Capturing a strangers photograph is difficult, the biggest hurdle is your own fear of peeving said stranger off. Capturing an intimate shot can be even more difficult because of the personal nature of intimate moments. Lots of us fear upsetting strangers by getting to close to their personal space, it’s understandable. Balancing your desire to capture great street photography with your desire to respect people’s privacy doesn’t have to be a challenge.
Look, I’ll be honest… You’re not always going to give strangers that warm fuzzy feeling inside their tummies when you take their photographs. However, I can count on one hand (one finger really) how many times someone reacted negatively when I took their photograph. I have far more experience with people reacting positively to being photographed by smiling or making funny faces.
As you can see in the definition above, intimate or meaningful moments don’t have to be couples making out or canoodling under the moon light. Intimate moments can be as simple as a moment of thought a subject has or a simple smile at another person. Below you’ll find some techniques that work well for capturing these meaningful moments.
I’ve read a great deal of
leather bound books about street photography and have heard conflicting suggestions on how to properly photograph strangers for the most interesting shots. There seem to be two main approaches, walk up and ask permission to take the persons photograph or discreetly take the photograph. I prefer being discreet, much like Henri Cartier-Bresson who could snap your photograph and be around the next street corner before you even knew someone was there.
There is a huge advantage to being discreet when practicing street photography… Picking pockets… Just kidding, by being discreet you’re able to capture intimate portraits of people reacting to their environments without them pandering to the camera. With self-image being so important these days, you’ll get far different reactions from people who know they are being photographed than those who do not (nobody wants to immortalize a goofy look on film).
Being discreet is my preferred method and the one that I think will yield the most interesting photographs (more intimate moments) but that’s not to say asking for permission isn’t effective as well. The photograph below was taken only after I asked for permission… Primarily because he looked like he was having a bad day and I really didn’t want an altercation. He was very polite and agreed, contrary to the face he is making.
Assess each person and situation differently, if the person looks angry you may want to ask their permission before taking their photograph rather than rolling the dice and possibly having an argument.
There will certainly be times when it’s advisable to avoid the photograph all together. The image below is of a possibly mentally unstable man (in the red shirt) accosting every person that walked by. A close up image of him yelling would have been interesting but not so much so that I’d risk having him direct his behavior towards me.
Alright, I’m not sure if you know this but there is a positive correlation between the size of your camera and your interpreted “creep factor”, the larger your camera the creepier you’ll look practicing street photography. Same goes for the size of your lens, don’t treat people like they are big game or you’ll look like you’re a stalker in training. Prime lenses and smaller cameras are your best choices for candid street photography if you want to capture intimate moments.
Unfortunately there is a misconception that the larger your camera and lens the more talented you are as a photographer. In reality, the better you are at photography the less you care what others think.
Stand/Walk In The Right Area
There is nothing wrong with getting right up in the face of your subjects, if that’s the type of photography you like then have at it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “street photographers” who believe that if you aren’t right in your subjects face then you aren’t getting “personal” enough. Turn off that white noise and focus on what you are photographing. To capture a personal or intimate moment you’ll want to consider your composition carefully.
The key to composing any photograph is capturing the mood or feeling of the scene. If you subscribe to the notion that you need to be right in your subjects face then you are missing a key element of composition, context. The image above, called Seasoned Love, was taken with the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens from about 50 feet in order to capture the warmth that the couple exuded in relation to the cold empty space around them.
Remember, capturing meaningful photography doesn’t have to be intimidating. Be discreet, use a smaller camera or lens, and don’t worry about getting right in subjects faces. Most people don’t mind you taking their photograph and will actually react positively to your camera.