The Paradise of New York Street Photography

October 17, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Shoeshine, 42nd StreetEverything was cool here until I opened my big mouth. Just take pictures until they eat you, which hasn't ever happened.

I have been plugging away at street photography in San Francisco for a long time. Over the decades I have seen a growing lack of intolerance, and even outright indignation, if you should "intrude" and dare take a persons photograph in public. It's now become a game of "not getting caught" more than just being bold and confident. God help the street photographer who snaps away with a small discrete shooters camera, much less anyone with a prime camera and prime optics. Without getting into all the variety of reactions a photographer gets taking street pictures in cold techie self absorbed San Francisco, here's what you get in New York.

Nothing.

No reaction.

OK, a few smiles.

Very Cool.

I'm not a fan of secretly taking street photos. They very often look like "stolen moments" not "frozen moments". My best photos, and the one most guaranteed to get pleasing results from, are acquired by simply bring the camera up, aiming directly, and pressing the shutter. That is not so simple in San Francisco, but in New York the art of street photography is SO ACCEPTED, and so MAINSTREAM, that I quickly dispensed with trying to hide what I was doing.

So much so in fact that on my next visit I'll just shoot with my Canon 5D MK3's and leave the rangefinders and mirrorless stuff at home.

This photograph is a prime example. I started working the shoeshine stand. Feeling sneaky and uncomfortable, and not at all confident I was obtaining anything "honest", I moved in tight and worked about 180 degrees around before I blew it and, instead of just shooting away, inquired if they minded me photographing. That broke the spell. It's New York. Everyone photographs. Rather than helping it simply removed all the spontaneity from the following images.

The lesson is: Photograph. Keep photographing. Talking generally opens up an avenue for conversation, not photographing. Act professional. Don't be sneaky. Photograph. Get what you can. 360 degrees.

Have a business card ready. Jam it to them if you think it's appropriate. Always send them jpegs "when and if" they email you.

Street photographer. Screw San Francisco, head to New York. New Yorkers are flattered when you photograph them. They love all forms of photography, and get a rush a "real photographer" takes their picture. So dump the small cameras. Bring your prime glass. Enjoy.


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