I enjoy reading about street photography and learning how other people view and enjoy the genre is important to me. There is a possible epidemic spreading through the street photography world, one that is pushed through street photography workshops and the success of recent street photography projects like The Humans Of New York… It’s called street portraits.
You’ll often see classes that suggest they’ll help you conquer your fear of street photography by teaching you to get really, really close to your subjects but have you really conquered anything? You are literally asking a compliant stranger to pose this way and that, which doesn’t strike me as a terribly frightening scenario.
The Gear I Used For These Shots:
Maybe a little back-story is needed… When I was out shooting recently I came across the beautiful woman you see above, I approached her and asked if she wouldn’t mind me taking her photograph. She was very polite and I got to learn a little about her. Street portraits, though rewarding in other ways, don’t really excite me the way taking a candid shot does. I began to think about that, what was it about street portraits that made me feel like I was coasting down easy street? Then it dawned on me, the challenge isn’t there.
Asking someone if you can take their portrait in the street breaks down all of the fear factor that comes with taking a candid shot. If they say yes, you’ve eliminated the risk that they will confront you once you’ve taken the shot or chase you around the block trying to get you to delete their image. If they say no, you simply say thank you and walk off. Perhaps the fear you conquer isn’t street photography related but simply the ability to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation.
Candid street photography, on the other hand, makes no apologies to the subject. You must be confident and fearless to walk up to a person or a group of people and own the shot. If you are truly fearless you are putting the camera up to your eye, framing the scene, then taking the shot(s). It would be very difficult for me to pose the shot above, the tension that was captured is palpable.
The question isn’t are street portraits street photography, they are, the question is whether taking street portraits is a type of fear reluctance… Something that will actually hinder your growth as a street photographer. If you look at candid shots with a desire to create them but still focus on street portraits then I’d say you are hiding from greatness, you’re enabling your fear of street photography. If, on the other hand, you’ve practiced both types of photography and feel more fulfilled taking street portraits then you are a fearless bad a&& that doesn’t follow anyone’s rules, not even your own.
Candid street photography, though often much more uncomfortable for the photographer, can yield some of the most interesting street shots you’ll ever create. If you are avoiding them because you’re using street portraits as a type of crutch I would implore you to step back and really assess yourself as a street photographer. Take a risk and spend time conquering your fear of candid street photography.
I’ve focused on both types of photography and while I prefer candid street photography to street portraits I believe there is a place for both. I consider myself an equal opportunity street photographer, if I see a candid moment I will capture it and if I see an interesting person I’ll approach them and ask to take their street portrait. If you really do eliminate your fear of street photography your options are endless.
If you shoot purely candid photography because you believe that street portraits aren’t street photography then I’d challenge you to give them a try, perhaps your fear is of a different variety. And to be honest, I feel bad for street photographers who believe street portraits aren’t street photography… There is a lot to learn from both genres.
Think about your style of street photography and if you’re being held back by fear. If you think your fine but always find yourself cropping your shots to get closer then you have a fear of getting close to your subjects. If you go through your portfolio and all you have recently are street portraits you may be taking the path of least resistance. Street photography, though rewarding, isn’t always butterfly’s and sunshine… Sometimes people will get pissed off and you’ve got to just keep on keeping on. The work you’re doing is important and nobody should be able to discourage you.