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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Takin' it to the Streets

There are some wonderful faces around. Just a walk through a city street will reveal faces by the dozn that you would love to capture. Well, why can't you? Is there anything stopping you? "Yes", you say. "I feel a bit apprehensive about asking them if I can photograph them."

These days, suspicion about a photographer's motives is not uncommon. Taking your camera to the beach or to the swimming pool to photograph your own children is tantamount to a criminal act as those who look on, eyebrows raised, wonder what you are really up to. It is sad situation and one which reveals that despite all our efforts, the wrong kind of people have won. The innocent are left to maneuvre their way around the simple act of photography because a sick few have ruined it for the rest of us.

But that does not mean that you can't photograph people in the streets. You can do so candidly, with a long lens - the ethics of which are entirely up to you. You can also do one simple but incredibly clever thing. You can engage them in the simple act of conversation. Has anyone ever heard of something called a 'greeting'?

Yes, establishing a rapport with an individual through conversation and honesty is not difficult. That only takes a few moments, and then you can pop the question. 

"Would you mind if I took a quick portrait of you?"

The worst thing that would probably happen would be a firm and unequivocal "No". And that's ok. No harm, no foul. Somewhere in the middle you may get an embarrassed question about why you would want to do so. Somewhere way up at the top of the list will often be an agreement. It may take a little explanation, but there is no harm in that either.

Successful photography requires much more than technical skills. It often requires that we step out of our comfort zones, take a risk and enable ourselves more with each experience, growing more confident, socially adept and strong with each image captured. Perhaps the lesser of the benefits will be the portraits you take.

But then again, maybe not. You may just create some timeless and beautiful works of art. You need only to ask.


4 comments:

Greg Earl said...

Being of a less outgoing personality I certainly move beyond my comfort for zone in approaching strangers. On the couple of experiences I have had I must say the outcomes were totally unexpected.

Firstly at remote Convict Lake in California I approached a rugged looking, bearded fisherman who was endowed with gross amounts of ink on his arms. With camera in hand I told him I was making a collection of photographs of beards and would like to add his to it. Much to my surprise he obliged willingly and even extracted his catch of fish to include in some extra shots.

The other occasion was when I approached a biker and his girlfriend on their Harley Davidson also in California. Again they were most obliging. When I finished they told me it was my turn, dressed me in their leathers and sat me on the bike for some totally unexpected shots.

As you say, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Greg Earl said...

Being of a less outgoing personality I certainly move beyond my comfort for zone in approaching strangers. On the couple of experiences I have had I must say the outcomes were totally unexpected.

Firstly at remote Convict Lake in California I approached a rugged looking, bearded fisherman who was endowed with gross amounts of ink on his arms. With camera in hand I told him I was making a collection of photographs of beards and would like to add his to it. Much to my surprise he obliged willingly and even extracted his catch of fish to include in some extra shots.

The other occasion was when I approached a biker and his girlfriend on their Harley Davidson also in California. Again they were most obliging. When I finished they told me it was my turn, dressed me in their leathers and sat me on the bike for some totally unexpected shots.

Greg Earl said...

Being of a less outgoing personality I certainly move beyond my comfort for zone in approaching strangers. On the couple of experiences I have had I must say the outcomes were totally unexpected.

Firstly at remote Convict Lake in California I approached a rugged looking, bearded fisherman who was endowed with gross amounts of ink on his arms. With camera in hand I told him I was making a collection of photographs of beards and would like to add his to it. Much to my surprise he obliged willingly and even extracted his catch of fish to include in some extra shots.

The other occasion was when I approached a biker and his girlfriend on their Harley Davidson also in California. Again they were most obliging. When I finished they told me it was my turn, dressed me in their leathers and sat me on the bike for some totally unexpected shots.

Paul said...

Shelton,

Good essay. Have you ever heard of the 100 Strangers Project on Flickr? I got into it for a while, but have slacked off of late. I think in part it's because I live out in the country and it takes more effort to drive to Allentown or Bethlehem where the pool of potential victims, er subjects, is larger, but also because I'm more comfortable asking for a pic after I've had some kind conversational relationship with the stranger. Some people in the Flickr group are very comfortable walking up to someone, quite often an attractive young lady, and asking right off the bat. Often it seems they get the shot and boom, they're off to look for their next subject. My way takes longer. Anyway, I do intend to continue it, but I'll be taking a lot longer to get my first 100 strangers than many others. Take care.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller