Photography Tips by Pablo Raw – Street Photography

The photography tips series is written by Pablo Raw. You can learn more about him here.

There are as many definitions of Street Photography as street photographers, so I’ll just focus on my experience and techniques taking photos of people in everyday situations.

So how do I do it? Sometimes I just ask people if I can take their picture! You’ll be surprised to know that I have never got a “no” for an answer (well, maybe once). The advantage of this is that you can get really close to the person and get the details of clothing, facial features, jewelry, etc. and since the person is posing for you, sometimes you even have the time to do more than one shot. When I ask, I ask them if they’d like me to email the photo to them, and they are often quite eager. In the case of street performers, I have found that most of the time they’ll let you take their photo if you put some money in the bucket.

Most of the time, I carry a zoom lens with me. That allows me to take photos from a distance without people noticing that I’m doing it, and therefore acting spontaneously and casual, which is one of the things that makes this type of photography so interesting. The distance also allows me to introduce more elements on the photo (backgrounds, cars, other people) that can help me tell the story.

The inclusion of a person in the photo can sometimes help the viewer get a sense of the scale of the objects, e.g. an oversized doors that otherwise would look normal. I sometimes sit in a specific place, such as a park, and just wait and observe people from a distance. Patience is usually rewarded when suddenly there’s some cool interaction between people or their pets, etc. , but you have to be ready. Do a couple of test shots while you are waiting, in order to have the right settings on your camera.

Continues after the jump.

And what if someone notices me? Well, if someone comes to confront me, I just kindly show their photo with a smile on my face, and even offer to e-mail it to them if they want. Now, not everybody likes their photos to be taken in public, and so you need to be prepared for some potentially awkward situations. On rare occasions, I have been threatened to be sued, to call the police and cussed in several languages!. I know my rights as a photographer (we’ll talk about that in another column), so I just try to be respectful, and of course stop immediately if the subject is upset by my photography. One time, a person found her photo on my flickr photostream and asked me to immediately take it off, which I did.

Tips for not being noticed: Just take the photo you want, and then check it on your screen or look away without looking directly into the eyes of your subject.

A photographer friend uses an interesting technique so that the person looks straight into the camera when she takes the photo. She has an assistant next to her, and once she is ready to take the shot, the assistant yells something or whistles really loud and when the person looks at him, she takes the photo (I really want to do this someday!). In some cases I use a technique in which I’m pretending to take my assistant’s photo, but I’m actually taking the picture of somebody else who is behind her.

If you want to practice this type of photography, I recommend going to the many rallies or street events that happen in this city (i.e. High Heel Race, Neighborhood Festivals, etc.) where there are lots of photographers, and people are distracted by what’s happening on the street and don’t care much about cameras. During the summer, one of my favorite places to go is the Drum Circle at Malcom X Park; there is a lot going on there on Sunday afternoons!

So the question is now: Is anybody interested in going on a street photography walk? E-mail me! [email protected] and feel free to visit my street photography set on flickr/
Hasta luego!

11 Comment

  • I generally shy away from street photography. One of the first times I tried it, a very angry woman charged across the street at me, demanded I delete the photo, threatened me, etc. The funny thing is, she just happened to be one of many pedestrians in a rather wide-angle shot, and was hardly even recognizable. Kudos to Pablo for his persistence!

  • me

    Interesting. Because I’d be kind of upset seeing a picture of myself (taken with a zoom lens) on something like this entry in this blog, a photo expo, or anything else, especially if it showed me or my face close-up. I wouldn’t accost the guy, but I would probably just ask him if he could please delete the picture if he’s within speaking (not yelling) distance.

    • Agreed – if you’re going to show a recognizable face on a website, you should ask their permission. Most people will say yes, but it’s courteous to give people the ability to opt out. I would definitely feel uncomfortable a) watching someone point a zoom lens at me from across the street and b) discovering a random picture of me on the Internet that I didn’t know about or consent to. Ick.

  • A model release is necessary if you’re going to make money off the image (unless it’s news). Correct?

  • Thanks for the tips! I am a big fan of street photography and am always working up the courage to get out there and do it more often. I too have found that most people don’t mind having their picture taken, especially at big public events like drum circles or parades. I actually also have a picture of that first guy that I took at a drum circle. He has a wonderful face! Thanks again for sharing!

  • Pablo: I’m loving your articles and your photos are amazing. Thank you very much.

    What releases are necessary for a given purpose vary from state to state. Some states even require compensation for the model(Virginia is one, I believe). Most stock agencies and publishers require that their images are fully released to avoid any possibility of a legal question.

    An article about photographer’s rights and legal responsibilities for the MD/DC/VA area would be really helpful for budding street photographers.

  • pablo .raw

    Thanks for your kind words. I found this useful, you can download a copy of the photographer’s right here: (I carry a copy on my camera bag)

  • I love photography & photographing people, too, very much, but instucting how to sneakily take a stranger’s picture with neither their awareness NOR permission? Not okay.

  • As someone who travels a lot with camera in hand, I often think about the implications of street photography. Like Pablo, I often ask permission when I can, and then other times I attempt to covertly “shoot from the hip”, which typically involves a lot of luck.

    A short oped in the NY Times last year gave me some pause about street photography – both in the developing world as well as here at home in DC.

    The line that got me was: “They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.” I think it’s easy to forget oneself when you’re behind a lens, and at the same time I can’t imagine not attempting to capture some of the people, things and places I’ve seen. It’s a tough line to toe.

  • as someone who recently purchased a new nikon dslr, i really love these posts. i recently had a great experience in the dominican republic asking a few of the locals if i could take their pictures. only one time did someone not want me to and that was after a girl asked me to take her and her friends picture and one of the friends opted out.

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