Shoot candid street photography without getting into trouble
When I first read about candid street photography in magazines I asked myself three questions:
- ‘How did the photographer manage to capture these images without getting into trouble?’
- ‘How can I shoot candidly without inviting verbal or physical abuse?’
- ‘In the worst case scenario, how can I enjoy candid street photography without having someone smash my camera into pieces or being arrested for violating someone’s privacy.’
These were not idle questions. For example one day many years ago during the Apartheid days in South Africa, a White man confronted me for taking a picture of someone in the parking lot of a shopping centre.
This was the most innocuous photo that I could take. But this patriotic ex-soldier obviously did not share my point of view. Where I saw a subject who wanted a picture and was equally ready to pay me for the photo, this member of the Afrikaner Broederbond saw a terrorist in me.
I don’t know if he was a member of the Broederbond. But that’s what I thought of him at the time.
This ‘terrorist’ was, according to this stranger and uninvited guest, taking pictures of the Land Bank. The Land Bank building was in the background and did not even feature in the photo that I intended taking.
But in those days infrastructure such as the land bank building represented the ‘system’ and were thus targeted by those who were fighting the unjust government.
The point I’m trying to make here is this:
Taking pictures in public, whether candidly or otherwise, can and sometimes does invite trouble.
Trouble can manifest itself in various ways. For instance, you can get piercing stares from those who disapprove of your actions if they believe you’re taking their picture without permission.
People react differently to different situations. Some may shout and hurl obscenities at you. Others may get physical and attempt to confiscate your camera or phone. They may even succeed in damaging or completely destroying your gear.
The internet is full of stories of street photographers who got beaten up for taking pictures of strangers without asking for permission.
How then, can you shoot candid street photography without getting into trouble?
Avoid trouble when shooting candid street photography
In this blog post I want to share with you my take on candid street
I will also help you take a stand on candid street photography.
And then we’ll take a look at techniques and strategies that we can
follow to minimise the possibilities of conflict.
By the time you finish reading this piece you’ll have a clear
definition of candid street photography as it pertains to you
Candid street photography does not and should not mean the same thing
to all street shooters. It should of necessity mean one thing to Bruce
Gilden and another to Rui Pahla.
Thomas Leuthard’s candid street photography is not the same as Marie
The likelihood of confrontation in candid street photography
depends on your approach to the topic. If you’re Bruce Gilden or Chuck
Jines then you must expect that sooner or later someone might just
lose it and smash your face or camera.
What Candid Street Photography Means To Me
The word candid means:
” informal, or caught off guard.” – Wordweb
My own definition would add: unposed, unprepared, unpretentious.
To further clarify my point here, let me tell you something about
myself. I like children. I absolutely adore the young ones. And the
reason for this is simple. Children don’t pretend. What you see is what
you get with kids. I love that. Their straightforward approach to life
is the number one reason I love them. Children are Candid. No hidden
agendas here. Just truthfulness. Reality, untainted reality.
Candid street photography to me thus means photos of people. They may
be strangers, friends or relatives. I can take a candid street photo of my wife or
of my son, brother, sister, mother-in-law, etc. As long as this person was
not acting or posing when I clicked the shutter release button, that
picture is candid. Yes, street in this case may mean the beach or a forest.
The determining factor here is “caught off guard.” Not “street.”
Why I Shoot Candid Street Photography
For me candid street photography is nothing more than a hobby. I don’t shoot the streets with the hope that one day I will be able to sell my photos. I understand and fully appreciate the fact that I cannot sell my street images to stock libraries, or use them commercially in advertisements.
In the same breath, however, I believe that some of the photos I take in public places can be sold as Fine Art Prints. This applies to those pictures that don’t show a person’s identity. Where the subject cannot be recognised or identified, the image can be sold without you having to produce a model release form.
But street photography for me is not a means to earn a living by selling photos. I shoot street photography mainly to use these images for editorial purposes. I see myself first as a blogger who blogs about street photography.
But why street photography, you might ask?
I love photography in general. At the beginning when I chose to learn photography I wanted to make money or to earn a living through photography. That dream never materialised. But the love for photography remained.
It’s this love for photography that moved me to shoot Landscapes, Flowers, Insects and Sports. I photographed anything that crossed my path, including weddings and birthday parties.
I’m also very fond of cameras. I love cameras and cannot cope without a camera. A camera opens ways of communication and makes it easier for me to talk to people.
But I love working alone as a photographer. I enjoy taking pictures that make me feel good about myself. Photos that make me feel like I created something of value. Something that no one can reproduce.
Street photography provides me with countless opportunities to produce such images. It also allows me to learn more about people. I love people and I’m always intrigued by the human race. As a street photographer I spend most of my time observing people. A camera is a tool that enables me to record what I see.
How I Shoot Candid Street Photography
Intent or Purpose
Street photography begins in the mind. It starts as an idea of what I
want to do. I ask myself what it is that I want to create.
Sometimes I shoot purely from an aesthetic point of view.
This means that I imagine the result before going out to shoot.
For example, on Christmas Eve of 2015 I wanted to experiment with high
ISO in daylight. My aim on that day was to see what my photos
would look like if I set high ISO, the smallest aperture and the
fastest shutter speed that my camera was capable of.
Before I left home I set my camera settings as follows.
- ISO – 1600
- Aperture – F: 16
- Shutter Speed – 1/4000
- White Balance – Auto
On this day it did not matter that much to me what my subject was doing.
I just wanted to see the look of my images with these settings.
Sometimes when I leave home in the morning on a photo walk, I don’t worry
too much about camera settings. I let the camera do most of the work
for me. For example, I would set my camera in P-Mode so I can focus (excuse
the pun) on my subject.
What motivates me on days like these is a wish to document life in my
neighbourhood. This documentation is largely motivated by my life
experiences or as a commentary on life as it happens.
Happenstance or chance also plays an important part on my street
photography. It’s these serendipitous moments that I enjoy most. I derive
greater pleasure from photos that happen by chance because this means
that no one will ever be able to steal my picture and pretend it was their work.
It is this kind of work that I treasure most and look out for when I
walk the streets. Often I discover afterwards that I have captured
something worth keeping. A keeper as we say in street photography
Don’t Let Trouble Follow You
People react differently when they see you with a camera.
Some may pose for you.
Others will avoid you like a Leper. Still others will want to steal your camera.
And if you’re seen taking photos in a sneaky way some people may get
They might ask such questions as: ‘Who’s this guy (or woman). What’s he/she doing taking pictures of everyone on the street?’
Don’t attract unnecessary attention to yourself. Avoid dodgy areas.
One huge advantage of shooting street photography in your own town or city is that you get to know it very well. You end up knowing all the hot-spots that you want to avoid.
Avoid shady areas. If you see a drug deal taking place, don’t shoot.
In South Africa shady areas may include taxi ranks, which are
frequented by all sorts of shady characters. Gamblers, Nyaope
boys, hawkers, etc. are all found there.
There are watchers all over the place. Pickpockets, Pimps, Drug
dealers, and security guards. Don’t forget the police and undercover
Work in places where you feel relatively safe.
Such places may include shopping centre parking lots. Shoot in crowded areas. Try and blend in with the people on the street.
How To Blend in When Shooting Candid Street Photography
Your primary tool as a street photographer is the camera.
And this tool is also the one thing that draws people’s attention.
To draw less attention to yourself you must start doing something
about your camera. But what can you do about it?
Choose wisely. It’s true that as a street shooter you can use any kind
of camera. But a smaller camera is far better than a huge DSLR. If I
had to choose between a DSLR and my Fujifilm XF-1, I’ll always pick
The reason for this is simple. For street photography a small camera
is very important. My advice to any budding street photographer would
‘Get a small camera.’
The Advantages of a small camera.
1. It’s easy to carry around.
2. It’s less intimidating.
3. Since it looks like a toy, it makes you look more like a tourist.
Next, you must pre-set your exposure settings.
For example, set your aperture to F:8 and the shutter speed to 1/500.
Get used to the focal length of your lens. If you work with one lens you’ll
get used to its coverage. You’ll be able to easily estimate the distance that
you must shoot from.
Avoid making eye contact with the person you’re shooting.
Also try to look as normal as possible even when you’re a little nervous.
Shooting Candid Street Photography in South Africa
Important points covered in this discussion include the following:
- You must decide on a sub-genre of candid street photography that you like.
- If you want to make money with candid street photography you should
consider focusing on Fine Art Street Photography instead.
- Candid street photography is not a risk free pursuit. But it can be
done without attracting conflict to yourself.
- A small camera is a candid street photographer’s best friend.
Why do you shoot candid street photography?
Which version of this craft moves you the most?
What’s the number 1 piece of advice that you’d give to a beginning
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Till next time. Cheers.