Street photography is probably one of the most challenging for me, but, admittedly, I am getting more comfortable with taking random, candid photos of everyday people on city streets. There is certainly nothing wrong with this type of photography. It just takes a certain amount of effort on my part, at least, to capture people in a candid, natural setting in a public environment. Although it is a public setting, there is a certain amount of feeling that you are somehow compromising individual privacy.
Photographing people in public settings is legal, except if you wish to use the images in paid advertising. At that point you cross over the line. If you want to use images of random people on the street on a billboard sign to promote a product, for example, then you would be wise to obtain written permission from the people in your photo. If you are just taking a photograph of people in pubic places as an artistic expression, and you are not accepting paid compensation, then there is generally no problem. And if someone approaches you and requests that you do not photograph them, or to discard the photo that you have just taken of them, then it is probably best to abide by their wishes. I have never been in a situation where someone has approached me to ask that I stop taking photographs of them in a public setting.
There are a couple of principles that I do follow when taking street photos.
One day I was walking to the post office in Austin, Texas when I noticed activity on the sidewalk ahead of me. A young man had just jumped from the roof of a parking garage to his death on the sidewalk below. The event had just happened and the police had not yet arrived at the scene. Although I had my camera in tow, I never even removed the lens cap. While I certainly would have been within my rights to capture a photo of the young man lying dead on the sidewalk, I have certain moral standards that just would not allow me to go there.
Another principle I follow is that I refuse to take pictures of homeless people … or as expressed in Austin … people who are experiencing the homeless condition. Either way you express it, I just don’t feel even a bit close to comfortable in taking those types of photos. I’ve had homeless people stop me on the street to ask that I take their picture, with which I will gladly comply to their wish. When I move along, though, I will discard the photo from my camera.
I once read an article about street photography that expressed that most people are uncomfortable in taking candid pictures in public places. They suggested that you go to a busy sidewalk in the city and just lie down on your back and allow people to walk around you. The article expressed that this would be one way to help overcome your being uncomfortable in taking street photography. I am just not ready to resort to that activity, though…