daily dose of imagery | by Sam Javanrouh
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shooting people | January 29, 2010

mike || Canon5D2/EF100f2.8L | 1/2000s | f2.8 | ISO800
Seen on King street east. Artist extraordinaire Mike Brown (we work together), clearly not happy to see me!

I get asked all the time; how do you go about shooting people? As you might have already noticed I don't have many shots with people as main subjects but here are a few thoughts from my experience shooting people on the street. Every case is different. Shooting on the street is an adventure and you just have to experience it and see what happens. You have to be ready for anything, and be very aware of where you are. Here are a few scenarios from past photos.

guitar hero
I shot this while he was passing the street. In a situation like this there is no way to ask if it's OK to take his photo. You lose the moment and it won't look real anymore anyway.
Later when I posted the image his father sent me an email saying he liked the photo.

girl watching obama
She was watching Obama's inauguration speech and was very emotional. She clearly noticed I'm taking her photo and I wasn't trying to hide. We exchanged looks that it was OK but I already had my shot. It's usually better to ask after anyway because if you ask first the moment is gone and most people will pose, even unintentionally.

rain runner
Another tough situation. Capturing the moment was key here and it was impossible to catch up with him after. t was pouring and he was running very fast! And I'm shooting with a long lens. Later when I posted, he sent me an email asking for a high res copy for himself.

crystal jumper
She was jupming for her friends so they can take her picture in the air (off frame here). They had a P&S camera and it's very tough to freeze the moment with a camera with shutter lag so she was jumping again and again! Everyone including her sees I'm taking the photo. No need to get permission.

Saw him from across the street and noticed he had a great face. Went and talked to him. He was happy to pose for me and I gave him a $5 or $10 bill, I can't remember exactly.

tractor man
We went on a photo shoot and ended up somewhere we weren't supposed to be. It was white everywhere and we didn't notice we were in a no trespassing area. He saw us and didn't say anything. Then we went to the car and found all 4 tires are flat! I took this from the hip while he was passing after flattening our tires! We paid the price for our mistake, waited for 6 hours in freezing cold until help arrived.

bush man
Obviously he saw me taking the photo and didn't say anything. I still can't tell if he's pissed or proud!

dark knight in day
I still have a hard time sleeping at night, thinking what will happen to me if I've seriously pissed off the dark knight.

snowy at bookstore
On days like this I take the camera and walk for hours. I end up with hundreds of shots and it's pretty much impossible to ask everybody's permission when you take the shots. I'm not even sure if I got any interesting shots until I see them at home. The result is a photo that I can't use for commercial purposes (like selling as stock image) but might be a decent street photo.

not that into you || Canon5D2/EF24-105L | 1/30s | f4 | ISO1000
Photo from yesterday's post, another situation that I didn't know I had a good shot until weeks later when I was going through the shots. When I took this I was almost certain that I didn't even have a sharp photo. But when i saw it later I liked it. So no way to ask her now. I won't be selling this image for stock use. And if she ever contacts me and tells me she's unhappy about it I'll take it off the site. Street photography is all about the fractions of a second. You have to take the shot when you think you have it (to be precise, you take the shot just before the moment. Good photographers can see the future, like Joe McNally!)

brad pitt

kate beckinsale
It was impossible to get close to ask permission for these, too many screaming people in the middle. They're famous or something. But I think they don't mind.

red roses
Noticed her at Toronto Zombie Walk, asked her permission and she posed for me. Later she contacted me and got a print for her portfolio (professional makeup artist). We ended up doing a few projects together. Sometimes it pays to ask.

sleeping on train
I was taking many photos during the trip and he saw me taking them. I assume if he didn't want his photo taken he would have said something. I could have cropped him out but it would have ruined the shot.

sandra in rain
There is a good story for this. Basically she was a visitor of this site and contacted me to take her photo as a surprise birthday gift for her friend who was also a daily visitor. Read the whole story here. This photo ended up being published many times. Now I have to contact her and ask her to sign a model release form for Getty Images.

homeless and DKNY
Took this photo first and then went over and showed him the photo. He was OK with it. And I gave him some money.

... To conclude, every photographer is different and so is every subject. If you're shooting people on the street hoping you will some day sell the images to stock sites, you need to carry copies of model release forms all the time and ask people to sign them. Getty is interested in some of my images but I can't sell them because I don't have release forms and no access to subjects. But if you are a street/document photographer, by law you're free to shoot in public places (depending on where you live). That's why paparazzi can get away with pretty much anything. It really depends on your own comfort level. I have friends who are excellent documentary photographers but have lost gear and been injured (beer bottles thrown at them, cameras kicked,...)
I don't shoot people often, and if I feel people are uncomfortable in front of my camera I respect that and don't take the shot. But what I learned is you have to shoot first and think later. Or in the case of people, you may want to shoot first and ask later, hoping that it's not too late.

Happy shooting.