Street Photography and Why I Love It

Peter Molloy

So many photographers are introverted. I’ve always been quite shy. I put up a good appearance at seeming to be outgoing, but at my core, I’m most comfortable being in peace and solitude.

That’s what makes Street Photography so exciting; it pushes me to get out of my comfort zone. I have to risk approaching people, then face the possibility of rejection and even the potential of a less than favorable reaction. But the reward is that I occasionally get a photograph that tells a story.

Recently I was reading about how the selfie craze has opened up several new areas of dangerous activities that didn’t exist before this phenomenon. Two examples were that national parks now have to issue a warning advising people not to try to take selfies when they stumble across bears in the wild.  Several people were charged by bears while trying to get the perfect ‘bear selfie’ image capture when they encountered a wild bear. The other example is of extreme selfies where people will climb to the top of tall building towers so that they can get a selfie of their dangerous exploits. These thrill-seeking opportunists have resulted in several deaths when the inexperienced and untethered climber loses their footing.

For me, Street Photography is the antithesis of the selfie. It is the photographer capturing a moment in time that tells a story with a simple image.

I had never been to St. Paul Minnesota until recently, so early one Sunday morning in St Paul I took a walk with my camera. Using a BlackRapid camera strap that lets the camera hang by your side and allows you to very quickly reach for the camera and take a photo in a single arm rotation. (The BlackRapid really transformed the speed of my street photography).

Girls playing on a Sunday morning in St. Paul, Minnesota — Photo by Peter Molloy

I noticed two young girls playing in the street. The older of the two was diligently working on capturing an airborne image of herself. She had enlisted her younger sister who participated by begrudgingly taking picture after picture of her older sister. The two young girls were contrasted by the girls’ mother and grandmother quietly chatting in the corner of the image.  I snapped a couple of pictures of them and then approached their mother. I explained that I was a photographer. I gave her my business card and showed her the photograph. The most rewarding part of this photograph was that not only were they delighted to get a copy of the image, but her husband was an enthusiastic film photographer, so we got to connect when we talked about our love for film as a photographic medium.

I was prepared to delete the images if this mother had not approved of the photograph. That was a risk that I was willing to take. I didn’t ask for a model release because I didn’t believe the image had any stock photo value.

I find that fairs are a great place to visit for any photographer who would like a practice arena ripe with a variety of subjects. Festivals will present a spectrum of emotions. You see the joy and enthusiasm of shoppers when they find that perfect ‘something’ that they can’t resist. You will see a competitive and argumentative side of people as they haggle back and forth over price. You can observe the tepid emotions of cautious shoppers who want to keep looking for ‘something else’ before they commit to a single purchase. Occasionally you will see fear and even terror in the vendors’ faces when the wind picks up, and the storm clouds approach. The vendors are playing images in their minds of the last time this happened and how they had to fight to hold down their canopy structure.

Joyful visitors at a festival — Photo by Peter Molloy

Last year at the Dawsonville Moonshine Festival, the weather turned unseasonably cold and wet. Turnout was much smaller than expected and the exhibitors struggled to stay warm and dry for the duration of the festival. These two young gentlemen just picked a spot, settled down and began to sing and play. They were pleased that someone would take notice of them and they were delighted to be photographed.

Local Musicians at Dawsonville Moonshine Festival 2017 — Photo by Peter Molloy
Peter Molloy at Norcross British Car Fayre 2017

Some guidelines should be followed if you are to be an active street photographer at a fair.

    Always be sensitive to the products that exhibitors have on display. If it is artwork, they would usually prefer that their artwork is not photographed, because people might copy their original ideas.

    It is better to make eye contact with someone you want to photograph. Visually confirm that you are pointing a camera in their direction. Someone withdrawing would be an indication that they would prefer that they not be included in a photograph. (note: this can often be overcome if you take a minute to explain your objective).

    If a picture looks like it has commercial potential, make sure to have a model release. There are now several phone apps that will allow you to digitally capture this permission.

    Share your work with your subjects to let them see what you are doing and let them be comfortable with their image.

Generally, you will find that people who participate in festivals are warm and outgoing, so you can be confident that you will have a welcoming reception from most people.