From time to time I am asked, if people don't complain when I simply take pictures of them without being asked. I like to photograph people, almost every one of my pictures shows human beings or at least something that is the result of human actions. And often these people look into the camera or one could assume that a moment after the shot the person depicted could complain. In photography there are countless subcategories. Everyone loves different motives and every photographer has his own philosophy and signature in his pictures. For me photography is a certain kind of "sketchbook". If I could draw better, I would probably carry a compact booklet and charcoal pencils instead of the camera to document everyday situations.
I do not prefer posed photography. There are photographers who stage great scenes or pose their models in the studio or at celebrations. I think this is great and there are great photographers in this genre. But I have never been fascinated by this kind of photography. The observation of people's everyday life is important to me. I like to observe people. I sit in a café, in the bus , on a park bench or I just walk around. And while that I'm always observing people. Their facial expressions, their gestures, the social interaction. Sad situations, thoughtful situations, disturbing situations, irritating situations. What exactly this is, I decide the moment my intuition says "This situation moves you, sets an impulse" and then "CLICK".
For this reason I always have my camera with me. In the rarest cases it is crowned with success when you go out with the absolute aim to take a great photo. That rarely succeeds. You really have to be on the road a lot, always have your camera with you and be open for the impressions that arise. There is also no point in thinking long about whether this situation is photogenic or not. There is usually no time. It is only later, when you look at the yield, that you can decide which pictures are good and which are not.
Let's stick to the topic of inconspicuousness. The kind of photography as I have described it before should, from my point of view, give an unobstructed view of the motif. What I mean to say is that the ideal case for me is that the person being photographed does not notice that I am photographing them, at least not while they are acting. Once the picture is in the box, the essential is already achieved. I then have to deal with the reaction afterwards.
A person is in interaction with another person or simply appears interesting by his appearance, his stay in that place or whatever. The moment I point the camera at him, he notices it and poses himself. Not what I actually wanted, but it may be that this is what creates a meaningful image. This can be friendliness as well as anger or irritation.
The man in the photo was first in a conversation with a passer-by. The situation caught my eye, because it is rather untypical for the Wiesbaden city area that someone sits on a city bench and drinks a glass of white wine. This was of course due to the current Corona crisis. The stimuli were enough to get the camera up. I released the shutter 2 or 3 times and while taking the pictures I already saw through the viewfinder that the man noticed me and waved to me. I also photographed him while doing so. Afterwards I smiled at him and waved him back. Then I went on. In the later viewing of the pictures I noticed that I found the "posed" situation that had arisen by chance to be much more meaningful than the others I had noticed before.
The question now is how I would have reacted if the man had been angry. Well, I would have gone to him and told him that I am a street photographer and that I found him immensely photogenic in this situation. I would of course delete the picture immediately if he wanted me to. Respect is important. I think this is a very important aspect in street photography. If you have serious scruples about photographing other people because you think that personal rights are inviolable, you will be rather unhappy in this genre and should better choose nature or architectural photography. As a street photographer (although not all of my pictures are taken in the street - I think the term social or documentary photography is more appropriate) you will inevitably find yourself in the situation of interacting in some way with your counterpart. I do not see people as "enemies" or "victims". I really love people and I don't want to expose anyone with the pictures or by photographing them in a bad way. Therefore, I have respect for certain situations:
I do not photograph children without "prior" permission
I do not photograph disabled people
I rarely photograph homeless people
I delete pictures when I am asked to do so
I'll stop taking pictures if anyone complains.
I am friendly to my counterpart in all situations (unless I have to save my skin)
The framework conditions are different in the different countries. The taboos that apply or do not apply in Germany do not have to be applied in the same way in other cultures. Even within Europe there are differences. For example, I never had the impression in London or Rome that people felt harassed by my photography. In German big cities, the uneasiness against photography is growing, interestingly enough, this only occurs with Foto-Cameras. When someone takes video recordings or photographs in 4k quality with his mobile phone, nobody seems to care. In Naples I made the experience to be very sensitive to the photography of people. In the picturesque areas on the side of the fashionable shopping streets many people live in abject poverty. Here I had the impression that people felt exposed by the photography. On the other hand, there are areas where people are happy and almost strive to be photographed. I have made this experience on previous trips in Africa and Asia. People speak to you because they feel respected because you photograph them.
From time to time there are critical remarks and discussions. Especially when someone claims that certain things should not be photographed. That happened to me some time ago at the main station in Munich. Actually, I was photographing a sculpture in the station hall and was approached by a passer-by who said that I wasn't allowed to finish the pictures because there were uninvolved people and shops. Because it could not be avoided I spoke with the man and explained to him that the legal situation in Germany is not as he presents it. I was able to explain to him quite fast, according to which laws something is allowed or not allowed. Because he could not answer he simply went away. So it is worthwhile in any case to be informed about the concrete legal situation in your own country. This makes you confident in your actions and also prevents you from stuttering and standing ignorantly in front of your counterpart during verbal attacks.
The following picture of the two Italian housewives was taken at the beach promenade of Naples. It was completely clear to me that they notice my photographing. My mainly used focal length is 35 or even 28 mm. This means that I also have to go very close to the motive. Here, it was simply easy to take some more pictures after the shooting. A little bit to change the position, but not to go out of the field of vision of the two ladies. It is very important not to make eye contact after the shot. You can stay on the spot, take more shots of other subjects (I took 2-3 shots of the volcano Vesuvio in the background. You can hold the camera towards the sky and the ground or just pan the hand in front of it and look through the viewfinder as if you want to check the exposure. With this shot I am convinced that the two ladies did not think they were being photographed and if so then only briefly at the beginning. My actions afterwards spoke against it. This is the way most of my "inconspicuous" pictures are taken. Some of the people turn around to see what I am photographing, because they don't expect to be the motive at first. Very often the people apologize to me and jump to the side, because they think they are standing in the way.
Look at the next Photo. The same way:
It looks in the picture as if the man with the melon watches me grimly or suspiciously because I am photographing him. But the situation was not like that at all. Especially with this picture I am often asked "Oh, the man was probably angry about the photo".No, in this picture he does not look into my camera at all. He stood one step more on the sidewalk before. When he noticed that I wanted to take a picture, he looked to the left and then stepped back so as not to disturb the picture from his view. I thanked him and took this picture.
The faster you shoot your photos, the faster you are out of the field of action again. If you take a long time to focus your camera or fiddle around with the menu for the right exposure, you'll get noticed. Camera up - CLICK, camera down - go on. This works best if you know your camera and have already made all settings so that you don't lose any more time. In good weather I use the "Zone Focussing". I set the lens to a very small aperture (e.g. 8 or, in case of a lot of sun, to 11) and the focusing ring to a distance range of 2-3 meters. In this setting, I don't have to do anything else but press the shutter release button. Theoretically I don't even have to look through the viewfinder. This is the street mode of the camera, which almost all street photographers use to take a photo in a flash without further settings. This requires good lighting conditions or a camera with noise-free high ISO values that produces good pictures even in bad light conditions at a large aperture. The following are pictures that were typically created in this way, so to speak, in passing and in motion. There was no time to pause and I have my camer always in my hand when I am on a fotowalk - not in my bag.
In these eventful situations, especially in big cities, I just keep walking without turning around again. It has never happened before that someone followed me. But I can think of one exception: I had my camera in my hand ready to shoot while walking through the Frankfurt main station. I was met by a young woman carrying her baby in a scarf. The baby hung grotesquely out of the cloth and I intuitively pressed the shutter release. What I hadn't noticed was that her husband was walking a few steps behind her and noticed me taking the picture. He ran after me and stopped me. I apologized to him and showed him that I had deleted the picture - which I actually did. Outraged he left.
In summary, I can say that I rarely had problems when I photographed people without being asked. With friendliness and respect as well as explanations you get the most when you are "caught". I have made business cards with my name and my website on them. If I took a picture of someone and had to explain why, I give them my card so they can have a look at my site. I usually also ask him if he agrees if I put the picture on the page Most situations can be mastered with psychololic tricks as I have described them. So to deceive your counterpart in such a way, that it does not assume to have been photographed. It depends on your own creativity, behaviour and reasonably good nerves to get it right. The more often you take pictures of people without being asked, the more experienced you become. I take my best pictures when I am completely on my own. With family on vacation or with a friend of the site I am distracted and not able to adjust to such situations.
Of course, I look for opportunities where I can be sure that the people photographed will not follow me. This is always the case when I photograph through glass panes
It's a real challenge when you're in an environment where you can't get away, such as in a restaurant or on the train. You have to play around a lot with your camera and release it at the right moment...
With the two pictures above I was constantly playing around with my camera. I took my feet, looked at pictures on the display and took the actual picture in between.
I hope I was able to give a little insight into the nature and approach of my photography. Not all pictures are taken this way. Often I am lucky and the people don't notice anything. But maybe I have gotten used to a "conspiratorial" behaviour. My photographs are always intuitive and depend on the situation. There are also always moments when I specifically ask whether I am allowed to take a picture.
If I summarize it stays:
I pretend I'm photographing something else
I avoid eye contact
If I am caught - I smile and say Thank You