On Sneaky Street Photography…

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Here’s a (somewhat strange, probably) take on street photography.  The question comes up about whether a street photographer is allowed — by the street photographer’s code of ethics (whatever that is) — to sneak a photograph of the unsuspecting photographee. 

Well, of course he is.  How else is the photographer going to capture that fleeting mix of I-wouldn’t-be-doing-this-if-I-knew-someone-was-looking and it-wouldn’t work-if-I-asked-permission?

And then there is the question of do you raise your camera to your eye or do you shoot from the hip and hope.  The hip-and-hope crowd like to cite Henri Cartier-Bresson.  OK, he did it some but I contend he had a lot of free time on his hands.  He was, after all, the guy that said, “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst.”  At any rate, when shooting guns or cameras, doesn’t it make sense to aim?

Do I shoot from the hip?  Yes, sometimes.  If raising the camera will scare away the wildlife I may try a shot from the hip.  The large majority of the time, however, I’ll use that little window at the top of the camera.  If you have to be sneaky there are other ways.  Sometimes this works:  Aim the camera to the right or left of your prime target.  If the subject sees you he/she will think you are photographing something else.  When they lose interest (you can tell by their eyes), pan back to the subject and fire. 

One last thought:  I’ve got forty-one images in my Street Photography gallery.  (See skeeterstravelphotography.com)  In only two or three of these does the question of sneaking the shot even come up. 

And that statement leads to another big question re street photography:  Does a good street photograph have to involve people?  I’ve got an opinion on that — the subject for another blog.


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Jasper S Lee - “On sneaky street photography”…always a little thought in my mind about “yes” or “no” to making an image of an unsuspecting individual. Somehow, I feel that individuals have their spaces and protection. If asked, would individuals grant permission? How would I feel if the image was of me? Part of the decision rests on how the image is to be used and if the identity of the individual can be determined from the image. Anything that I publish in which an individual is identifiable requires a signed technical model release…not practical with street photography.

skeeter - Thanks for the comment, Jasper. You are absolutely right: The feelings of the subject trump other considerations. We should all put ourselves in the position of others. I’ll have to disagree, however, with your statement that being able to identify the individual is the test for whether or not a model release is required before publication. People in public places don’t really have an expectation of privacy. Turning a buck with their image is, of course, another question. In that case a model release is certainly advised.

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