Do You Photograph In Public?

Photography for me is a very personal experience.

Also, because I so love the immersion and escapism it provides, I generally favour photowalks exploring the countryside and ancient rural churches, where I rarely see many other people.

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In some ways I love the idea of street photography, but just don’t have the guts to pursue it.

Plus I feel I would need a two hour photowalk out in the back of beyond immediately after even 10 minutes of street photography, just to recover from the anxiety and regain my equilibrium!

Even on lunchtime walks where I used to try to steal 10 minutes of photography, I really didn’t like taking a picture of anyone was around, even if the picture was just of a flower or tree.

So for me, photography remains a very personal and private act.

What about you? Do you photograph in public, and are you happy to do so?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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21 thoughts on “Do You Photograph In Public?”

  1. Living in the center of a very big city, I don’t have much choice. Even when I walk for 90 minutes, I am still surrounded by people. Both a blessing and a curse, I guess. Many photo opportunities, like festivals and great architecture. But you must – even if you do not photograph people – be alert to potential confrontations or security issues (I was once questioned twice within 15 minutes by the police for “suspicious behavior”, as in walking around with a camera).
    So when – like me – you are not a people person and prefer to avoid conflict, it can sometimes be challenging.

    1. Robert, thanks for your input. I used to wander around a couple of interesting towns, but just don’t like being eyed suspiciously, or sometimes questioned by security, as you were. Plus I grew up in the countryside so much prefer wandering fields, meadows and woodlands. I really don’t know what would happen with my photography if I lived in a city, I guess I would try to find any natural spaces I could!

  2. I wish I had a cloak of invisibility.

    Especially when I’m on a road trip, photographing by the rural roadside, people will stop to ask if all is well. I appreciate their concern, even if it is only masking “what the hell are you doing here?” I’ve learned to just say, “Oh, I’m just out looking for subjects for this old film camera!” and smile. It chases most of them away.

  3. My wife walks right up to strangers and says something like, “Hi, that dress is a great color. Can I take a picture of it?” Always “a picture of it,” never “a picture of you.” It seems to work. Myself, I am leaning more and more towards studio work where I don’t have to leave our property at all to take pictures.

    1. Doug, that’s a fantastic technique your wife has! I would suspect though it’s infinitely easier for a woman to take photographs in public, and not be seen as suspicious. Any man over the age of about 20 taking pictures that doesn’t obviously look like a foreign tourist taking holiday snaps seems to be treated very suspiciously over here. So I’d rather avoid the whole potential scenario. The rural nooks and crannies of the English countryside are my studio.

      1. I am so envious of people who have good photo opportunities within easy reach. The suburbs don’t lend themselves to that sort of thing, and the gentrification of my immediate neighborhood is particularly discouraging.

      2. The stolen photography I talked about in a recent post is/was mostly in a fairly dull town where I work, and there’s not really much of interest to photograph, so I know what you mean. Makes me ever more grateful for the rural areas around here, ancient chiurches mostly open to the public, National Trust gardens, the national public footpath and bridleways network, and so on.

  4. I don’t like taking photos in public. Like you, I prefer it when very few or no people are around. If I go to Kew Gardens for example and it’s super busy, I will try to find a quiet spot away from people. Sometimes I’ll get the urge to take some street photos, but people are rarely the subjects.

    1. At least with places like Kew, and National Trust gardens one can photograph in peace and be seen as a nature lover. Anything on the street you have that other layer of suspicion come into play.

  5. I tend to go through phases. I sometimes enjoy the quiet contemplation of a walk through the woods with my 4×5. Other times I enjoy using some 120mm roll film setup when doing some architectural stuff in town (I have a setup that can do 9×6 which is great for pano-style images) And then again other times I just want to get down and dirty with the lightweight setup of 135mm. Nothing like a stroll down Oxford Street or through Knightsbridge to get the heart racing trying to capture the essence of street life.

    Those different styles are all part of the human experience… MY human experience. When on the street, I virtually never ‘break the wall’ so-to-speak (only making eye contact where possible). I’ve been hassled a couple of times (that goes with the territory – all about percentages) But I try to be respectful and not takes shots of delicate situations (just use common sense)

    What I never do is push myself to try to strangle a couple of shots out of a day because I am any given situation. If I don’t feel inspired to look for that extra something, then I accept the situation, and head on home. No point in wasting time.

    All-in-all this means I get a higher than normal hit rate of images that I enjoy. And I enjoy finding myself making images. I think this is mainly due to the fact that I don’t limit myself to any one particular style of image making.

    1. Anton, thanks for your input. I’m with you on the woods and buildings, I lose my nerve with photographing people.

      Very sensible point about not trying to force photographic opportunities when they’re not there. It takes a fair bit of discipline to try a few angles with your camera then decide actually there isn’t a shot there worth taking, so walk away.

  6. I do take pictures in public, yes.

    A lot of my favourite images from other photographers show people going about everyday life in some manner. Many of my favourites of my own pictures were shot out on the street. I like unstaged pictures better than portraits, but I have sometimes asked a stranger if I can take their photograph. On the few occasions I’ve asked, it’s not been a problem.

    I feel very self conscious when taking pictures in public, but that is probably down to my own insecurities than any likelihood of me causing a problem. I’ve found that a really nice way to build confidence is to take pictures at events when other people are shooting anyway and so you stand out less. My recent two log posts are both cases in point.

    I do get a bit wound up by people trying to narrow the definition of “street photography” though. Some think it must be candid and others more portrait based. Personally I have seen some brilliant photos taken in public urban spaces which have no people at all in them, so I like to keep my own definition pretty broad.

    1. Richard, I’m not so much self-conscious myself, but just don’t want others to think I might be doing anything untoward. But like you, that’s probably more my assumptions projecting than what every person thinks.

      Street photography has a huge range. Have you read the book The Street Photographer’s Manual by David Gibson? Opened my eyes massively as to what street photography can be…

      1. I’ll look it up Dan, thanks. I’ve just bought Bystanders by Joel Meyerowitz and Colin Westerbreck. It’s awesome – a comprehensive history of street photography in its many forms.

  7. Like you, I am uncomfortable photographing people or street activities. The stress of it all is just not worth it. It’s more fulfilling to commune with nature and myself, taking photos of the natural world. I’m going to try to take some film portraits of family with my 4×5 camera, but that’s probably the closest I’ll get to “street”! Thanks as always for sharing your original and interesting thoughts.

    1. Absolutely Martin, photography for me is a way to relax and escape and disappear into nature almost. Can’t do that with people around!

  8. I’ve always been extraordinarily self-conscious about photographing in public (regardless if it was for the specific purpose of capturing people or not). For starters, never had a lot of confidence in my abilities. I’m not a real learned person. I can focus much better when what I’m doing has nothing to do with ego (or lack of it) and it becomes more of a contemplative pursuit and I’ve given everything I’ve got in that moment, over to the art and craft of making photographs. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s extraordinarily rewarding to go outside my comfort zone (I’ve enjoyed the companionship of shutterbug friends in the past as well as done things like concert photography and street vernacular) and I can get on a roll where I flow into the environment around me but it’s definitely not my forte. Secondly and very related, street photography for me is not so easy because practically speaking it’s difficult for me to blend in. I’m cursed in that I’m the scariest-looking big lug who would fit in with a crowd of poorly groomed, marooned ex-cons. But notwithstanding, I take seriously the impact I have on the comfort zones of other people when I’m behind the viewfinder. I’m highly sensitive to the personal space of those around me, regardless if they’re in the public sphere surrounded by a million bustling people, it has always been part of my personal ethic. I think it’s part of why I’m so fascinated and enthralled by fine street photography, portraits, etc. Because it’s very much outside my purview!

    1. Good points about people’s personal space. I do feel too that just because someone is in a public space going about their day, it doesn’t mean they want to be photographed, there’s still an invasion of privacy there in some way.

      Possibly the best way to blend in might be to try to look like a tourist. Anything low key and anonymous might be viewed with greater suspicion.

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