You know how much I love instagram. I’m not hyper active, but shoot a couple of pix every week. I read these tips for street photographers on the MoPho Blog, they might give you some hints, too. Enjoy.
““How did you take that picture without that person seeing you?”
My favorite answer to give for this question is “I use an iPhone.” After all, the iPhone is the perfect stealth camera on the market. It’s super small, and people think it’s a phone first. It’s just so easy to pretend you’re texting someone, or playing a game, while actually taking a pic. You’d think “I use an iPhone” would be a sufficient-enough answer. But most people aren’t satisfied with that. Instead they say “But I HAVE an iPhone, and… I’m still terrified to take a pic of someone I don’t know. How do you do it?”
Oh. Right. Those first-attempt jitters. I got those too. The thing that helped me gain the confidence to take photos of perfect strangers was to just keep doing it over and over and over again. But I realize people need to start somewhere…
So how about starting with taking a candid pic of someone you DO know?
I’m not a huge fan of “posed” shots, whether they’re of someone familiar or not. If I’m taking a pic of a friend or family member or loved one, I’d rather they didn’t realize it — because to me, a candid shot is usually more interesting. I’ve had jobs where I’m taking pics of people at an event, and I’m SUPPOSED to ask people to pose for me. I’ll do that for a bit…but the results often bore me. So at some point I’ll switch to taking candids, and the pics become infinitely more appealing while still being what my employer wants. Suddenly the people seem to be interacting with the event rather than making “been there, seen that” poses with the event being just a backdrop.
As soon as someone is aware that a camera is being pointed at them, they…change. They put on their “camera face.” I have my own “look” that I can’t help using when someone’s taking MY picture. People even make fun of me for it, because there are countless pics of me with the same silly expression. But I can’t help it…it’s just automatic. And it is for MOST people.
The “camera face” is rarely ever a representation of one’s “true” self. And honestly, it’s just not that interesting. Most people’s “camera face” is like everyone else’s. It’s boring because we’ve seen it a gazillion times. And so…when practicing taking candids, try practicing with friends first. Try and take their pic without them realizing it. If you’re “caught” in this case, it’s no big deal.
Once you start getting a bit more comfortable with people you actually know, it’s time to start trying with strangers. But before you start, it’s VERY IMPORTANT that you ask yourself WHY you want to take candid shots of strangers. What is your intent? Maybe you find street photography interesting and you just want to give it a shot yourself. That’s fine, but the right frame of mind makes ALL the difference. If you approach it with a full RESPECT for your potential subjects, then you will go far. That attitude will not only make it easier for you to take your shots (because you’ll feel better about your intent), it will also guide the moment you actually choose to hit the camera button — as the respect you feel will show through in your work and make it really stand out. If you’re coming at street photography with less noble intentions, it’s going to mess up your photo-taking mojo, and you’re not going to get good results. Make sure you’re doing this for legitimate artistic reasons, and not to try and sneak a pic of some “hot” person for yourself, or some person in an unfortunate situation as a mean-spirited joke. In other words…don’t be creepy or a jerk!
WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
Most of the time you’ll be trying this by yourself. (Although I’ll have some tips for using a “partner in crime” for Part Two tomorrow). In the meantime, taking shots of complete strangers can be a terrifying prospect. Try some of these tricks and see if you get more comfortable:
1). “Can You Hear Me Now?” — Ahhh, the old “hold the phone up to your ear and pretend to be having a conversation while you secretly snap a shot” trick. It’s a classic, and I’ve seen people like my good friend Morgan Miranda in action doing this while never raising suspicion. There are even apps that specifically help you take a pic this way. However, this usually means not looking at what you’re shooting at all. I unfortunately have terrible aim, and this method never seems to work well with me. Maybe I just haven’t practiced it enough, and maybe people reading this would have much a better shot than I would. I personally prefer other methods…
2). The Tourist — This works best in bigger cities, where you can pretend to actually be looking at something of interest. So instead of pretending NOT to take a shot, make it obvious that you actually ARE — but make it seem like it’s of something in the background. Keep your phone help up in front of you, but be looking up at something else as if you’re scanning for something interesting to shoot. You might need to take a few “dummy” shots of other things to keep up the tourist illusion. But keep a corner of your eye on your subject…you don’t want to lose them either! Sometimes it’s good to even look like you might be shooting a video. No one wants to feel like they are the sole subject of a CAMERA shot, but most people don’t mind being an “extra” in the background of a tourist’s vacation video. Just scan around slowly as if you’re filming, and as soon as the subject’s in your viewfinder, quickly snap the shot — but make sure to continue panning around as if you’re still taking video, so as to not arouse suspicion!
3). Let Them Come To You — Do you see someone far away coming down the street that you just HAVE to take a pic of? Great! Get your iPhone out as quickly as possible, and position yourself so that you’re (mostly) shooting in the person’s direction, but at a slight angle so it doesn’t seem like it’s all about them. At some point, they will literally “walk into” your shot (make sure the angle is still mostly towards you — otherwise if you take it while they walk past you, it will just be a blur). The person may not even see you, but if they do, you want them to think you’re shooting something else — so make sure to keep your eye on the viewfinder and not at the person walking by, as direct eye contact can sometimes betray your actual intent. It’s possible they might stop just before you, not wanting to “ruin” your shot. This is ok, and will work in your favor — just say “Don’t worry, go right ahead…” while actually snapping a shot of them as soon as they walk in view!
4). Window Shots — Try finding a cafe or shop that might have people sitting or standing inside right by a window. Depending on what the place is, there are a number of justifiable reasons you could be coming up close to it (window shopping, looking at a posted menu, etc.). Window shots are a great way to ease yourself into candids as there’s a natural barrier between you and the subject. You’ll find it easier to try and sneak a shot this way instead of out on the street. Chances are your subject is in the middle of doing something else (reading, having a coffee) and may not even look up. If it’s dark outside, they’ll be even less likely to see you — as the glass inside will be reflecting the interior of the space. Just don’t give off any creepy stalker vibes!
5). “Excuse me, I’m lost. Can you help me?” — This is by far the most BOLD method of capturing a candid, but it’s amazing how many times it’s worked for me. Keep your phone high up (somewhere between chest and eye level) and look around as if you can’t understand the Maps app on your phone and you’re lost (but really, you have your favorite camera app open and ready). Walk right up to the person you’re trying to capture (works best with someone who doesn’t look too tech-savvy), while still keeping the phone in the same position as if you’re still checking it. When you begin asking for directions or whatever, just snap a few shots while chatting. The higher the phone is, the better — because if it’s too low, you’ll need to angle it up at the person which could arouse suspicion. Just keep your cool, and most people won’t even consider that someone coming straight up to talk to them is actually taking their picture too…
The above methods (ok, except maybe that last one) are pretty low-risk. Try them out for a bit and see if you get any more comfortable with taking candids. And come back tomorrow for PART TWO as I talk about using “a partner in crime” to help you, and also what to do if you ever “get caught” and your rights as a photographer.”