Thoughts on Street Photography: Gluttony of Big Cities

Sometimes I'll find myself watching videos of photographers such as Jeff Mermelstein, or Joel Meyerowitz doing street photography in New York City. Every time I watch these videos and see their shooting conditions, I can't help but think that the street photographers doing this type of shooting in major metropolitan areas have it easy.

Recently I read a comment elsewhere about the street photographers of New York City. The comment mentioned how some of them will load their camera, walk a block, and by the end of that block have used up all thirty-six frames. This is totally believable when all I see in these videos is an endless glut of people flowing past the street photographer. Hardly any of these people seem to be paying any attention to anything besides themselves, which make for a steady stream of easy targets to be photographed. This got me thinking about my own shooting conditions here in the Zenith City.

On a typical day between work and home I walk about sixteen city blocks. This converts to just a smidgen under two miles, most of which is in what is considered our downtown area. On a busy day, I might cross paths with ten people. Of those ten, a good seven of them will have me in a stare down from a block away as we draw closer to each other. This makes any form of stealth via blending in with the crowd before or after the shot completely impossible.

As time goes by I do find myself getting more confident about shooting during these situations which can feel more like an old west shootout at high noon than a happenstance passing of strangers. Though I get the feeling that these situations seem to be far more personal moments between myself and the subject than what I see in the New York City street photography videos. Each time I do end up taking the shot during these encounters, I can't help but wonder if cutting my teeth on them will ultimately make me a stronger street photographer than I would be if I only had large anonymous crowds to work with? In the rare situations when a crowd does form around here, it feels so easy to use it to get eight feet in front of someone and start shooting, as well as to escape back into after the photographs have been made.

When the situation is only myself and one other person in a visible two block radius, taking that same photo from eight feet away just seems to require jumping over a much larger mental hurdle. As a payoff, it always feels like I gain more street photography experience when I take photos in these sparse conditions, as opposed to shooting during large crowds where it is easy to go unnoticed.

I'm not sure if time will ever answer this question for me. But in the meantime, here is a photograph from a typical encounter from my walk to work. This one was easy since the wind was whipping so hard she kept her hood pulled over her eyes.

Whipping Wind