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Thursday, 11 July 2019


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"Unfortunately, you cannot purchase a good attitude, If you could, I'd recommend it. Mike"


With best regards.


I love that guy. One of my heroes.

There is no way I’m wearing a photo vest. lmao. I don’t have any problem getting people to let me take their photo. However, several have told me that if I was wearing a photo vest...uh uh no way. :-)


Brandon Stanton's done well with wearing a hat, but often a backwards baseball cap -- which is definitely a photographer thing. But, he surely is a good talker and listener.

Of course, he's also widely recognized in New York City by now.

If you really think a vest would be a good thing for a street photographer then you've never photographed on the streets in Austin. The millennials who see you would snicker all the way to the next kombucha bar.

But if you think it might work in the American midwest you could always drop by the local Walmart and get one of their greeter's vests....authentic!

A khaki photo vest just SCREAMS "uncle Bob from the camera club." YMMV.

I am often on, or wheeling along, a bicycle, and I find this has a disarming effect. (This is based on experiences in India, Japan and western Europe; other places may be different.) As a bonus, the bike saddle makes a passable tripod in low light, and at times I have used my bike light as a weak substitute for a flash.

Sorry, rather put away the camera than wear one of those vests- I still like to think I retain some (however) small vestige of dignity.

Seriously, what does worry me is that once asked (and the person consents), what can often follow is what I consider the number one portrait deal breaker- the inevitable smile! Although completely well intentioned, it is the ultimate mask, the complete character and emotional annihilator writ large. I'll usually oblige them their "happy" shot, and then ask for a more "serious" look. Once they crack a smile though, it's hard to get back on course to what one originally envisioned. Sometimes, I might even look like I don't quite know what the heck I'm doing with all those camera controls, just to see what kind of reaction(s) I get...

I've found people are much more at ease if you use a camera that doesn't have a viewfinder. There's something about looking at the LCD on the back of the camera rather than having one eye closed and the other pressed up against a viewfinder that makes the photographer less intimidating. I bought a Pentax K-01 partly as a cheap backup (they go for a song on eBay) and partly as a possible collectable, but I've found it really useful for street photography.

Perhaps it's all psychological. But most of photography is psychological anyway.

Personally, I'd rather not be seen in one of those photo vests. I am already rather deficient in the fashion department, and I want my young daughters to accumulate the right sort of memories of their dad! I don't need such vests to look even more geeky. :-)

Here are two good ways to hide. The first is what I normally do, the second I still have to try.

(1) Wear what a regular person walking the streets would be wearing. This will vary with the area where you operate, and it must be consistent with who you are. I recall the short stretch of film showing Cartier-Bresson in the street: eleganty dressed in a light suit and with proper shoes, taking pictures in the market place. He doesn't pretend to be a street trader, he just looks like the gentleman of leisure that he would be if he did not have his camera. Since this is authentic, he remains unnoticed.

I think this approach works equally well for the clandestine and the open styles of street photography. Whatever you style, you will look authentic and thus non-threatening.

(2) Here's a radical option from the other end of the spectrum. Put on one of those "hi vis" yellow jackets that are worn by construction workers. Perhaps also a construction helmet on your head. Plant your tripod in the middle of the road, with camera attached. The bigger the camera, the better. Take your pictures, not showing any regard for the people around you. Everyone thinks you are doing some surveying work for the city authorities and will see through you as if you are air. Obviously, this method works only if you prefer to take pictures unnoticed. I have heard people taking clandestine street shots with a large-format Linhof in this fashion. Personally, I never had the guts to try this myself, but some day I will.

It’s not easy to be able to photograph people on the street these days. There’s a whole range of anxieties that come into play, with the subjects and the photographer. To be photographed by someone is different than one taking a selfie. To get the opportunity of closer shots, engaging the subject makes sense. This could be a conversation, or just plain “hi” and a smile. The type of camera seems to make a difference sometimes, as well as clothing that blends in with the surrounding population your shooting. Having the camera slung outside oneself seems better than pulling it out of a bag or coat. Shooting with a phone might evoke subsequently posting on social media, rather than just a person using the current “snapshot camera”. One has to gauge the shooting environment and adapt accordingly.

Some years ago, when my daughter was a younger child, a photographer took pictures of her on the boardwalk in New Jersey ... at first, my parent's instincts jumped to attention, but he was a friendly, older gentleman wearing a photographer's vest with a couple cameras and he approached us after taking a few shots and talked briefly to us - might have asked for some information, I can't remember. In hindsight, it may have been Bob Krist - I vaguely recall him looking somewhat like Bob does in pictures, and I bought a book of Krist's photos that features some taken on that same boardwalk around the same time period.

When I shot film, I loved my vests. Especially when traveling--you could carry guide books, maps and brochures alongside rolls of film and extra lenses. But digital cameras and the iPhone kinda did in the need for a photo vest.

But I'm not givin' up my cargo pants and Tilley hats....

This is all well and good, but what we really need to know from Peter is how he manages to get a woman he's just met to sit and have a cup of coffee with him.

Mike, thinking that “disguises” is the key to taking people photos doesn’t address the real issue.

I remember taking three workshops with Charles Harbutt in the early 70’s. While this isn’t verbatim, his advice on street photography went like this. If you’re going to try to be HCB, you’ve got to become invisible...nobody should even notice your presence. He also jokingly said taking a picture of the back of someone’s head doesn’t tell a story...unless you’re LF. If you want to take street portraits, it should be no different than sitting down next to a stranger at an outside cafe table and striking up a conversation. If you normally can’t do this, then your photos aren’t going to be genuine.

It’s all about your attitude and mindset about how you normally interact with strangers. If you’re an introvert, you’ve got challenges. If you’re an extrovert, it’s far easier to know how to strike up a conversation with someone and make them feel comfortable in your presence.

My advice. Skip all the thoughts about gear and what you’re going to wear. That’s an excuse masking the real issue which is many of us don’t even make eye contact with someone walking by on the street these days. Work at making yourself feel more natural and comfortable with strangers. Think about how you’d like to be photographed by a stranger. Once you get past this hurdle, it’s becomes really enjoyable getting up close and personal.

I have had the amazing opportunity to go to Nepal twice and India once in the last year and a half. Going back to Nepal this week! I carry a DSLR and several lenses in Think Tank pouches, you know I am a photographer.

My experience with local people, some speak english and many don't, is to Say Namaste and bow, point to my camera, point to them with a smile on my face and then mimic taking the photo without the camera in hand. I can't think of one person who refused the photo.

A farmer in India was questioning my motives but he asked his two young daughters to come out for the photo. The stood very formally, there is still a lot of English influence in India, for the first photo. I then pointed to the young girl and pointed to my heart to indicate that she was beautiful. The farmer relaxed and thats when the real photograph was taken. The farmer and I said hello every time I passed after that.

Many people view a camera as a barrier between the photographer and their subject, for me it is a door that allows me entry into someones life even if only for a moment.


"(2) Here's a radical option from the other end of the spectrum. Put on one of those "hi vis" yellow jackets that are worn by construction workers."

I can attest to the effectiveness of Martin D's suggestion above. Most of my pictures over the last eight months have been taken with such apparel, including my white hard hat and scruffy protective boots. This is because I am currently photographing the construction of our new (and quite large) church, now about 30% complete, and go on site regularly to take pictures for the parish web site. I say hello to the site manager on each visit and I'm just accepted as part of the scene. Only the new crew members don't know me, so I tell them what I'm dong and why, and ask what they are engaged in at the time. People generally are very happy to meet someone who is interested in what they are working on. I've found that no one objects to my photography, and after a while simply carry on with what they are doing, and I get some great pictures. The architect liked my pictures so much that he commissioned me to photograph other projects!

Really, I'm just following Mike's advice: "What CAN you photograph? Photograph that." I'm also following Peter Turnley's teaching on how to approach strangers: I did a course with him in NY a few years back - best workshop I've ever been on! And yes, I'm quite certain that with this gear on, and perhaps a wooden Berlbach tripod, I could take pictures in the middle of the street with no problems!

The comment by Dennis reminded me of a situation where I photographed a funky wood door gracing the front of dry cleaning business. A man of Asian decent came out quite upset that I was photographing his business. "Why are you photographing my door?" I had to think quick.

"Because this is the best old door in town. Look at the boring glass door on the pub across the street? Why would I photograph that?" He then shook his head in approval of my photograph.

A save is a save.

I use photo vests for concentrated photography, weddings and roller derby matches and concert videography. Digital has modestly reduced what I need to carry, but I need more spare batteries (often of two or even three different types these days), and I still need my stock of spare memory cards, and a few of the emergency lenses. And Kleenex and lip balm and hand wipes and glass cleaner and lens tissue and a Rocket blower and pen and notebook and all the usual stuff.

Local photographer Stuart Klipper has reported good results with the high-vis vest plus hardhat approach (admittedly for photographing road construction, not more ordinary street photography).

Photo vests are as bad a the "adventure traveler" vests that you see on tourists in places where they think they need to look adventurous. I recall a flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, and the casual tourists all wore adventure vests (and Tilley hats and shirts with a strap to hold the rolled-up sleeves in place). The real climbers or trekkers wore old shirts or whatnot. And the rugged adventure travelers had vastly more luggage than any of the mountaineers or trekkers.

For portraits on the street I think a successful method is employed by (some of?) the people in the Flickr 100 Strangers group: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iainblake/40914619723/in/pool-100strangers/ . For example Iain Blake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iainblake/albums/72157672572717512 who has fairly stock set of questions for the subjects, records their names and sometimes engages their or their friends’ help holding a flash or reflector. Most subjects are not giving cheesy grins ;-).


When I first saw the pictures of Vivian Maier I had two immediate thoughts: the Rolleiflex is a phenomenal camera, and only a woman could have gotten this close this often...

Some years ago I did a workshop with Costa Manos; we went to a county fair day of some sort. I have never seen anyone 'vanish in plain sight' as he did. He was somehow out in the open and clearly photographing; however, the people he was making images of, though he was only a step away from them, seemed either oblivious or completely accepting of his presence. One thing was that he did not futz about or seem bashful; he had a balance of confidence and kindness that I think put people at ease with what he was doing.

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