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The NAACP last summer held a protest against the city's "Stock and Frisk" policy, which city officials says is effective at ridding the streets of guns. The NAACP says the policy unfairly targets young black males.

The NAACP last summer held a protest against the city’s “Stop and Frisk” policy, which city officials say is effective at ridding the streets of guns. The NAACP says the policy unfairly targets young black males (click photo to enlarge).

This guy was running and then leaped onto his hands and started doing shoulder presses. I can't do that. Can you do that?

This guy was jogging and then leaped onto his hands and started doing shoulder presses. I was down the street and used a longer lens for this shot. By the way, I can’t do that. Can you do that? (click photo to enlarge).

Learn to make yourself invisible.

That’s the advice about street photography given to me in the back of a cab last week. I was talking on the phone while watching the cab’s TV (yes, New York cabs have TVs in them) and there was a brief bio on a longtime New York photographer. He was known for snapping great shots of the city during the 1960s and 70s. I didn’t catch his name or hear much else he said but I do remember an image of a woman walking down the street with a hand on her hip and a lot of men gawking.  She was looking right into the camera and it was obvious the photographer was close.

I loved that shot and I wondered how he got it. Did he know her? Did she get angry at him? I doubt he used a zoom. In the bio, the photographer held a small camera, maybe 35mm. That might be one of my problems. The Nikon D-7000 isn’t a full-frame camera and the housing isn’t particularly large, but my favorite lens, the Nikkor 24-70mm, is as subtle as a bazooka. I raise that big tube to my eye and immediately heads turn and subjects tense. I love the sharp pictures it takes but it’s just too big for taking candid photos of strangers.

I have a prime 50m and an all-in-one 18-200m, which I’ve discovered is excellent glass for journalism (good for shooting conference speakers on stage as well as wide angles) but doesn’t provide the sharpest images.

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Protests and other public events like the anti “Stop and Frisk” march last summer, are much simpler to photograph. Cameras are plentiful, people expect to have their picture taken and there’s typically plenty of action (click photo to enlarge).

I think it’s all about perception. The Nikkor isn’t a powerful zoom lens but it looks like one. It gives the impression of intrusiveness. I’ve seen the same thing happen when I do interviews for work. I take out my notepad and pen and the subjects tense up, even more than when I pull out my digital recorder, which is about the size of a cigarette lighter. I can see interviewees start to relax after I begin asking questions while casually holding the recorder in my hand and not too close to their face.

The recorder looks harmless, like a toy and is easily forgotten. The pad and paper are powerful symbols of journalism. Maybe the trick to reporting and this kind of photography is the same: you have to build trust by hanging around, letting people know what you’re about. After a while, you and your equipment become part of the scenery. Invisible.

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