Street Photography is Rejection

I walk up to a pretty lady. In my hand is a $3000 DSLR with a $1500 lens attached. I raise the camera, smiling the whole while, and begin to focus….

I’ve shot this spunky lady on several occasions and she lets me shoot my photos with no problems. Her Chuck Taylor game is interplanetary….

This is the moment of truth. Sometimes the subject poses and smiles. Normally when this happens I’m so shocked that I screw up some part of the exposure triangle trying to make the photo perfect, and curse myself when I check the view screen after she walks away. Sometimes they let me do my thing. “Just go on with it” their eyes say. They don’t slow their pace or give me more than a soft smile, however. They see what I’m doing and have decided that it is harmless.

As you can imagine, some women reject the idea of having their photo taken in public. They wont cause any sort of scene or say anything mean to me, but will instead wrinkle their noses, raise their hands over their faces, or scowl looking straight forward into space. Or all 3……

In other words they reject me.

I know I seem to be trending towards “ridiculously dramatic” with the above statement. I counter that notion, of me being dramatic, by offering the following scenario: What if I were Brad Pitt circa 1998 holding a camera walking around, and I mean actually Brad, not just some guy who looks that famously handsome??? If I were Brad Pitt I wonder if any woman would ever reject my photo request. I imagine they would happily stop and take at least 7 seconds to smile for a photo, instead of seeing me holding 5 grand worth of camera gear and deciding: NO!!!

Beauty is danger. There is nothing more frightening, life-altering, or intimidating than a beautiful woman. This one smiled when she got a bit closer to me.

That’s why I think it’s me. Being a perpetually single guy, I have opposite sex PTSD that is hard-wired to rejection and dating. I’m also an aggressive lad, some would say, and typically aggressive lads receive many rejection letters as a result of that aggression. I suppose I’m more used to rejection than most fellas. It still stings though. Every time I ask for that photo it’s like I’m 15 years old asking a pretty girl to the sophomore ring dance. If she says yes I’m far too excited. If she says no I’m far too defeated.

As I said before Street Photography is about balance. In reality all I’m doing is snapping a photo. In reality she is NOT Kim Kardashian and I’m not the paparazzi, despite how deludedly healthy her self-image might be. In reality she isn’t rejecting me as much as she is rejecting the idea of me suddenly and suspiciously taking her photo without asking. In reality she feels she controls her image and likeness as captured in public, even though the law disagrees strongly unless the image is used for business purposes. Native Americans once believed that a photo steals a portion of the soul. I think there is an instinctive belief similar to this in many people. I also believe that on some level, people just like saying NO whenever possible.

This is the same lady from the first photo. Normally when she realizes it’s me she gives me a little “business” for the camera. She is subtle when she does it, but it’s there.

Welcome to street photography. Welcome to the art of acceptance or rejection. By engaging in classic street photographic behavior, you are setting yourself up for rejection. To avoid being rejected I have started to use a makeshift zone focus technique, where I set the aperture between f7.1 and f11 and shoot from the waist. At those apertures most things will be in focus anyway. Using this method I sometimes get a reaction like: “Did he just take my picture?” but my shutter was in silent mode and the camera never went up to my eye so there is no stank face or eye rolling from the subject. They have no idea what just happened. I win! I beat rejection! I overcame yet another micro-struggle, even though I did it by cheating. 🙂

As always, stay low and keep shooting.

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4 thoughts on “Street Photography is Rejection

  1. Enjoyed very much reading your thoughts. It’s something I struggled with for a long time. These days I mostly just use a very small camera (Sony RX100), dress to be one of the crowd and shoot from the hip or chest and never make eye contact. That way the subject never knows if the photograph has been taken and accordingly doesn’t feel like their privacy has been invaded.
    There is no ‘best’ way….just whatever suits your style. I miss a lot of shots, because I don’t have the courage to frame my photographs as you do.

    Liked by 1 person

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