I don’t want to get punched just for the sake of a photo.
Making someone feel threatened is the last thing I want. That’s not how you get good photos or interviews. That’s how you lose teeth. I’ve learned that most of the time, people will help if you’re honest about what you’re doing.
Sure, they’re plenty suspicious at first but I try to make them understand quickly what I’m after, thus the tagline for this blog. When I tell someone I want to photograph that I’m trying to create art, it’s such a goofy statement that I usually get a laugh. I’ll then scroll through the photos stored on my phone or on my camera display to show them my work. I’ve even carried coffee-table books filled with similar work in my backpack. That one is very effective but schlepping those big books around sucks.
Getting spontaneous shots of interesting New Yorkers is tougher than asking someone to take their portrait. Taking a photo before asking permission is already an aggressive move for some. If a person doesn’t like what I’ve taken, I’ll delete it right there in front of them. One time, a large man on the 6 train got pissed and he wasn’t even in the frame, but I killed it anyway. Again, it’s not worth a confrontation.
In contrast, portraits can be cinch. The woman above (click photo to enlarge) was buying coffee at a Starbucks on 125th street when she noticed my camera. That started a conversation and I asked if I could take her picture. She worried that because she just had finished working out she didn’t look good. I assured her she did.
I asked her to turn towards the window slightly and i began snapping. The soft indirect morning light coming in was perfect. Then, I got nervous. There are so many things you have to think about; shutter speed, aperture, composition, white balance, ISO, etc and I didn’t want to take up her time. In my haste I failed to zoom in more and I lost some of the lovely angles in her face. The white balance was wrong (yes, that’s why I went black and white). In the end her great features saved me.
I had a similar experience with the two kids to the right (click photo to enlarge). They were walking down the street and I liked their look; the knee pads and basketball, the upturned collar. These guys had style. Again, it took me a while to get everything set and I sensed after a couple minutes they were losing patience. I hurried the shot and again made all kind of mistakes with the composition. Overall, their look and the beautiful facade of that old brownstone saved the pic. I was inspired by those black-and-white photos from the 1950s of the great jazz players. Those too were taken in Harlem.