Recently I was at the Merchant Festival in Glasgow for a couple of days with my family. I’ve attended the event for the last two years and enjoyed the mix of music and dance, along with relaxed atmosphere. As always I had my camera with me, not with the intention of taking lots of pictures but it was there if I needed it.
As you know I have limited mobility and was sitting watching the World go one day. I noticed around 5 or 6 photographers milling around. All were carrying Canon or Nikon DSLRs and what looked like Fast mid range zooms. Now I’m not about to get into a DSLR v Mirrorless debate, but I am an advocate of the smaller the better in an urban setting. But use what you’ve got rather than spending a fortune on new gear. The main thing that stood out to me was the social awkwardness and distance between the people and their subjects.
I sat for roughly 30 minutes and one guy made eye contact with me and smiled. I’m 6′ 3” with a shaved head so tend to stick out, I also had my camera round my neck. I recognised this guy from the previous year (same boots as me), he was confident and interacting with the people around him. The rest were standing a fair bit back and using the zoom at 70mm. Some were quite hesitant and the body language made the potential subjects uncomfortable. The contrast with the experienced guy was quite striking.
I can understand the temptation to use a short tele focal length and stand back, but the closer you get the better the shot in street. The image above was taken with a short tele lens, I was standing about 10 feet form the subject. I make a point of speaking to people first and 50% of the time I won’t make a picture. If you hover on the periphery and look pensive then the interaction just won’t come. People tend to mirror your body language and if you’re hesitant and try to hide your camera then they will be naturally suspicious of you.
The image above was shot with a wide lens, I spoke to the man first and asked if I could include him in the frame. when viewed full size you fell more a part of the picture. As a way of getting used to this try walking down the street with your phone out. The ubiquity of these devices makes them practically invisible. The focal is generally wide too so you can get really close.