral scientist, I am interested in the interaction of people with other humans as well as what window is someone window shopping all the way to how a parent reacts to an unruly child.
Is what we do moral? I think every photographer who records human kind and interaction needs to answer that for themselves and make certain they are doing the right thing for their art or journalist instincts. Like you, when I encounter an individual who absolutely protests having their photo taken, I will erase the picture. I always smile at them because a smile is usually disarming. Erasing the image, says I’m sorry for invading your privacy. If doesn’t happen often but it does happen. I don’t consider my self to by an artist photographer but I often wonder if the artist struggles with the same philosophical morality that we journalists do. Recording human interaction and history is not new; it has been going on for millennia and will continue in one form or another after we, you and I, are long gone.
As for my book on homeless, yes, my publisher would also like to see it done. LOL, I need one more subject and haven’t found him or her yet. I want 200 pages with 8 pages dedicated to each person. They deserve that in order to tell the complete story.
I agree a second article would be awesome. This article rocked!
Make that three of us
Hmmm… well in that case… CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
Just don’t post something like, “yeah… you lost me at social constructionism. BTW, how would you compare the bokeh of the Oly 45mm f/1.8 to the Fuji 56 f/1.2?”… >__<
Christopher, I assure you with the group here at PL you won’t lose anyone at “social constructionism”. We have a very learned crowd here at PL from a variety of countries.
I’m not regularly a big bokeh guy. What I do judge is the isolation of the subject and If that is done well I don’t care how soft the background goes. However, depending upon my assignment in journalism I often have to show more of the background to illustrate what is going on with or for the subject. I do think they are very close and as I mentioned which is better, softer, less defined with your photography doesn’t matter since you were able to isolate the subject so well there isn’t much background to deal with.
This is amazing! I can’t wait to see / purchase this book when it comes out. IamazedIt sounds like thw kind of storytelling photographers should be involved with.
I am long overdue in finishing this project. Perhaps if I were not such a gear junkie and would spend less money on stuff and more on travel I could find my 25th subject. Sometimes I think I have been procrastinating because I really don’t want to finish. This project has become like a child the parent refuses to release into the world. I have no concern regarding acceptance of the work or financial gain from it. I am jealous of each of these individuals who have, to a great degree, cast off the chains of modern life and discovered an alternate psychopathy to survive within it. Do I have the moral right to invade that? I have not yet answered that question for myself.
Love, love, love it, Mike. And the fact that you have that struggle and conflict internally with finishing because of the part of you that identifies/wishes to identify with it is all the more evidence that they are stories that need to be shared through this art form. Do keep us posted when it is done!
Christopher, I certainly will. Just hope I can get myself to finish before I die. LOL
HAHAHA i have shots of that same blue ragged begger from all over the city . You do realise he is a pro and not just some down on his luck peasant.
They all are… he’s often at Shanghai Brewery on Saturdays. :)
I like when he stands in front of Jing an temple still as the dead in that patchwork robe . One day I will follow him try and get a shot changing into reg clothes .
Yeah, but even though I think he does this every day and knows the spots to hit, I have no doubt he actually is homeless, or barely able to scratch out supporting himself this way. It’s a rough time to be homeless/jobless in China – worked with and seen far too many at the relief centre (run by foreigners) to know it’s a very real problem as much as it is anywhere, and in some ways, more so because there are lots of issues with people not being able to work due to hukou issues and such.
Incidentally – you’re in Shanghai… small world. Look me up sometime. Love to connect to other photographers!
on the pudong side near science and tech, i like to go shoot the hutongs behind old town. anyways add my Fb Dirk gentley
Wonderful work despite Fujis lousy apps. Thank you for the post.
Cheers – thanks!
The Xt1 seems great for this type of photography. Too many shots of phone obsessives. The older faces for whatever reason have so much more interest.
Well – the X-T1 is ‘ok’ for this type of photography (at least, regarding the remote app specifically. Shooting regularly on the street, it’s great.) I just wish the wifi and remote app weren’t so lag, had continuous shutter release, etc.
And re: people on phones, it’s true – but unfortunately, it’s also a reality of the depiction of what people are ALWAYS doing. I have a feeling when we look back at street photos in 50 years and the images of today are all “vintage” – we’re going to think, “oh, how funny that everyone still had cell phones then; so weird not to see Google glass (or its equivalent).” :/