As I framed this scene, the woman in blue scrunched up her face and tried to turn her body. As she passed, she said angrily that she didn’t appreciate having her photograph taken.
In the United States, we have the right to photograph anything we can see when we stand in public spaces (like this sidewalk). The American Civil Liberties Union elaborates this and other rights photographers have here.
I had the right to photograph this woman, whether she liked it or not. But if I had any idea of her feelings I would have waited until she had passed me by. I wanted to capture this sidewalk with pedestrians walking along it, but this particular woman did not have to be included. Other people would have come along who would not have objected, possibly would not have even noticed me. Why needlessly upset people?
I also have the right to photograph children I see in public spaces, but I seldom do. When my children were young I would have objected if some strange man photographed them at the playground. One possible reason a man might do that is unsavory enough that, even though honorable reasons are far more likely, I would have gotten in his face and insisted he leave immediately.
However, as you can see above, children do sometimes appear in my photographs. In this case the scene was the busy National Mall in Washington, DC. As a popular tourist destination, many people in the crowd were making photographs. It allowed me to be inconspicuous. Still, I didn’t linger. I wanted to photograph a rider on the dragon, the most interesting “horse” on the Mall’s carousel. I also wanted to practice panning to stop in-motion subjects. I made three quick photographs, two on one pass and one on the next, and then turned my attention to other subjects.
Walking along downtown Chicago’s Wabash Ave. at night, the Trump hotel across the Chicago River was impossible to ignore thanks to the giant letters on its face. It was an ominous presence on this misty night.
The Indiana State Fair is my favorite place to practice candid photography of random strangers. This was the first time I ever tried it, and boy did I take the wrong camera: my Olympus OM-1. Even though it’s a compact SLR, it was still mighty conspicuous. Too often, my subjects noticed me photographing them.
But not this time. These two people were engrossed in their conversation.
The next time I shot street at the fair, I took a much smaller camera.
Margaret and I went Downtown recently with our cameras just to walk, talk, and photograph whatever was interesting. We spent most of our time on Monument Circle, the heart of our city. We both photographed plenty of Downtown’s architecture, but I also photographed people on the busy Circle. I shot my tiny Canon PowerShot S95.
What a concept: a pedal-powered beer bar. Some of my co-workers did this once and said it was a blast. The animated red-shirted woman was a perfect balance of friendly and fun but in charge.
I don’t drink beer anymore — I’m sensitive to gluten and beer just ties my guts up in a knot. It’s a shame, because this looks like fun.
I shot this one from the hip. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried that. Naturally, the original is at a wonky angle. Photoshop let me straighten and crop this in just a minute.
Lots of people came all the way Downtown just to keep their heads in their phones. Margaret interrupted the plaid-shirted fellow to ask if he’d take our photo together. He leapt right into action, mentioning he was a videographer. He handled Margaret’s DSLR like he was born holding one.
I still have a lot of anxiety over being detected when I photograph strangers on the street. It sure looks like the person on the right noticed what I was up to. Cringe!
For all of these shots, I stood way back and zoomed to the max. The S95 doesn’t zoom super deep — just 3.8x, equivalent to a 105mm lens on a 35mm camera. But given the camera’s 10-megapixel resolution, I can crop deeply to my subject and still have a usably large image.
Could my S95 ultimately be a crutch? I hear of other street photographers shooting film rangefinder cameras with fixed lenses of around 50mm. Wow, how close they have to come! I admire their boldness.
I have a deep desire to become good at street photography. But I’m such an introvert. The thought that I might photograph someone who would notice and then want to talk with me — it’s a real barrier. I have several compact rangefinder cameras that should be fine street shooters, but every time I think about taking one downtown I end up talking myself out of it.
That barrier is shorter at the Indiana State Fair because the crowd is thick and cameras are in many hands. I feel like I can hide in the crowd, and if somebody does notice me they will probably not think anything of it. So I spent an evening by myself at the fair last month photographing people.
I brought my Nikon F2AS with a 135mm lens even though it’s a mighty conspicuous camera for street work. I am getting to know that lens, and I figured it would let me shoot from a comfortable distance. But when I arrived at the fair I discovered that the meter’s battery was dead. D’oh! I didn’t want to fuss with manual exposures, so I reached for my Canon PowerShot S95. I zoomed it to 105mm equivalent for these photos. I shot RAW, something I’m experimenting with lately. I was able to bring out some really good color in my RAW editor.
It was delightful to find these nuns enjoying the fair. I’ve never seen all-white habits before, but I’m no nun expert. I just missed getting the cut-off nun at left into the shot. I want to blame shutter lag, which was a factor, but it was mostly because I didn’t get into position fast enough.
This family just came from the lemon shake-up stand. The young man in the middle appears not to have wanted one.
I watched an oompah band play a few tunes. They were remarkably active and spritely with their big instruments in their hands. I have any number of blurry shots of them. That’s why you’re seeing this shot of their saxophonist in a stationery moment.
I really enjoy Pioneer Village, where things are done as they were a century and a half ago. One barn features friendly farm animals you can reach out and touch. This fellow just bought one of the handmade brooms for sale in the next barn over.
I arrived in time for the daily parade. There’s always a cache of antique tractors in the northeast corner of the fairgrounds, and many of them roll in the parade. I think this fellow is driving a 1950s Ford. Those are so nicely styled.
John Deere is always well represented. International usually is too, but I didn’t see one in this day’s parade.
The evening sun was on everyone’s back, which made for challenging light.
After the parade, I caught the driver backing his tractor into its parking spot. These beautiful streamline-moderne tractors are before my dad’s time in the South Bend Oliver factory; they were first manufactured before he was born. I love how my RAW editing brought out vibrant slide-film colors.
I also got good vibrant color in this last parade photo. These two are riding in the back of a 1950s Dodge Power Wagon. I wish the other fellow had turned his head toward me, too.
Every time I try street photography I get a better feel for it. These are by no means prizewinning photos but I can see how I did a little better this time capturing expressions and emotions. I’m enjoying the process of being in the moment, feeling the scene coalesce into a good shot, and pressing the shutter button at that right moment.
Now if I can just get over myself and spend some time downtown practicing!
This is my favorite shot of the day. Huge John Deere tractors trailing long cars lined with benches shuttle fairgoers for a buck a ride. The woman collected the dollars; the gentleman was a rider. I captured their conversation at the best moment.
The shuttles are popular, as there’s a lot to see at the fair that would otherwise take a lot of walking.
The midway is colorful and, on a gray evening, well lit for photography.
The grayness didn’t stop me from shooting the midway entrance. This would have been so much more dramatic an hour or so later, but I couldn’t stay.
This old Chevy pickup is an annual fixture of the fair. This family sure was taken with it.
Do the cows at the fair wonder what all the hubbub is about? If so, do they care?
I was delighted to come upon a group singing old hymns a cappella in four-part harmony. Their hymnals were full of shaped notes, a 200-year-old way of simply communicating pitches on sheet music. This tradition caught on in the Churches of Christ, many of which still sing a cappella using shaped-note hymnals. The two people standing led the singing, swinging their arms in time to the song.
I’ll have more photos from the fair next time, too. I took my sons on a hot, sunny day with a new-to-me old camera in my hands.
Another truck that is a fixture at the fair is a 1938 International. See it here!