Successful Street Photography My Way

Robert Watcher

Mu-43 All-Pro
May 2, 2010
El Salvador / Ontario, Canada
There are so many ways and so many opinions on what constitutes good street photography. For me, that genre encompasses a vast array of opportunities, content and methods. Every day and every scenario might find me shooting with a different agenda and viewpoint.

When it comes to People Photography on the Streets, I am quite comfortable photographing people candidly as they carry on their daily activities - - - sometimes up close and personal from a standing position or as I pass through crowds - sometimes from a distance using a long focal length lens - sometimes I am photographing without the subject being aware - and sometimes they are fully aware of my taking photos of them.

I also take full advantage of opportunities that come up where I can have a more controlled and more posed photo of a subject that I come across. That may be just finding them interesting or they may have noticed me and seem approachable - and then I ask them if they mind my taking a photo of them. Sometimes I am able to get them doing something in their environment while not looking at the camera (but it is still posed because they are now aware), and quite often it ends up being a straight on portrait where the the environment in the background helps give context.


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Street Photography Portrait of Jorge

Probably my ideal methodology when possible, incorporates a little bit of candid unnoticed, candid noticed as well as environmental portrait - followed up by delivery of prints.

Now that sounds an awful lot like my approach to my professional Wedding and Portrait work doesn't it. And that is probably the reason that I am so comfortable with carrying that into my Travel and Street photography when it comes to documenting people's lives.

I do get the privilege from time to time of having that style all fall into place. I am able to describe it fairly completely with a photo I took while walking the streets of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala a week ago.

I walked down a busy narrow street, passing by small Tiendas (shops or stores) - where I found an interesting door with great textures. I stand on the sidewalk with my camera pointed to the wall taking a few shots, and I noticed out of the side of my eye a young 6 or 7 year old boy who was sweeping his mothers floors - walk out onto the street beside me to put some trash by the curb.

By the time I turned my camera he had noticed me but I still grabbed a shot. When I smiled at him he moved into a position where he could give me a nice pose and I grabbed that shot.

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I was fine with taking those as my focus at the time was getting those nice wall and door textures captured.

After a minute or so, I headed back up the street and past the store front where the boy came from. I looked inside and greeted the mother and kept walking. But I noticed the boy excitedly telling her about what had happened outside - so thought to myself - - - I better go back and let the mother know what I was doing and using the photo for. I showed her the back of my camera and told her I would bring back a print of that pic next week.

Well the boy was giggling beside me and when I responded to him, I saw that he was standing in much better lighting and in a nicer surroundings. I asked the mother if I could take a nicer portrait of the boy standing where he was. After she agreed, I fired off 4 or 5 frames - - - starting with this one and ending up with the final portrait that I posted at the top of this post.

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OK - so I have my images - - - now what? Sure I am able to display them on Instagram, 500px, Flickr, Forum posts. But the real joy for me comes then I am able to return to the location - find the person in my photos - and provide them with an appreciative gift of a photographic print of my work.

This is generally only a small 4x6 print - but the thanks and smiles come at any size from my experience.

In this instance, I wanted to take back to the store, 2 prints - one for Jorge and one for his mother. She was quite excited that I had done that yesterday and repeated "One for my son and one for me?" in Spanish. Yes.

People were coming in and put of the cramped space and so I left with a wave goodbye. But as I am walking down the street I realize that I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to have a photograph of my subject holding my print. I don't get to do it often, but when it looks like the situation may allow me to do so - I try to take advantage of that.

I headed back into the store and told the mother what I wanted to do. For some strange reason, she thought it was the funniest thing, and said "Another photo?". Of course she probably was a little embarrassed by all of the people that she was dealing with at the time.

So between a couple of customers, I put mom and son together at the counter and showed them how I wanted them to hold the prints. They couldn't stop laughing s I fired away, and then finally I got one more sober shot and excused myself from the store. I could still hear the laughing of the two as I walked down the street.

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Besides my pleasure in seeing people respond to the images that I have taken of them, I just feel that it is right when possible to try and get a print to those that I have taken photos of on the streets during my travels. It takes away most of the stigma they may have had when they notice me taking their photo.

Related to the negative connotation that some may have towards having their photo taken in public - - - I generally am living in these areas for months on time. So people get to recognize me, and so by being considerate to them in this way it helps create a more positive and friendly atmosphere when they come across me or I come across them.

And in fact, I have found from experience that returning with this small gift that may cost me half a dollar - it opens up to me new opportunities for taking photos of people because those ones whom I given the print to will talk and show others around them and sometimes it even gets out on the street that I am the guy taking photos and at times I have had people come up to me and ask.

For me - shooting my travel and street photographer in this manner is a WIN WIN.

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