Street Photography Object Lesson: The Good Samaritan

Percolate, Philadelphia Street Photography

Well, it happened today, the dreaded street photography confrontation. It was only a matter of time. Let my experience (which admittedly was mild) be an object lesson for you, the aspiring street photographer.

Let me start by saying you need to beware the “good samaritan” when you hit the streets with your camera. Try to imagine what you look like to someone who is in a place where they are being more observant. See, for most street photography situations, people are busy going about their lives. Even if they notice you, they aren’t likely to say anything because it doesn’t seem worth it, because the whole thing happened so quick anyway. But, there are other situations where people might be more observant of you and your camera. And it is precisely these situations where the “good samaritan” may press into action.

An example of just such a situation is what happened to me today at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. If you are not aware, the park at Rittenhouse Square is an urban park with lots of benches and it is always full of people, especially on nice days like today. When people are lounging about in a park, they can be completely oblivious, but on the other hand, some people can be highly observant. And it was just such an “observant” fellow who confronted me today. I won’t get into the specifics of his accusations, because I don’t care to attach myself to the wild fantasies and claims conjured from the brain of a complete stranger. But after I give you a few details of what led up to this confrontation, you will probably be able to figure out the general context of this fellow’s wonderful imagination.

While I did nothing wrong, in retrospect, two specific actions I took probably caught this guy’s attention. One, I walked down the same area of the park twice, actively shooting with my camera. He likely was sitting on a bench in this same area for both of my strolls through. Two, I happened to be shooting from the hip. For the uninitiated, this is exactly as it sounds, I had the camera at waist level (using the flip screen of my Sony RX100 II). Apparently seeing me stroll through with the camera down low was too much for this guy, and he figured I had to be doing something seedy.

Anyway, so while I did nothing wrong, and was completely within my rights to be taking photos, my takeaway is to be more cognizant of my appearance to others. Not only do I need to be observant of my surroundings, looking for the next great shot, I need to be aware of how others might be perceiving me. And if that means not walking down the same path twice in a short timeframe then that’s fine. There’s always another time and another day.

But there is a happy ending to this story. That photo at the top of this article — it was the very first photo I snapped post-confrontation (just after exiting the park), and I happen to think it’s one of my best street shots so far.

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This entry was posted in Humans Being, Photo Blog, Photography, Street Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , .