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Shooting Tips

Street Photographer Gets Beat Up, Advises On What Not To Do

By Joseph Cha on October 27th 2015

The Dangers Of Street Photography

Just to be clear, I’m not saying all street photography is dangerous, but there are more risks involved. You are approaching strangers and taking their photo, and you have no idea who they are and what they’re capable of. Street Photographer Michael Boyd was in an unfortunate encounter when he got too close to a group of strangers with his Instax Wide camera. He admits that he was being obtrusive with his huge camera and flash and advises other photographers not to do the same.

[REWIND: Street Photography Tips We Can All Benefit From]

Street Photography Gone Wrong

From One Photographer To Another

There’s a right way and a wrong way to take photos of strangers, and Michael has some advice for other photographers to avoid aggressive confrontation.

street_photographer_gets_beat_up_advises_on_what_not_to_do

Don’t hide the fact that you’re taking photos.
Don’t be sneaky, don’t hide your camera, don’t shoot from the hip.

Interact with your subjects.
This can be either before, after, or during the shot. You can smile, make eye contact, talk to them, and have a genuine human interaction with them. The most important of these is smiling because smiling defuses most situations almost instantaneously.

Explain that you’re a street photographer
If you get any flak because you’re smiling, simply explain that you’re a street photographer, and what you’re doing is trying to add to your portfolio.

Give them a compliment
Giving your subject a compliment on why you’re taking their photo will take them from Grumpytown to Smilesville in no time. Maybe you like how they were standing, or their outfit, or the way they smoke their cigarette. People are easily flattered and a simple genuine compliment can go a long way. Complimenting and interacting with your subject also gives you more time to get your shot.

Hand out business cards
Print out some cheap business cards and hand them out to your subjects. A business card gives strangers security that you are the real deal, and not just some creep with a camera.

Learn From Michael’s Encounter

I hope no photographer has to go through what Michael went through, but I’m grateful he can share his experience and what he did to improve his street photography. If you’re interested in learning more about Michael Boy, be sure to check out his Website and his Twitter.

About

I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

14 Comments

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  1. Lee Cochrane

    Am I the only one who is thinking ‘yes, but what actually happened. I want details’? Maybe I just like a good story. However, fair play for at least admitting you were wrong, and being obtrusive, but isn’t most relatively close up photography of strangers before getting their permission (verbally or non-verbally) obtrusive, or at least that’s what you have to assume given you won’t know for sure whether or not they are welcoming it? This is why your point re interactions with the subjects is the key one in my view, although I’d argue it has to be before if you want to remove ALL risk. Did the fact a flash went off too tip the guy over the edge? This is very noticeable and prominent, so by definition potentially obtrusive without any sort of permission, and much more difficult for someone to ignore/let go, but with or without flash isn’t mentioned on the list as a consideration. Wouldn’t the type of setting be an important point to consider as well e.g. a photo of a guy standing in a doorway smoking might be different from a couple cuddling on a public beach.

    Lastly, I’m not sure a cheap business card would reassure me someone taking a close up (or even a relatively distant) photo of e.g. myself and my partner with a large lens, isn’t being obtrusive, they’re definitely not a creep, and they are a professional, because anyone can knock a set of cheap cards in 5 minutes, and probably would if they then intended on being creepy since it gives some cover if caught. If a business card was to do anything, then a high quality/expensive looking one would potentially make me more likely to think this guy is a professional, maybe a successful one, but you can still be a creep and a professional photographer, which comes back to my original point re lack of permission, but of course I understand the limitations of sticking to this premise. I’m afraid rightly or wrongly you’ve just got to expect what happened to the author could happen if you don’t get any permission before you start firing. The world has lots of violent people in it, and includes those who get their picture taken, and who take photos.

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  2. Korey Napier

    With so many good choices when it comes to mirror-less cameras, I would venture to say that a big DSLR wouldn’t be the best choice when it comes to street photography. These tips seem to be some great advice. The only street photography I’ve done was in Belize and I found that smiling interacting with subjects yields the best results. I only owned a DSLR at that time and wished I had something more compact and less intimidating to the people. As for the gun related comments, I live in Kentucky and have my concealed carry permit and carry anytime I leave my house. However, I would never unholster my pistol unless my life was in immanent danger. I will never go seeking out trouble and would ALWAYS try and GET OUT of a potentially bad situation. If you carry a gun, your attitude needs to be even more passive and humble. Back to photography, street photography is definitely a tough art form to master. I have great respect for people who do it well.

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    • Jimmy Joe Shnabadu

      Korey,

      Thanks for your sensible comment. This is exactly the approach a concealed weapon permit holder should take, avoiding confrontation whenever possible. It’s unfortunate that many in other parts of the world make negative assumptions about the mindset of those who choose firearms as a last-resort layer of protection. Hollywood does NOT represent the average permit-holding American. I keep a fire extinguisher in my kitchen, but it doesn’t mean I plan to have a fire or neglect basic fire-safety measures to avoid fire.

      Anyone who has made a wrong turn in the French Quarter can understand the desire to protect against bodily harm. Twice in 20 years is not exactly trigger-happy, flagrant brandishing…

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    • Jimmy Joe Shnabadu

      It’s always good to learn from others’ mistakes, when possible. I appreciate this photographer being humble enough to use himself as an example.

      Couple things:

      A smile will “defuse” a situation, not “diffuse”. Great typo for a photographer to make, though. I’m all about good diffusion! :)

      The advice on business cards sounded a little like, “Go make some cheapo business cards so you look legit, even if you’re not.” I think the message was meant to be, “Be sure to have business cards with you to reassure that you’re a legitimate photographer. If you don’t yet have business cards, they’re inexpensive to have made.”

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  3. Branko Sreckovic

    Really people I cannot believe that comment of drawing gun provoked (so far) 4 likes????? What does it say of us…or of our frustrations? Those “flashing of piece” happened because somebody tried to plunder you or just because you have been intrusive photographer?
    Don’t fool yourself people street photography IS intrusive…always, no matter if you compliment your “model”, make them more calm or make them more cooperative.

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  4. Phil Leamon

    Sad. I can’t imagine any other country on earth where a conversation about a creative art like photography would turn to guns. I wonder what you would think if you could see your society the way the rest of the world sees it. Oh that’s right, you wouldn’t care…

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  5. Paddy McDougall

    Good advice, insure your equipment, it can be replaced you can’t.

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  6. William Emmett

    I do a large percentage of my street photography in New Orleans, specifically the “French Quarter”. As of late this section of the city is rampant with thieves, muggers, and other criminals. Along with my expensive DSLR, and only a few lenses I carry along a Walther PPK 380. I’ve drawn my gun twice in the last 20 years, to avoid being beaten up, robbed, or worse. So, if walking in the “Quarter’ and encounter a photographer, shooting Canon, and he happens to have a limp, wearing baggy pants, you may get a lot more than you bargained for. By the way, I do have a Louisiana State Concealed Carry Permit.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Queue the half-dozen comments about how guns are dangerous and could be turned on yourself just as quickly as you’d use it for self-defense.

      (Not that I agree at all with such a sentiment. Know how to handle yourself, and your firearm, and you’ll be much better off armed than not. Just don’t be an idiot flashing a piece cuz you think you’re invincible, that’ll get you killed real quick.)

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    • Ralph Hightower

      This is one place where shooting in “dodgy” places may be better done with a film camera (and not a Leica), rather than having an expensive DSLR hanging around your neck.

      Really, who wants to deal with film? Okay, I shoot with two film cameras and one DSLR.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I’ve always viewed my camera as a 6lb magnesium hammer.. I mean honestly, if someone attacked me, my first instinct would be to bring the corner of my camera down on their head or wherever I can reach.

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  7. marcel bauer

    Well these all make sense, but good for people that wouldn’t think to do this.

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