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On street photography and asking for permission

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Ted, Oct 14, 2014.

  1. Ted

    Ted Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 10, 2014
    Tasmania, Australia
    Theo B
    Hey guys, I'm pretty new to street photography and had a question. Just then I went out to take some pictures. It's about 10PM here, dark and raining. There was a middle-aged man with an umbrella that would have made a great shot, but instead of just taking it I decided to ask him for permission. I was super polite and even thanked him after he looked at me like I was the devil and power-walked away. Admittedly, I may not have looked as friendly as I like to think I am in my wet-weather hiking jacket, dripping wet and not shaven for a couple of days. My question is, should I have just taken the shot or is asking and potentially missing it the right thing to do? Because right now I regret it, haha. Thanks!
  2. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    You'd have to figure out what the laws in your country and region dictate, but here in the USA, you can take pictures on the street of anyone or anything you want (with a few limitiations) so long as it is in plain sight and the subject has no reasonable expectation of privacy.
    And there are many debatable items for that, which is a whole other topic in and of itself.


    One's approach to shooting street is a very personal one, much like your photographic style. I prefer that the subjects of my images do not know or acknowledge me, not because I'm trying to be a creeper, but I want to capture a true, honest, unforced response or reaction to the situations they are in.

    I've written up a pretty comprehensive blog about this topic and you can read it if you like.

    Best Light Photo - My Approach To Shooting Street Photography

    It's more of a conceptual approach and less about the gear, although I do share what requirements my gear must meet for me in order to use them as a street camera. My requirements must meet the way that I shoot, which is not the same as others shoot.
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  3. Ted

    Ted Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 10, 2014
    Tasmania, Australia
    Theo B
    Your blog is fantastic, thank you so much for writing it and linking me to it! I read that all and will do so again tomorrow. Next time I will take the shot without hesitation, though maybe use the tilting screen on my E-M5 and shoot from the belly button so as to be less noticeable!
  4. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Glad you enjoyed it. There are a lot of people that would like to start shooting street photography and ate intimidated or don't know where to start.

    There are a lot of ways to shoot street, and I've only outlined my approach, so researching how others do it might help you find the most comfortable way to shoot that matches what you want to get out of it.

    Make sure you post some of what you capture or there with us!!
  5. lightmonkey

    lightmonkey Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 22, 2013
    depends... is your street photography really more street portraiture - i.e. their faces are prominently featured? or are the people a (literally) small component of the composition - for negative-space fill, shape, silohuette, contrast, etc?

    if its the former, despite whatever local laws may be, i find it rude on a personal level to capture them without acknowledgement. and the photo is rarely visually interesting, anyway, without the greater street context.

    if its the latter, where the person are not readily identifiable, i think its fine

    2 random examples not of my creation

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  6. plaatje

    plaatje Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 15, 2012
    Taking photo's without asking is not my style. I know it takes some guts to ask. I try to ask all the time. Sometimes in language, sometimes by showing my camera and my smile.If someone don't want to be photographed I won't take a picture. Do I miss a lot of chances? No, I don't. Why choose for this style? Because I think it shows respect for the other and makes it a plaisure for the photographer and the one who is photographed. Yes, I know there are other ways, sneaky or brutal flashes in someone face, all for the sake of " art ". But please don't do that with me or other people, you're not a hunter or soldier but a photographer, so it's not about dead or killing but about plaisure and fun. Just my opinion . . .
  7. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    As others have said, it depends on what you're after and what your personal comfort level is. I personally don't want the subject of my shot to know they're being photographed, at least not until the exposure has been made. I'm trying to capture life on the street at an observer, not as a participant. If someone is aware they're being photographed, the photographer is a participant in the photograph and it's generally very apparent in the shot. Some street photographers are very involved in the shot, essentially trying to elicit a response, and then shoot that response. Bruce Gilden is a really high profile example of this type of shooting. Some even stage shots. I saw a video of Eric Kim working and he was essentially not only asking permission but arranging the subjects in the scene, sort of directing...

    I'm not into those methods, preferring to shoot moments that would be happening without me there. I shoot wide angle, though, so I have to shoot close. And sometimes that means I fail in my goal and the subject realizes what's going on and is looking straight into the camera. And some of these photos end up being shots I like a lot. Usually I'll nod and smile once there's eye contact, so in a sense I'm asking permission after the fact there, but not really asking, just acknowledging. But ultimately, that's not what I'm going for, even though it works sometimes.

    I've been confronted about having shot people twice, been asked to erase the photos, and happily complied. That's my goal, my process, and how I'm comfortable shooting. So it's what works for me. But everyone approaches it differently. The more you shoot, the more you'll figure out what works for you. When I first started shooting, I had no real idea - I just sort of shotgunned everything and every way imaginable. Over time I started seeing what worked in the few shots that did and narrowed what I did. I'd say it took more than a year, maybe closer to two, to really have a conscious idea about what I was doing, how I was doing it, why I was doing it that way, and what I was after...

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  8. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2013
    Don't directly ask the person for permission. Open up a conversation like you want to get to know the person, because he is after all a human being. Get to know him and use your conversational skills to get into a dialog. When people feel comfortable being with you, you can ask them to do almost anything like posing under a street lamp to get better lighting to walking a certain pose.

    When you're taking a candid photo of someone without permission, I always know it. There is an element of stress and unease in the person being taken, because the person is really uncomfortable being spied on. Women, especially, are very sensitive to this. If permission can not be obtained because of circumstances, I usually establish an eye contact and gut feeling confirmation. Establish eye contact with the prey and then just trust your gut feeling if he or she's ok with the shot. If not, NO shot. That's my rule. Some of my candid photos are like that taken; mostly of gorgeous ladies. In fact, sometimes they look back at me with a gorgeous smile if you have an open loving heart to all people.

    Have you ever had a reaction where when you look at a woman with lust and dirty thoughts on how you can deflower them; they almost always inadvertently turn their heads and give you a dirty look? Why? I think we are all spiritually connected and all of us are. Why not take advantage of this connectivity and strike up a conversation.
  9. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    As soon ask you ask permission you are not doing 'street' photography... you are still doing photography and you may well be well on the way to being a better photographer...buts not street photography by my definition....

    personally I am too shy to ask the permission and prefer to pretend to play the role of stealthy hunter

    none of these pics involved permission


  10. Kingsfan

    Kingsfan Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 22, 2010
    highland park, CA
    asked permission:

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    m6cron (47) by QmungousPhoto.com, on Flickr

    didn't ask:

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    gentleman junkie by QmungousPhoto.com, on Flickr

    i prefer the outcomes when not asking. but sometimes i'll see an interesting looking person or shirt though and i'll just have to ask

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    THE best misfits shirt ever by QmungousPhoto.com, on Flickr

    if you're nervous about taking the shot, you could practice by shooting people behind windows and stuff

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    looks by QmungousPhoto.com, on Flickr
  11. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    In Australia, you don't have to ask for permission, as long as the photos are not used for commercial purposes to advertise products etc ie, indicating that the person endorses the product or is used as a model for the product. You can use them for commercial purposes such as selling the prints as artistic efforts in their own right, as in themselves, they are not associated with any other commercial product.
  12. lightmonkey

    lightmonkey Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 22, 2013
    you have the right to call people names. but you shouldnt do it
  13. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    This is Australian law. As long as you abide by the law, you are doing nothing wrong, legally or morally. The law does not protect you if you are undertaking such photography in a private place, only public. It doesn't mean that some people won't get offended or dislike it, if they realise what you are doing, so natural caution is sometimes recommended.
  14. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    hmm posting images that are not of your creation and uncredited or without permission is way more dodgy than taking photos of strangers... but we will let that pass

    in my mind 'street portraiture' is when you see an interesting stranger and ask to take the photo..which is not street photography... to me street photography is about capturing a moment of interaction. a juxtaposition of elements or just an interesting composition of people and their environment.

    We all have different definitions of rude... I know this as I am a just 56 year old cynical scot with a dry sense of humour, a tendency to irony and a deep drawer full of expletives... think I could push your rude meter well into the red just by saying hello :) 

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  15. sokar

    sokar Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 30, 2011
    I do most of my street photography in Thailand. Asking for permission can lead to a misunderstanding that one is prepared to pay for a photo; even though that was never the intention. I rarely ask because I want to catch people in a moment or interacting with others around them. The one time I will ask is where young children are the subject. They may be playing on the ground, helping mum or the like; I always ask whoever is looking after them to avoid issues. As others have stated, once the subject knows the shots is being taken, it is not street photography, but another genre.

    I use a 35mm FOV and like to get rather close. Many times I do not bring the camera up to my eye and shoot from the chest because I do not want my actions affecting the scene. Finding one's style is the best part of street photography. One can be a hunter or stalker; one can take shot after shot at one position or slowly walk around through crowds picking out subjects. The only style I find objectionable is walking up to people and flashing them in the face at close distance.
  16. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I like to attack (figuratively) my subjects head on. I prefer to be as unobtrusive as possible, but I like to get in as close as possible. I don't like chatting it up with my subjects, because I'm only interested in the moment and not really interested in listening to stories or having to interact with my subjects. I view my camera like a sword and for every satisfying compositional and compelling shot I take, it's another opportunity to sharpen my photographic blade.
  17. tino84

    tino84 Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 29, 2013
    maybe it's not about sensations, permission, be natural or not, but about privacy. I think in most places you can take a shoot of everything and everyone you want (of course, if not explicity denied), but maybe you won't have the freedom to publish your pics without permissions. If you use it for you, as sort of art or your pleasure, you can, web and magazine you can't. ask to your country privacy lawyer what you can do with pics taken on the street.

    Personally, I don't put on web or on any other places except my albums pics of people in a public place. Only concerts are allowed, as are public shows (where not explicity denied, as there are some artists that for commercials, may denies to shoot photos)

    F.e. I found a page of what you can and cannot do here in Italy


    briefly, here you:

    CANNOT PUBLISH kids pics
    you have to take permissions if you want to PUBLISH these pics

    CAN PUBLISH pics where FACES are not RECOGNIZABLE. CAN be published also pics of someone's body, but FACE MUST STILL BE NOT RECOGNIZABLE
    CAN PUBLISH of something -like a tram, train or smoething where PEOPLE AREN'T THE MAIN SUBJECT, and where they are not fundamental to the meaning of the pic (see pics 5 and 6 of the link above)
    CAN PUBLISH pics for CULTURAL PURPOUSE, as people -even if they are RECOGNIZABLE- as at a SHOWS, EXHIBITIONS and PARADES

    in ANY CASES above, you CAN TAKE pics, it's PUBLISHING a PIC that MATTERS

    for PUBLIC people and KNOW ARTISTS, ACTORS and so on:

    CAN PUBLISH pics taken at live concerts or shows of the artist.
    CAN PUBLISH pics for magazine or web covers

    CANNOT PUBLISH pics of the artist for your AUTOPROMOTION
    in these two cases, obviously you can if you GET AN AUTHORIZATION

    CANNOT PUBLISH pics DETRIMENTAL TO THE IMAGE OF THE PERSON (used google translate for "detrimental", see pic in the link above for a better explanation)

    In almost all cases, if you are in a public place, you can always take -if not explicity denied- a pic, what you CANNOT EASILY DO is to PUBLISH pics. (Obviously here in Italy those are "line guides", cases must be judged one by one.. Thinking that here we have privacy laws a little bit more restricted, you can take those above as guides lines, you always have to ask to a lawyer what you can do or not with your pics, but I think you can always take a pic, the question is whether you can or not publish it, even on the web)
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  18. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Like Kevin Paris I draw a distinction between street photography and street portraiture. For me there's a candid element to street photography and that candid element could not exist if you have to ask permission to take the photograph.

    So, if you want to do street photography and it's legal to take the photograph, then take the photograph but I think it's best to be sensitive about it and don't interfere with what the subjects are doing. You're both in a public place. If you don't want them to interfere with what you're doing, then you don't interfere or get in the way of what they're doing. If enough photographers start getting in the way of their subjects, the subjects start asking for the law to be changed and it can be changed. If we want to be able to pursue street photography the way it has historically been pursued, then we have to be good citizens when we're taking photographs.

    And yes, some people don't like seeing a stranger taking a photograph of them but that in itself is not a reason not to take the photograph. Some people don't like seeing others dressed in some ways in public but that doesn't mean that people can't or shouldn't dress that way. If we had to please everyone while we were in a public place, or at least not displease anyone while we were in that place, there's not much that we could actually do in public. We don't have to refrain from doing something which is legal just because somebody doesn't like it, but we don't have to go about things in such a way that we start getting most people off side while we're doing it. If we do that, we could easily find the law being changed and what was once legal becoming illegal.

    If it's legal and you want to take the photo, take it. You don't have to ask permission but don't aggravate people unnecessarily while you doing it.
  19. 少林chris

    少林chris Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 28, 2013
    Los Angeles / Copenhagen
    "Shoot first - apologies later"
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  20. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    I go stealth. Only really had one negative reaction - they wanted me to delete the image but it was on film so they let it slide.

    You get weird looks but thats part of the fun.

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    Ultimately, run with whatever you feel comfortable with and build up your confidence.
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