JoziFolk - images of everyday life in South Africa


How not to get your ass kicked taking street photos 


Photographed at the Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria on a December 16 commemoration.

A situation where it would be easy to get your ass kicked!

With the rise in the quality of cameras in cellphones and, online apps like Instagram, street photography is enjoying unprecedented interest. 

 Street photography is fun and the countless millions of images shot by ordinary people, will undoubtedly, one day, be an important historical record of our current culture and lives.

 But, with it come dangers. And, while in most places, it is legal to take photographs of people in public, it becomes murkier on private property - and shopping malls are private properties!

 Just because you may legally take a photograph of someone in public, does not mean that you should. Times have changed. In the past, a photographer taking pictures of cute kids playing in the park, would've brought proud smiles from parents but nowadays, they're more likely to think he may be a paedophile. Cops could be called and parents may beat the crap out of the photographer and, no amount of his indignantly pointing out the legality of his actions is likely to make the slightest difference.

What to do?

So what's a modern-day street photographer to do? 

Ask permission. Explain your genuine interest and you are less likely to get your ass kicked and more likely to get a great photo.

Do that, and most people will happily let you take their picture. That is a fact!

But what about those decisive-moment pictures where stopping to ask for permission first, will ruin...well...the decisive moment? If that's your scene, dump the big, fancy, professional-looking camera and forget about using your super-long telephoto lens to sit far away and snipe your subjects, in blissful ignorance that they won't be any the wiser.

Nothing is more boring than telephoto street-shots. You will be noticed and you will be confronted and/or be accosted.

Successful street photographers become part of the action and infused the street-life. They act with confidence, portraying the impression they are entitled to be there and meant to be doing what they are.

Small camera

Use a small camera that isn't intimidating and makes you appear an ordinary guy out taking snaps. Stick a wide-angle lens on your camera if you can and get in close. Don't center your subject in the frame, so he or she cannot be sure you're not taking a picture of something in the background. I prefer to avoid eye-contact, so it seems I'm not interested in them but rather in something behind or beside them.

Learn the techniques of zone focussing and depth of field. That way you won't have to faff about focussing and recomposing but can quickly bring the camera to your eye, fire the shot and walk away, before anyone realises or even notices what has happened.

If confronted, smile. Walk on if you can, if not, explain what you're doing and say you are involved in a project documenting life on the streets of the city.

 And, if someone says: "Don't take my photograph", don't. Why spoil your whole day for a picture likely not going to mean much in the grand scale of things?

See: The Law and Street Photography in South Africa