Author Archives: David K. Sutton

I'm a full-time IT engineer, part-time photographer based in Chester County, Pennsylvania. My photography travels have brought me to Charleston, SC, Corolla (Outer Banks) NC, New York City, and more.

Reality Distortion Through The Lens Of The Local News Broadcast

In (“Is Street Photography A Violation Of Privacy, Or Ethics?“), I touched on the topic of how local news has immense influence on our perception of security and safety in modern society. Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit, but it seems to me most are suffering from a severe case of reality distortion, a result of seeing the world through the lens of the local news broadcast, or cable news, or any other ratings-driven news outlet.

As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

It’s not enough to inform people, that’s a quaint idea from a bygone era. News has to grab your attention, then scare the shit out of you. Rinse and repeat. Have you ever really stopped to think about what we label as “news”? When you watch your local news broadcast, especially if you live in or near a major city, the first 10 minutes is almost always awash in stories of shootouts, murders, armed robberies, fires, and car accidents. Meanwhile, the rest of us in the viewing area, in other words, everyone (99.9%+) not affected by these (yes) isolated events, get to “learn” about them because somehow this will teach us something, or help us in some way. Really? I mean, why do we accept that these types of stories are “news”? They are the same violent stories every day, on autorepeat. Is this a public service?

I believe this daily reinforcement of all that is bad in society, without proper context and understanding that these are the exceptions, not the norms, is harmful to our collective mental health. At the very least, it plays into our fears and anxieties, making us believe the world is a more dangerous place than it actually is. And in turn, this impacts the policies we support, the politicians we vote for, and so on.

For anyone who regularly questions societal norms, it is obvious much of what we call “news” in 2014 is nothing more than a spectator sport, and a violent one at that. It’s not that you can’t find real news or journalistic value in your local half-hour news broadcast, but most of the stories reported during the first half of the program are not representative of the city or town the broadcast originates from. Even in the most violent areas of a city, people go about their daily lives, working, providing for their families, and they are not consumed with crime and violence every step of the way. I’m not making light of the crime that does occur in these locations, and the innocent people it effects, I’m simply trying to put things in proper context and perspective. Even in the most dangerous locations, most people are decent, law-abiding human beings, and in any of these neighborhoods, you can find people doing good deeds and making a difference for their community. But that’s not a compelling enough story, and it ain’t gonna pay the bills, so instead, let’s hear about the 100th murder this year, because that’s serving the greater public good, right?

Posted in Deep Thoughts, Humans Being, TV Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Is Street Photography A Violation Of Privacy, Or Ethics?

Reflect Upon

There’s no question street photography is polarizing. Some, myself included, see street photography as an art form, and a means to document city life and society at a particular place and time. There are others who see street photography as an egregious violation of personal sovereignty. So is street photography appropriate? Is it ethical? And is it okay to post street photos online without permission from the subjects?

Because I practice street photography, and because I post street photos on this blog and on Flickr, I think you know where I fall on this subject. But there are some who think street photography is a clear violation of privacy, and others who take it a step further and believe it is (or should be) against the law. And candid photography is against the law in some countries. But in the United States, and many other democracies, there is no presumed privacy in a public space. While in public, photography of random people is legal, and that includes children. And there are some who do understand the law, but who argue just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And I do have some sympathy for this viewpoint, but I believe this is a highly subjective issue for which there is no clear and concise answer.

Some people have no problem taking photos of anyone, including children, even if the subject is in an embarrassing or compromising position. And I’m not here to argue against that kind of photography, as everyone needs to check their conscience on their own terms. But for me, at least right now, I’m uncomfortable photographing people in a way that would subject them to potential embarrassment if they discovered the photo online. I’m also uncomfortable with photographing children (as the main subject), but that has more to do with avoiding confrontations with parents. But I’m not here to judge fellow street photographers who have no such self-imposed limits. And while I might have my own personal limits, I do not believe there should be any enforced or defined limits for others. I live in a free country, and I want it to stay that way.

When it comes to posting street photos online, I actually make no such distinction. What I mean to say is, if its fine to display street photography at an art gallery, then its fine to display it on the internet. People need to stop fearing technology.

But unfortunately we live in paranoid times. Much of the fear of others is unwarranted, and the perceived risks in society overstated. Your local news broadcast deserves much blame in creating an overly suspicious public, but government is also to blame for overreacting in the name of national security.

Because of our overwhelming panic and despair, increasingly our so-called free society is becoming a police surveillance state. Yet amid all this anxiety and dread, we also live in a time when nearly everyone has a camera at hand. So it would seem by participating in modern society, you are tacitly offering your consent to be photographed. It is against this backdrop that the street photographer, a person who is capturing images for the love of the art, risks confrontation, and being labeled suspicious. But it is the lens of the surveillance state that we should fear, not the lens of the artist.

Street Photography in a Paranoid time — By walking out of our homes we essentially consent to be filmed and watched and photographed by any number of entities; at least a street photographer is making photos out of some interest in art or their fellow human being. – UtahN8 (Nathaniel)

Posted in Photography, Street Photography Tagged , , , , , , |

6 Things I’ve Learned About Street Photography (So Far)

Sidewalk Circulation

Here are 6 things I’ve learned about street photography (so far). I present them to you, the aspiring street photographer.

  1. Stand Still — As you walk the streets, its easy to become overwhelmed by all the potential photography subjects. When you start to experience sensory overload, find an interesting background, or simply a street corner, and then stand and wait. Your subjects will come to you.
  2. Click the Shutter Anyway — There will be that voice in your head telling you that getting this shot might be awkward and uncomfortable. Push yourself to raise the camera to your eye and click the shutter anyway. Passing up these moments makes capturing the “decisive moment” all the more elusive.
  3. Shoot Wide — Don’t be afraid to shoot with a wider lens. It might be tempting to use your long telephoto lens so that you can stay far away from your subject, and possibly go unnoticed. While there’s nothing wrong with using a long lens if you are going for that specific aesthetic, the experience might be less than fulfilling if you are a fan of classic street photography from the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, or the master himself, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ideal street photography focal lengths are 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm. If you are still apprehensive, start with 50mm, which will allow you to stay the furthest away from your subjects, then graduate to 35mm. But all rules are meant to be broken, that is, assuming you have a good reason to break them. Just don’t let fear be one of those reasons.
  4. Avoid Eye Contact — Okay, this one will be controversial, and there will be some who will give you the exact opposite advice. I’m not saying you need to avoid eye contact or socializing in all situations, but if you are after true candid photography, it requires you to take photos without permission. Most people aren’t going to confront you, but that possibility will always exist with street photography. To help ease the process of capturing candids and avoiding confrontations, try to make it appear that you are looking past your subject. One thing you can do is keep your camera raised to your eye after taking the photo, pretending to shoot something that is just past your main subject. This works best if you are using a camera with a viewfinder (especially DSLRs), but it can also be accomplished even if you are composing your shots with a LCD screen (you just can’t hide behind the camera).
  5. Look For Conversations — I find some of the more interesting street photography photos (see above) in my collection are street conversations. Look for two, three, or more people congregating and conversing, particularly if they are oblivious to their surroundings, and then move in to get your photo. It might be helpful in this situation to have your camera in continuous mode so that you can snap off two or three captures.
  6. Use A Prime Lens — Related to #3, I highly recommend you use a prime (fixed focal length) lens, or alternatively, set your zoom lens to a focal length and leave it there. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been for my street photography. It really helps you to see your shot before you lift your camera when you know exactly what your field of view will be. In this case, using a prime lens is less about optics, and more about simplicity, and that’s why a zoom lens is fine, as long as you can discipline yourself not to actually use the zoom capability. Pick 35mm or 50mm and stay there. If you are out for a couple of hours, maybe shoot 35mm for one hour, then shoot 50mm for the second hour.
Posted in Street Photography, Tips, Techniques, Guides Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Milkboy At Night, Philly Street Photography

Milkboy

I couldn’t pass up photographing the Milkboy restaurant again, this time at night and in color. This restaurant definitely catches my eye each time I walk by.

And this was my first street photography outing with the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 prime lens (36mm equivalent on my Nikon D7100), and it performed as well as I expected it to. This photo was taken at f/2.5, 1/125th, 6400 ISO. I only wish I had gone wide open (f/1.4) which would have allowed me to lower the ISO. Even the shutter speed could have been a bit slower. But I was still in “street photography” mode at this point, trying to get a reasonably fast shutter speed at close range without too shallow of depth of field. I simply forgot to adjust the settings when I came upon this scene from across the street (where depth of field would not be an issue). Oh well, the shot still turned out great, and the D7100 is game at 6400 ISO.

This particular scene would probably have worked fine at 1/60th. If I had captured it wide open at an aperture of f/1.4, that may sound like it would result in too shallow a depth of field, but that wouldn’t be the case at this distance at a 24mm focal length. I was probably a good 30+ feet away (across the street). At that distance, at 24mm, and an aperture of f/1.4, the depth of field would have been well over 30 feet (about 10 feet in front, 20 feet behind). That’s the beauty of this lens. Sure, up close, say 5 or 8 feet, the depth of field would be extremely shallow at f/1.4 (no more than 1-2 feet), but at this distance, I need to remember it’s not a problem to shoot wide open, because pretty much the entire scene will be in focus.

Posted in Photo Blog, Photography, Street Photography, Tips, Techniques, Guides Tagged , , , , , , , |

The Introvert’s Guide To Street Photography, Dealing With Fear

Okay, maybe that was a bit too audacious a title. Because this isn’t really a guide, as much as it’s an honest assessment of my social awkwardness in the process of embracing street photography. And notice I said “dealing” with fear. I find you never really get over fear, at least I don’t, but you learn how to deal with it, and put it in its proper place.

I’m not really a people person, and I’m most definitely an introvert. I’m not a person drawn to social situations. In fact, I actively avoid them. But I’ve always been an observer. I’m endlessly fascinated by people, what they do, what they think, how they interact, and I think this is why I’m so drawn to city life in general. Even though I’m an introvert, the fact that people fascinate me is why it makes perfect sense that I got into photography, because it’s yet another way to observe the human condition.

But there’s just one problem, until recently, I mostly avoided photographing people. So how can an introvert start photographing the human condition? (light bulb moment) Ah ha! Street photography! It’s kind of interesting actually, and it is something I find amusing, that it seems even some of the most outgoing people are intimidated by the idea of photographing strangers on the street, yet here I am, Mr. Anti-Social out on the streets, doing just that. And I’m not going to tell you that I’m somehow immune from intimidation, but for someone like me, who is very much social phobic, but who nonetheless wants to photograph people, the street suddenly doesn’t seem so intimidating, especially if I’m ever to fulfill the need to observe and capture the human condition.

But don’t get me wrong, it took me years to get to this point. And even now, I need to talk myself into it. I need to psych myself up. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully comfortable with it, but maybe being somewhat trepidatious is actually a good thing, as long as it doesn’t completely shut me down and stop me from doing what I love doing (once I’m doing it).

So if you want to get out there on the streets and get those candid shots, I don’t have a formula for you to follow. I don’t have a 7-step plan for how to psych yourself up. I don’t have a magic set of words that will put you in the right mindset. You really do just have to stop thinking, then stand up, then grab your camera, and head to the nearest town center or city and start taking photos. There’s no other way to get there other than to just start doing it. It will be intimidating, it will be awkward, and in fact, you might just face a confrontation or two, but you will also experience a natural high, and a fulfilling satisfaction of doing what you want to do, even when you weren’t sure you could.

Posted in Deep Thoughts, Photography, Street Photography, Tips, Techniques, Guides Tagged , , , , , , , , |