I see a lot of young street photographers downtown LA. I watch them with their 150mm lenses across the street taking pictures. To me this isn’t street photography, it’s voyeurism. I feel anything over a 50mm takes you out of the realm of street photography and puts you into something else… but it ain’t street.
The photo above is a good example. First of all he looks like a pretty intimidating guy, but I have found that in general the meaner they look the nicer they are and very approachable. The trick is to get out of your comfort zone and ask someone to take their picture and when you do will find that the majority of people actually are flattered by being asked. The few who say no you should just thank them politely and move onto the next.
When I lived in Paris I was lucky enough to meet the great French photographer Jean-Philippe Charbonnier a few years before his death. One evening at dinner I listened to him talk about his photographic process. He spoke about how if you want your photos to have an impact then “Get close and then get closer”. I know that’s a phrase we hear a lot these days from many photographers, but this was the first time I had ever heard it and to be honest it scared me. Jean-Philippe told me “Standing far away from a subject… far enough to not be seen may make you feel safe, but that “Safety” comes at a price. It disconnects you from the image.” His point was by interacting with the scene, putting yourself into it you are in fact part of the dynamic of the photo.
Of course there are many great street shots where the subjects never know they are being photographed – a shot encompassing an entire scene rather than focusing on an individual. I am talking about the shots where you are interacting with a subject and for that I feel the ones where you are close – very close – are the ones (at least for me) that have the most connection. I could have never taken the photo above from far away. It just wouldn’t have been the same. From focusing on the rings to the bokeh and the subject staring into the lens.