Tag Archives: Street portraiture

The street photographer who showed no pictures

Vivian Maier - Outstanding street photographer

Vivian Maier – Outstanding street photographer 1926-2009

A new documentary reveals Vivian Maier.

A new documentary has been shown on British television. It tells the tale of Vivian Maier. A lonely nanny, she spent most of her career photographically documenting the streets of Chicago in her spare time. She was unsung as a photographer, unknown to almost everyone, unrecognised as an artist. She died as a virtual pauper in 2009.

Within a short time of her death the most astonishing hoard of photographs was revealed. Her belongings had been sold off at an auction. The chance find by a keen photographer revealed the work and fortunately made the find public. With the most detailed care and exquisite vision she pictured her subjects with both passion and journalistic fervour. She pictured some of the most painful poverty and opulent richness of Chicago in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well other places in her travels.

Now her photographs are selling for thousands of dollars a piece. This new BBC documentary showcases her insight and some of the more interesting photographs from her fascinating body of work. It also tries to get an in side look at her life – a secretive and largely unknown story which few people were involved in.

With over one hundred thousand photographs in the collection it is an incredible find. Almost a complete record of her work is available. She showed her work to very few people. Most of the shots were never printed.

The enigma that Vivian Maier represented is almost the same clichéd story of the pauper artist of previous centuries. Unrecognised until long decades after their deaths these artists often represented important interpretations of their eras. And so it has proven to be with the work of Vivian Maier.

She had little family, very few friends and only the contacts made through the jobs she held as a nanny. She was largely unschooled and a European immigrant to the USA. Yet with extraordinary wit and dedication she taught herself English apparently through going to the movies and the theatre and mixing with people. She also appears to have taught herself photography – there is no record of a photographic education.

The amazing thing about Vivian Maier was her dedication to the task. The BBC documentary chronicles her life – what’s known of it. But it also raises a lot of questions about what motivated her. Clearly she was a lonely person. Obviously she loved photography and the streets of Chicago where she spent most of her life. Beyond that we know little.

She had the most incisive skill with a camera and great insight as an observer of people. She went everywhere with her equipment, obsessively capturing everything in which she saw meaning. Her main interest was in the people she met – her qualifications for undertaking the work were non-existent. Yet over the period of fourty years she proved herself to be a great artist.

Hit rate

Many of todays digital photographers don’t realise what really lies behind a body of work. According to the academics examining Maier’s work she had an excellent hit rate. One very famous photographer once said…

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.

Ansel Adams

…yet Vivian Maier apparently managed many, many thousands of high quality pictures on her large format Rolliflex  External link - opens new tab/page camera.

There is something interesting about Maiers hit rate, dedication to photography and the detail of her work. It says a lot about her as an artist. Artists spend years learning, experimenting and often apprenticed to other artists before their work begins to mature. But their dedication is by necessity, absolute. And, their progress and interests can be charted by the type of work they produce and how it varies and changes focus during their careers.

The character of an amateur body of work

Amateurs by contrast to professional artists have much more spotty bodies of work. They do not have time to dedicate to devoted study and development. Years of experimentation and concentration on particular aspects of their work is not possible. Family life, work, the simple needs of normal life reduce the amount of work a typical amateur can put into developing as an artist. Typically amateurs tend to be more erratic in their interests, or they concentrate most of their work on one focal interest.

Vivian Maier apparently dedicated pretty much all her personal time and a good proportion of her work time as a nanny to her photography. As a result her achievement is similar to a professional artist. Her work is of a similar standard too. Her work appears to exhibit a gradual and focused experimentation and development much like a professional artist.

Dedication and concentration

A large proportion of Vivian Maiers work is still unprinted. Most of it is still unseen by the public at large. We clearly have a lot more to see and to learn about her. Most of her life is a mystery, much of her story untold.

One thing is clear. For someone who was clearly a very talented street photographer she had a lot to teach photography learners about concentrated dedication to the things that interest us. If we really want to get to the bottom of what interests us as artists, we photographers need to be pretty single minded.

Have fun with your photography, but remember, the way to reveal real truths, like street photography, requires some pretty deep interpretation.

How to see the documentary

For those of you who have access to the BBC iPlayer you can still see the full Vivian Maier documentary for the next few weeks from the Home page for the “imagine” series of arts documentaries  External link - opens new tab/page (posted 05/07/2013).
Update: This documentary has now been taken down from the BBC site. However the link above now goes to the “Imagine” series website so you can see what is coming up and some past episodes are sometimes available on BBC iPlayer.

Other useful Vivian Maier resources

Here is a link to the BBC website where there are two clips about this documentary…
Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures? Clips and other information.  External link - opens new tab/page

Want more on Vivian Maiers work on video? Here’s a Google search for YouTube videos about her…
Search YouTube for Vivian Maier Videos  External link - opens new tab/page

Vivian Maier on Wikipedia  External link - opens new tab/page
Vivian Maier – Her Discovered Work  External link - opens new tab/page

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Five simple tips for making street portraits

• The Lady •

• The Lady •
Classic Rembrandt Lighting in a modern street portrait
Click image to view large
• The Lady • by Netkonnexion, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

There is a beauty in simplicity.

I love to make street portraits, simple characterisations of people in their real lives. The street photographer thrives on the capture of the moment in someone’s life that just says a little about who they are… a moment in the life of a person you will never know. In this post I am going to look at how best to capture a street portrait.

1. Eye to eye

Out there on the street you a part of the scene – creating a momentary rapport with your street subjects. People like to communicate. And, they like to see communication. When you take a street portrait try to get your subject looking at you. If they are, they are communicating with you. The viewer of your photograph will be a part of that correspondence too. It will pull them in. Work at the eye level of your subject. Explore their faces through their eyes. Your capture will have much more power. If you are able to capture them looking in your direction, make sure the eyes are in focus too. This is good advice for any photograph, but it is critical for portraits. If the eyes are out of focus any appearance of communication will be lost.

2. Understanding the background

Every subject exists in some sort of environment. However, street portraits don’t allow much control over the background. Sometimes that can ruin your shot. A street portrait is about your subject. If there is too much going on around your subject then it can be a distraction. It takes the viewers attention away from the person you are showing them. When you are doing street portraits you can control the background in two ways – capitalise on it or get rid of it. If it is interesting, not too distracting, and puts your shot in context, then go for a deep depth of field (say, f11). That way you show your subject in the full light of the city environment. On the other hand if the background is complicated, distracting, or just uninteresting – go for a wide aperture and shallow depth of field. If your subject is away from the background your subject will stand out leaving the background out of focus.

3. The other people round about

If your subject is a part of a group then include the group. However, if they are not in a group portrait the other people round about can add to the shot or create a distraction. Try to make your shot pick out your subject or the group they are in. If you are trying to do a street portrait then your concentration should be on the subject you are trying to show. If you are more interested in your subject with their group then the relationship is important. Fix on that and bring it out.

The point of street photography is to show something coherent. If what you show is simply the chaos of a street scene, most of the time the impact will be lost in the chaos. When there is more than one person in your scene you need to bring out relationships, coherence or some sort of point that makes the shot interesting. There is nothing wrong with capturing a group of people as long as the capture has a point. Tell a story, bring out the meaning.

• Paper hats •

• Paper hats •
Pulling a group portrait together requires a coherence, collective story or central interest to the shot.
Click image to view large
• Paper hats • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

4. In the best possible light

The character of the light is one of the most important aspects of the shot. There is no single rule for lighting but it certainly helps to have an idea about the basics. In the photo above, “The Lady”, you will notice the triangular patch of light on her left cheek. This is a portrait lighting situation called “the Rembrandt” after the famous renaissance painter who pioneered this lighting. The form of the light/shadow helps show off the shape of the face and highlights the cheeks beautifully. In this case her eyelashes cast an interesting shadow and add character to the shot too.

When you are taking street portraits it helps to know about basic portrait lighting. The light and shadow on your subjects face is important. The wrong light can affect the form and shape of your subjects face, be unflattering or even create odd contrasts or miss-shape the face. It can certainly create a distraction if it is wrong. If you want to know more about how to light the face for portraits then check “Simple positions for classic portrait work”. It is the face that gives the most character to your subject. A beautifully photographed face is the foundation to a great shot.

5. Shoot many shots

No one should just be machine-gunning shots. Look for great shots and take them with care and consideration. On the other hand, you really want to make your trip worthwhile. Concentrate on bringing out some of the points above, but make sure you take lots of shots. Street photography is an uncontrolled situation. To ensure you get the best out of the subjects you see you will need to follow up on as many interesting points as you can. Things change fast – you may not get a second chance. Look, study, consider, frame, shoot – a working sequence of steps for a great shot. If you keep spotting interesting things… do your best to capture them.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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An easy lesson in beautiful bokeh

Beautiful photographs depend on beautiful light.

In this video one of the modern lighting masters shows how to make great bokeh. Using a simple experiment with various lenses and apertures, you can see how its done. Then, he does some great street photography. Finally, he gives you some creative ideas. You can do creative thinking for doing your own bokeh shoot.

“Bokeh” is the Japanese for “blur” or “haze”. You can find out more about it in our bokeh definition in the Photokonnexion Photography Glossary.

Creating Bokeh: A Lighting Tutorial

From Jay P. Morgan. TheSlantedLens

Points to remember

In the video Jay P. Morgan identified four important points about making bokeh. They were…

  • Get as close to the subject as you can
  • Get as far away from the background lights as possible
  • Keep the aperture wide open
  • Shoot small light sources

These valuable points are really all you need to remember to make your own beautiful bokeh images.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Six things to consider for starting portraiture

A dear friend

• A dear friend •
Click image to view large
• A dear friend • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Portraiture – the photographers passion.

Starting in portraiture can be daunting. We are going to look at the important things to consider when getting started with photographing portraits. There are also links to some of the portraiture resources available on Photokonnexion.

This post is aimed at introducing the portraiture resources found here…


Choice of location can make or break a portrait. If you choose an outdoor location you have to consider a range of issues like the weather, how to pose your subject and exactly what you will be putting in the background. The problem with outdoor portraits is that there is potentially a huge number of composition decisions to make. Taking the shot can be quick. Deciding on what background is right can take a lot of effort and research.

If you are just starting out with portraits it might be better to focus on indoor shots. The environment and light is potentially simpler and the lighting more controllable. The essence of good indoor shots is to reduce the composition to a very simple background and lighting and to focus your attention on the subject. This gives you time to practice the posing, including expressions, and the lighting set up.


Light and Lighting can be as simple or complicated as you make it. My advice is to make it as simple as possible. Most great portraits are done with one simple source light. Working with one light gives you the ability to try out shadow casts and hard light vs. soft light. Practice with simple ideas will help develop your skills more than working with confusing multiple light sources.


This is not the same as the location (which is really more about the surroundings). When you are considering the background this could be as simple as a blanket suspended behind your subject. It could also be as complicated as a workbench that your subject works at. What you have to do is decide how to set it up, how to light it and how to place your subject in front of the background. You have to make a decision as to whether you are taking an environmental portrait (a large amount of the background is visible) or a simple portrait where the background is a minimalist setting, where you show very little of the environment and make it as simple as possible.

It is better to start simple. Placing your subject in front of a coloured, white or black background is a great way to get started. You will be able to focus on posing your subject and spend less time worrying about what to include or exclude in more complex backgrounds.


The best advice for starters is to work with your subject. He or she will be comfortable with certain poses. Get them to start the posing. Then, when you see how they like to pose, you can ask them to vary it to get your light right and get them showing their best side (the left side of the face is best).

Remember that that definition of the features of the face are defined by light and dark. Your poses should be aimed at using the shadow/light relationship to bring out your subjects facial and body features.

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It is difficult to provide resources about props. There are as many props as there are things people can hold, wear, sit on, stand next or or play with. Yes, props can be pretty much anything you want. However, one thing is certain. Your portrait subject will suddenly come alive when they have a prop to distract them from the daunting prospect of the camera. Try to get them to work with a prop they are familiar with – get them to tell you about it or show you how they use it while you photograph. These things will make the comfortable and help them to relax. It will also show you the character of the person they are.

Camera settings and lenses

Some people will tell you this is the most important point. Others will say the posing, still others will focus on the other things above. How you set up your camera, and how you place your subject are very closely related. But there is a lot to learn here. Start simple so you can feel in control. If you are not yet working with manual controls then be comfortable with auto mode – try to become aware of the types of settings that seem to work.

Exposure settings are an important study. There are some exposure links in the link box below. However, you should be concentrating on natural colours. The type of light you use is important to your exposure. I have one piece of adice on this. Beginners at portraiture almost always over-light. Keep your lighting soft and your exposure moderate and not over-bright to start. If you are using flash, turn it down. Bright flash always washes out flesh colours and sometimes causes nasty highlights on the face. It is worth reading up about how you can ruin your shots with flash.

I hope that this article has provided you with some options for getting started in portraiture. Please spend some time going through the links on the portraiture resources page to get more detailed information.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Street photography law – a simple approach

• Street Legs •

• Street Legs •
Street photography has some simple rules that are pretty universal. Stay sensible!
Street Legs By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Common sense is the best guide.

Staying clear of the law is pretty easy if you follow common sense rules. These follow from good principles of established manners and social skills. Here is a simple summary to help you out. There is also some links below that will guide you through the more legal approach…

Disclaimer… not so boring!

I cannot offer you hard and fast legal advice. There are too many legal systems world-wide. Also, I am not a lawyer. Nevertheless most people go through life with few brushes with the law. They have been bought up to be good citizens. It turns out that, in most of the Western world at least, that good citizenry applies to photographers. Behave sensibly and you will probably be OK! So, feel free, follow my advice. Just remember it is best to get proper legal advice before taking action!

Go for it! A generalised approach to street photography law.
  • Always consider your personal safety first, then the safety of others.
  • You can take a picture of any thing you want in a public place.
  • You can freely take pictures of any person(s) in public.
  • You can publish your work without permission.
  • Take pictures of the police, armed forces, general officials and professionals.
  • Freely take pictures of women, children and any other person or animal.
  • You can follow people to get a shot (paparazzi do it frequently and legally).
  • You can photograph buildings and structures.
  • Traffic wardens, security guards and civilian police assistants cannot search you or order you to do something without a policeman present.
  • If stopped by the police give a reasonable and calm account of yourself IF YOU WISH.
  • You never have to surrender your camera or other equipment to any official without a court order (UK).
  • You never have to delete your photos or modify any of them or your equipment (UK).
  • You do not have to justify yourself or your photographic activities unless arrested (but see below).
  • If you are arrested for any photographic activity tell the arresting officers “I have the right to remain silent until I have been advised by my legal representative on what are legal, fair and reasonable questions to answer”.
  • Check with local authorities for special regulations relating to photography (eg. Trafalgar Square for commercial shots).
  • If you have more equipment than a bag and camera then make sure you have appropriate insurance against third party liability (eg. tripod, free-standing lights etc).
  • If you are working in a commercial capacity you must seek permission from local authorities and procure appropriate licences to carry out a complex shoot (lights, models, staff, equipment, vans etc).
  • If working as a paid photographer you must carry third party insurance and you may need location insurance for certain shoots
  • Be open and relaxed about your photography – you should not be harassed by officials if you are legitimate.
  • Do know the appropriate laws for your country or the one where you are travelling.
  • Don’t scare or intimidate people you are photographing (especially children or women). Following people for more than a short distance may be construed as intimidation.
  • Don’t persistently stalk, harass, irritate or torment people or follow anyone around (especially vulnerable people, women and children) for your picture-taking.
  • Do not take pictures if there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy (homes, toilets, through windows, private property, gardens or other private areas, serious personal injury situations, hospitals, changing rooms, etc.).
  • Do not block access ways, pedestrian paths, roads, doorways or fire escapes, or prevent official works or access with your equipment (tripods, lights, general photographic paraphernalia).
  • Do not stay anywhere if you are feeling threatened by anything or anyone.
  • You CANNOT profit from your street photography work without written permission of the depicted person(s) (eg, stock photography sales, advertising, selling posters etc.).
  • Do not publish pictures of personal, private or government buildings for profit without a property release, even if taken from a public space.
  • In publications do not provide identifying information about people you photograph unless you have written permission to do so.
  • Do not deliberately set up people you photograph to misrepresent them or actions they may take.
  • Do NOT get angry or violent or threatening if stopped by police or officials.
  • DO NOT make statements or justify yourself or discuss your photographic activities without a lawyer being present if arrested.
  • Do not take pictures of secure buildings with Government associations of secrecy.
  • Do not hide your camera or appear surreptitious near secure buildings with Government associations of secrecy.
  • Don’t lurk or hide yourself near secure buildings/land with Government associations of secrecy.
  • Don’t behave in a suspicious manner or a manner likely to incite scrutiny.

The minute you step off the public land you are subject to very different laws…

  • On private or Government land none of the above “Do’s” apply!
  • You do not have a right to do anything without the owners permission on private property.
  • In public buildings, and privately-owned buildings open to the public, rules often apply that photographers must obey. Check with the management – you should know about those before you go snapping.
  • Beware the Official Secrets Act (UK). Basically this applies in any Government secure area. Don’t go there! Warning – there are extensive powers of search and arrest, but there must also be reasonable grounds for suspicion.
  • Beware the Terrorism Act 2000 (UK) – this applies in any Government secure area, certain designated areas (not published) and anywhere that a policeman will have reasonable suspicion that you are carrying out a terrorist act or collecting information for such an act. Don’t make yourself look like a terrorist! Again, be warned, there are extensive powers of search and arrest, but there must also be reasonable grounds for suspicion.
  • If you collect a lot of information about the same individuals you may need to be “Registered” under the Data Protection Act (UK). In certain circumstances (eg. where identity is clear) pictures count as “Data”.
  • If people ask you not to photograph them it is polite and courteous to comply. Happy subjects make great subjects. Upset people might pop you a punch on the jaw! So think carefully before upsetting someone.
  • Don’t deliberately portray people in a bad light, a defamatory way or depict them in a way that may misrepresent their intentions or lead people to draw inappropriate conclusions. Such actions MAY lead to court action against you.
  • If you are observed frequently or persistently photographing in places where one person, children or vulnerable people may be found, ensure you have a legitimate, officially agreed and written reason to be doing that. Regular behaviour of that sort is deemed suspicious and grounds for a police investigation.

I hope that this list is helpful. You should feel free to take pictures in public streets. However, you should remember it is better to know the law than to fall foul of it! Prepare yourself properly with the right local legal information before doing anything controversial, or new-to-you.



By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

A brave expression of passion – photographic heroes (pt 2) – Diane Arbus

Photomontage of Diane Arbus and some of her work.

Photomontage of Diane Arbus and some of her work.
“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” • Diane Arbus
Click to view a range of her work and portraits of her in Google Images.

Swim against the tide!

Your personal mission in life is important and your photography should reflect that. Don’t only transmit passion through your work. Diane Arbus worked in photography but found a rarely paralleled depth of expression in her exploration of a personal passion. She persevered even when that passion took her into domains that the public would rather have left unseen at the time.

Diane Arbus (Mar 14, 1923 – Jul 26, 1971)

The creation of a picture lies within the ability of everyone who holds a camera. Conjuring a meaningful ‘image’ in the mind and creating an enduring memory for the viewer takes a photographer with passion and expression far beyond simple picture taking. Diane Arbus was a phenomenon and a case in point. Throughout her varied career she was able to express her interests in ways that shocked or left people cold.

Born to a wealthy, talented and artistic family Diane Nemerov escaped the worst of the American Depression. Her siblings excelled in art and photography as did her father who retired from the family business to paint. She married at eighteen to Allan Arbus. Both interested in photography, they began a business after WWII in commercial and advertising photography. They were published in a wide range of well known magazines of the time, despite professing their hate of the fashion world.

During the late 1940’s and 1950s the Arbus’ raised two daughters. The couple separated in 1958 and divorced 11 years later. It was the late 1950s and 1960s that saw her unique style coming out. Working with a wider range of client publications she extended her personal ideas and techniques through assignment work. In 1963 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for a project called “American rites, manners, and customs”. This allowed her to extend her interests and to develop her personal style. While teaching, working on her projects and doing some assignment work the 1960s were a proving ground for her approach. Her commercial work declined as she became better known as an artist.

What made Diane Arbus unique was an exploration of her real interest. She pursued her photography working with “deviant and marginal people”. Her passionate portrayal of dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers and other “ugly or surreal” people was for the time pretty brave and definitely against the grain of public opinion. Her work in advertising is little known today. Her writing and photographs of people at the margins of society bought her condemnation and severe criticism. Some of her work is still considered to be controversial. Yet, despite open criticism and damaging condemnation of her and her work she stuck to her interests and passionately expressed herself.

Her images are stark and sometimes ugly. However, this was the way she portrayed the world and was consistent in that approach. The extent to which she was a tortured individual is not clear, but she suffered bouts of depression and committed suicide aged 48 in 1971. Her legacy lies in her extraordinary persistence working with people considered to be ‘freaks’ in her contemporary America. She was notable in her success in getting permission from her subjects to publish the photographs. She established close personal relationships with many of her subjects while also portraying their less than ideal circumstances. And, she often returned over many years to take more photographs. Some of her images are shocking and harsh. Yet she seemed intent on hard lines, hard light and portraying people who had hard lives.

She produced a range of iconic images of people in difficult circumstances, against the public wisdom of the time. Diane Arbus remains controversial. But she published both photographs and writings that showed how she understood the nature of her own work and the impact it was having. She is one of my heroes because she stood up for herself and did photography with a passion. She showed important issues for what they were and exposed the underbelly of American culture at that time. Her work is sought-after as collectors items. Auction sales of individual pictures in the last decade have exceeded several hundred thousand dollars. Yet this has not diminished her insight. Important and controversial she may have been, but a powerful photographer with a passionate message she remains today.

Two quotes by Arbus define for me her outlook on her photography…

“Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot . . . . Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”
Arbus, Diane. “Diane Arbus”. Millerton, New York: Aperture, 1972. ISBN 0-912334-40-1.

In this quote you can see the passion spilling out of her words…

I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me, but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.
Feeney, Mark. “She Opened Our Eyes. Photographer Diane Arbus Presented a New Way of Seeing.” Boston Globe, November 2, 2003.

In my twitter stream (@photokonnexion) I push photographers to ‘do their own thing’ with a passion borne of insight from a personal mission in life. Many contemporary professional photographers fall onto the media bandwagon and get trapped in a cycle of commercial and media ‘art’. As a result they never see their personal development get past commercialism. I would encourage photographers of all types to look for ways to make their own mark in photography. As artists, photographers should be looking to expand their own horizons. I urge you to explore new challenges that define you as a photographer. Diane Arbus was not afraid to go down this route, neither should you.

The following video is the first of four. See all four parts of this video here: Masters of Photography Diane Arbus (Parts 1 to 4)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKXwCctBLQU&w=500&h=375]
Masters of Photography Diane Arbus Part 1. By Rangefinder  External link - opens new tab/page

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

A simple lesson in street photography

"Gritty Street" - Getting out there comes first. The shots come next.

“Gritty Street” – Getting out there comes first. The shots come next. Actually, the whole thing is about communication.
“Gritty Street” By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Some of the simple things are the most difficult when starting.

I have been asked many times why some people find street photography so difficult. Many photographers never get past the first step. Here is some advice to help you.


Getting out there is difficult if you think it is. Actually the most difficult thing is letting people know you are doing it. Most people just ignore you. My advice to beginners is, “just do it!” If you don’t start you will never do street photography. Once you are out there the next thing is taking shots of people. My best advice here is, “be a conspicuous communicator”. Walk up to people and talk to them. They will let you know if they are not interested. No harm done, say thanks, and just walk away. If they are interested then talk. Next, invite them to be photographed. Offer them copies. In fact, communicate. Most people love communicators. Do it the way you know best. Do it with enthusiasm. Then do some photography. That’s how to get started. Once you have done one or two shots you will wonder what the problem was to start.

Some things to do…
  • Find a busy place, stick with it for a while. People will be easier to approach from one spot.
  • Look for your shots. Don’t just photograph anything and everyone.
  • Make your shots important and meaningful. Have a very good reason to push the button.
  • Have your camera pre-set so you don’t spend ages fiddling around with it.
  • A good lens is a 50mm prime. You can use a zoom around the same focal length.
  • A setting of F8 gives you good depth of field and flexibility for street shots.
  • Try getting some candid shots of people (just capture them as they are).
  • Ask some people to pose or be themselves – talk to them before shooting.
  • Get in close when you can.
  • Be a part of the street scene, not a voyeur. People hate to be watched, love to be included.
  • Respect the people you photograph.
  • If you are asked to delete a shot – comply.
  • Remember you are an artist not a spy.
  • Search out peoples expressions and natural poses. Show what they feel.
  • Be chatty and grateful, apologetic and gentle.
  • Practice patience.
Some things not to do…
  • Don’t approach people in quiet places or where they may feel threatened.
  • Don’t be a predator, be a facilitator.
  • Wear simple, non-threatening clothes and appropriate for the weather.
  • Remember, make your intentions clear and friendly.
  • If you are uncomfortable/threatened don’t stay. Get out of there!

There, that’s it. Take it easy, have fun. Talk to lots of people. Take lots of photographs.