People ask me “what do you like to shoot?” and honestly, I like to shoot whatever is in front of my camera. I like landscapes, architecture, people, whatever. I just love the process of making photos. But I am not an outgoing person. If I had my druthers, I might shoot landscapes, but I live in New York and sprawling landscapes are hard to come by.
Street photography – documenting society on the street – requires a degree of outgoingness. I’ve shied away from it for a long time, taking photos on the street but not taking street photos. “Real” street photographers actually get mad when people call what I do “street photography.” They’ll explain that what I do is more like “urban geometry” than street.
And while I might disagree with them, I had to acknowledge that my shyness was limiting my photography. That’s not necessarily a problem – I’ve been happily shooting for years – but this summer I decided to step outside my comfort zone and to start photographing the “real” streets of New York.
I figured the easiest way to start was to take photos of people who weren’t looking at me. I got a lot of backs of peoples’ heads.
Next up is shooting people who are busy doing something. If they’re looking at their phone, or riding a bike, then they’re too busy to notice me. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable; I’m afraid of taking a photo instead of just making one.
Another technique that shy street photographers use is “shooting from the hip.” This is where you don’t bring the camera to your eye, but shoot by guessing the composition. I’m not a huge fan, it feels sneaky and shooting form the hip doesn’t really obscure the “click” of a shutter anyway. But I’ve gotten some decent photos with the technique.
Another technique I’ve found that makes shooting street a little easier is to shoot a scene that just happens to include people. I’m used to shooting scenes, people can be just one element in a broader picture. New York offers a lot of different scenes to choose from, and I think once I’m more comfortable singling out individual subjects, this will help make my New York photos more intriguing.
At some point, I just had to bite the bullet and do it: be conspicuous while taking someone’s photo. One person saw me taking their photo and it gave me chills, but I pressed the shutter anyway. Later, when I got the photo back, I saw the person looking at me in the photo. Now the photo gives me chills. Another person saw me try take their photo and I waited until they went back to their book before grabbing the shot. They didn’t care.
People – even if they notice me – don’t care. Maybe they think I’m just a tourist. In any case, it’s been a big lesson for me to learn: I can shoot people on the street, I can embrace my own discomfort, and I can stay ethical about how I candidly photograph people.
I started off this story – and this summer – shooting the streets in a comfortable way. I decided to embrace the discomfort of shooting street photos and expand my comfort zone, and I like the results. I like where I’m headed. But that doesn’t mean that I need to abandon how I shoot street, I can still shoot “urban geometry.” New skills are just new tools to help me achieve a broader variety of creative visions.
I want to shoot street how I shoot street.