my time on the street – shooting rolls

My Time on the Street: Shootin’ Rolls An article by guest photographer Amy Cobb – Photography Colleges     When I first considered doing street photography, I was frightened. Asking […]

My Time on the Street: Shootin’ Rolls

An article by guest photographer Amy Cobb – Photography Colleges

 

 street photography

When I first considered doing street photography, I was frightened. Asking people if you can take their picture is not for the anxious, and I hate feeling intrusive. Plus, every single photo I’ve seen of a homeless person or produce market proprietor has seemed slightly exploitative—it’s cool that a photograph can have the power to bring attention to the lives of these individuals, but often these shots seem more in service of making the photographer feel good about her or himself. This discomfort with the “unnatural” presence of the photographer on the street, coincidentally, inspired my first (failed) street photography project: photographs of other photographers shooting photographs of people on the street, and people noticing them (and, of course, me.)

Unfortunately, the purposefully unnatural nature of my project doomed it to fail. It seemed disingenuous to act like I belonged when I wanted to capture people acting like they belonged but didn’t, so my presence became an intrusion. This intrusion led to confrontation, particularly a man in a business suit who didn’t look like he could possibly take me grabbing my camera from my hands. He threatened to call the police. The photographer I was there to shoot had to come to my rescue.

So what did I learn from this? That Henri Cartier-Bresson was right: street photography is about the moment. It can’t be a grand, sweeping statement about whether homelessness is devastating or not, or about whether street photographers have a right to make that statement. If I wanted to capture what I saw in the world around me, I had the right to shoot what genuinely interested me—it didn’t have to be heavy handed. I could borrow my boyfriend’s Leica and head to the steps of the public library. If I didn’t question whether what I was doing was okay or not, I fit right in to the scene. Though I’m sure keeping my camera down for the most part helped, too.

Besides choosing an unobtrusive camera, lens, and project mission, I learned that it’s helpful to be at once quick and thoughtful. Know what the final frame will look like in the instant before you shoot. You don’t have time to carefully set up your shot—it will be gone. Faster shutter speeds are desirable for this reason. Keep in mind that the sharpness of your street photograph matters far less than the story it tells or the mood it creates. Eventually, I also gave up using a shallow depth of field when I found that wider shots sometimes captured a subject that still interests me: other photographers attempting to shoot the same thing.

Now, if I ever feel afraid of being confronted again—which has happened many times since I had to be rescued by the photographer I was attempting to capture—I choose to act like a tourist shooting the tall buildings or trees in the background. No one has ever questioned me as I’ve done this, and I’ve managed to get shots that capture a mood without telling the story of how noble I am for noticing what goes on around me.

Amy Cobb feels most at home behind a keyboard or a snapping shutter. She’s a Jill-of-All-Trades media refugee turned blogger who, since jumping ship from the Fourth Estate, blogs on all things media and media-education-related.
Most recently she’s worked on pinning down the best photography career options.

When not writing, Amy is doing her best not kill everything in her square foot garden plots, while always at the bidding of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Snarls Barkley.

About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and