Today I led a street photography workshop in Baltimore and the subject of photographing people came up as we walked and observed potential subjects. I have always been willing to approach a person and engage in conversation before I ask them if I can make a portrait photograph. Candid shots in public places however I have never felt compelled to ask and often make the shots from a distance without any knowledge on the part of the subject, that they are being photographed.
The officer above was patrolling the street in Fells Point when I saw him and thought he would make a great subject. In light of all the trouble that has occurred in Baltimore I felt compelled to walk up to him and just say "Thank You." These guys really do put their lives on the line every day and are often villanized by the public or media. Now I am not saying they are all good, but in Baltimore, you really have to have a passion for the job. Public service is not easy!! So I did just that, walked up to him and said "Thank You!" That was my ice breaker, then I asked if anyone got killed overnight; which opened up a conversation. Shortly after that I asked if the group could capture a couple portrait images of him. He obliged willingly and even let me guide him to a shady spot not far away with a clean background. I then showed him my image and offered to e-mail the image to him if he wanted it. I always offer to send the image on to the subject when they are willing to work with me. If I intended to make money off the image or submit it to a magazine, then a "Model Release" would be needed but when teaching or doing personal work, it is not necessary.
I personally have never had more than a speeding ticket so I have no bones to pick with the law. I wanted to capture the essence of this officer in a portrait as he proudly walked the streets. I always get a great response from public servants when I first say "Thank You", either military, fire or police and the truth is I mean it! It's a genuine thought!
On the other hand for candid shots I never feel compelled to ask. People in public places, are OK to just photograph, and if you don't take that approach as a street photographer you will miss tremendous opportunities. This particular subject was in fact sleeping upright on the bench. I was not about to wake him to ask if I could take this shot. If I had, the shot would have been ruined. The posture would not ever be the same and the natural light on the subject could change. So I stepped back and composed the image I saw in my mind, showing the workshop participants my thoughts on the image capture and composition. You the viewer would have no idea that he was sleeping. To me this image was really about the posture and character of his hands, and the light on the subject. I did not need his face to communicate what I was seeing and reacting to. The hands told the story, a relaxed pose but lots of hard living.
So next time you find yourself doing some street photography, ask for portraits by breaking the ice with a compliment, engaging in conversation, then asking for a Photo opportunity....
Or embrace serendipity and shoot fast, and don't ask!
Both images were converted to black and white using Google Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.