5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ask For Permission When Shooting Street Photography

"God Bless America" - Gena
"God Bless America" - Gena. Click to read more.

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When it comes to street photography, it is essential to capture candid moments of everyday life. This is what sets the genre of “street photography” differently from all the other types of photography out there. Although there are many talented photographers out there who specialize in capturing posed street portraits, I would classify those images as more of a subsect of “posed street portraiture” than “street photography” proper. In this post I will outline my thoughts why you shouldn’t ask for permission when shooting street photography.

1. It gives you a look into peoples’ souls

Street Magazin
"Street Magazin" - Thomas Leuthard

When you ask people to pose for them when taking their portrait, their expressions are typically too forced. There are many people out there who have the same facial expression when posing for the camera, which prevents you from looking deeper into their soul. When you capture candid images of people, you are able to capture them deep in thought or contemplation. You can see the worries on their mind, their fears, their accomplishments, their hopes, and their aspirations. Through a candid portrait, you are able to delve much deeper into who that person really is, rather than what they are trying to show themselves as.

2. It doesn’t obstruct your flow

Tread lightly
"Tread lightly" - Neal Bingham

When I am shooting street photography, I am in a zen-like state. My eyes are constantly darting left and right, down and up, looking for decisive moments to capture. I keep my ears attuned to the environment, and mind open. I pass by hundreds of people a day, and I capture a good amount of them. I simply don’t have the time to stop by each person and ask for their permission when taking their images. When I come upon a person I find unusual or fascinating, I simply snap their photo and move on. Very much like a rolling ball, if you hit too many walls, you lose your momentum and lose your flow.

3. It builds your confidence

"Pushing Back the Gray Day" - Mark Forman
"Pushing Back the Gray Day" - Mark Forman

Taking photos of strangers on the street is a seriously daunting task. Not only are we socialized into thinking that it is weird and obtrusive, we are also afraid of the consequences. However once we start capturing images of strangers, we realize that most people don’t mind so much and it helps us become more bold and adventurous. I have noticed that after all these years of taking portraits of people on the streets without their permission, I have no problem introducing myself to strangers at all. It has helped me become more open and courageous, when in the past I was more shy and bashful of introducing myself to people I didn’t know.

4. It gives you more shooting opportunities

"the elders, chinatown, nyc" - Greg Schmigel
"the elders, chinatown, nyc" - Greg Schmigel

If you ask for permission when taking portraits of people, you will meet a handful of people who simply say “no”. However if you take a portrait of them without asking for their permission they will either a) Not notice or b) Assume you are taking  a photo or something else or c) Notice that you took their photo and request that you stop or delete their photo. In most of my experience, the way that people react is typically a or b. Therefore by not asking people for permission when taking their photos, you open much more photo opportunities than you had when asking for permission. Why limit yourself?

5. It is legal (in most cases)

"925" - Sholgk
"925" - Sholgk

If you are in the United States and shooting portraits of people in public areas, it is legal to take their photos without permission. However, you cannot take photos of people without their permission when you are on private property. Most of the time, you will be in public when shooting street photography so you won’t have an issue. Don’t let policemen or belligerent people from doing what you legally have the right to. If anybody gives you any crap, refer to your photography rights below.

US Photo Rights

UK Photo Rights

So what is your take on it? Do you think it is better to ask for permission to ask when shooting street photography or not? Would love to hear your opinions below.

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