I discovered my love for photography much later than most photographers I know. It took some time to figure out my favorite subjects. Once I realized that I enjoyed taking candid shots of people, I knew that I had found my niche. Every chance I get, I can be found on the streets of NYC and beyond – whether in Chinatown, Coney Island or Brighton Beach, or shooting events such as the Mermaid Parade, Feast of San Gennaro, protest marches, and other cultural events.
Here are some questions I am frequently asked:
Do you ask people if you can take their photo?
No, I don’t, with very few exceptions. The minute somebody knows you are taking their photo, the dynamic changes. I prefer natural, candid shots with genuine expressions. Sometimes those expressions are coupled with gestures:
Do people notice you taking their photo?
The majority of time, they don’t. It’s amazing how thoroughly people are wrapped up in their own worlds. I tend to shoot very, very close with prime lenses. Most of the time people either don’t notice, or think I am taking a picture of something else (perhaps the person behind them?). I’ve also changed some of my mannerisms to help me blend into any scene more easily. I get a thrill when I manage to get away with it. I’m about three feet away from these ladies:
Are there any photos you won’t take?
Yes. I learned to trust my instincts. I’m a woman who often shoots alone in NYC. Aside from the street smarts I’ve learned over the years, I’ve become even more aware of people who seem imbalanced and may become aggressive.
I try very hard not to take photos that are exploitative and cheap. For me, that means no homeless people, people struggling with physical or mental illness, or who are incapacitated in any way. Each person has their own set of values. Each has to figure out what they think is morally acceptable to them. I tend to seek humorous situations or interesting faces.
Lastly, I almost never take pictures of people on their cell phones, unless there is a real story there. These shots are just everywhere and I find them boring. Unless they are doing something funny or interesting:
What type of gear do you use?
As mentioned, I like to get really close. I most often shoot with a Fuji X100T (23mm), a Fuji X-T1 (with either 18mm, 27mm, or 35mm lens), and occasionally a Ricoh GR (18.3mm). I also have a Canon 6D with a 50mm or a 24-105mm lens. I generally don’t take the Canon on the street because zoom lenses feel like cheating. I will occasionally use a zoom for a parade or rally—but for me, the closer, the better. Here I am just a few feet away from a man on the subway:
I’m scared to take pictures of strangers. How do I get over that?
The more you shoot, the more comfortable it becomes. If you want an easy way to start, I’d suggest parades, rallies, or other events where people are likely to be photographed. Buskers are also good, although I prefer if they don’t realize I am taking a picture. Throw in a buck or two if you can. The shot below is from the Union Square greenmarket, full of people going about their own business:
My final advice is to get out there and try it—again and again and again. Don’t be discouraged if you only get one or two good shots out of hundreds.