San Francisco Street Photography – May 22-23

I took a couple of days off this week and was able to spend some time just shooting without the need to be somewhere else.  Not feeling the pressure of time freed me up to be creative and patient, and I believe the images reflect that creativity and patience.  Having the luxury of time totally transforms the street shooting process.  Standing in one spot for twenty minutes waiting for the right shot to come to me is not something I’m able to do ordinarily.  What a treat it was.

Yesterday I packed along my X-Pro 1 with 35mm and my X100 for a walk from City Hall to Bush and Market via the Tenderloin. I took my time. Watched what was going on. Soaked it all in. I hadn’t walked that way before.

I noticed I was being followed and photographed repeatedly by a very animated young woman with a cell phone camera. She approached me at the corner of Turk and Hyde and asked (I’d have said demanded, but the conversation turned out fine) in a very suspicious manner what I was doing, why I was taking pictures. What I did with the photographs once I’d shot them. If I was working with the Po-lice.

It was a conversation that will stick with me for awhile because it was the first time that I had had to explain what street photography was to someone who had absolutely no idea what it meant, what it was or why anyone would take photographs of strangers doing seemingly mundane things.

To her, I was a threat.  What I was saying didn’t make sense, or she didn’t initially believe me.  I hadn’t taken her photo either before or after the encounter, but it was obvious she was looking out for her neighborhood and I had nothing to hide, so I was open and friendly and took the time to talk with her.

I told her that I liked taking photographs of people just living their lives, going from here to there, and of people whom I thought looked interesting. That I didn’t photograph homeless or destitute people, that it was a hobby and something I’d done for years for fun, to pass the time and to help me remember what I’d seen when I’d been out walking. That I loved the city and loved being in the middle of it. She said that all back to me at every pause in my explanation, perhaps believing me.  Her body language got less and less aggressive until finally she said good bye and we went our own ways.

I’m not an aggressive street photographer in the first place and I always ‘read the room’ in terms of neighborhood and vibe so as not to rile the locals. Whatever she saw that made her approach me, I thought it was worth the time it took to reassure her that I wasn’t up to anything nefarious.  Nothing happens in a vacuum and I believe that it’s important in situations like that one to just be respectful and friendly and move on.  Your mileage may vary, heh.

With all of that having been said, I only took 2 or 3 photographs in the Tenderloin – the one of the two boys running along the barricade in front of the Federal Building and of the gent wearing a Pacific Trail jacket with the Emerson quote about leaving a trail.  It was a great day, and the encounter with the young woman – which could have spoiled the entire experience – served to make me feel better about what I do, why I do it and how.

Hope you enjoy.

Things in 3’s, Slow Club, X100

Reflections and shadows, X100

6 stages, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

City Hall Staircase, X100

Contrasts, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

Passing through, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

Leave a Trail, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

Play, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

One Bush Street Single Point, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

Profile, X100

Big Feller, X100

He draws the eye. George Lucas lookalike and motorcycle guy are both captivated, X100

Yin and Yang, X-Pro 1 with 35mm/1.4

Josh, Burritt Room, X100

22 thoughts on “San Francisco Street Photography – May 22-23”

  1. From time to time I’ve attended public events and dabbled in a little street photography. I’ve worried about the concerns it might raise these days. Is it getting tougher to simply take pictures in public places? I’ve often handed out business cards (higher education) and invited people to visit my online collection of pictures from my travels. This seems to make people less anxious. I guess I’m probably more worried about law enforcement reaction to random photos taken in public places. Nice photos by the way.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the images.

    The neighborhood I walked through is neither the nicest or the cleanest in the city. There are many people struggling to get by, and many idle people outside on the street with nothing to do to pass the time. There is prostitution, there are drugs, alcohol abuse and many homeless people. I am clean cut and look like I have money (relatively speaking) and was walking through a neighborhood where I clearly did not fit in. Ordinarily in such areas I just put my ‘city face’ on and move through. On that particular day I felt like playing at photography, so I did. It indeed drew attention, although not entirely unpleasant and certainly nothing I couldn’t deal with.

    I enjoy being around people in the city and continued shooting and having fun the rest of the afternoon. Granted, the X-Pro 1 draws more attention than the X100 because of the shutter sound and its size (the X100 is silent and small).

    In the US, the law protects photographers who are shooting in public. There is no expectation of privacy in public. Law enforcement don’t/won’t/can’t do anything if you’re shooting in a public place.

    That is the academic answer. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with people in public that wasn’t easily talked about. I don’t carry business cards (it’s on the list but I keep coming up with reasons to put it off (e.g. anyone can print a business card, that’s not really going to mollify anyone on its own). I have found in the few instances where people have questions or want to figure out what I’m doing, simply being forthcoming works wonders. I’m good with people and have no problem starting a conversation. Being open and friendly quickly diffuses any tension, in my experience.

    People love seeing their photographs – especially when they see that they haven’t been photographed in an awkward or embarrassing pose, which is something most people are afraid of.

    Street photography can be anonymous, but people do pay attention. I read the room and shoot what’s interesting, but within my own guidelines of what feels right. Hope that helps answer your question. As you can see, it’s not a simple answer!

    1. Thanks for the advice. I agree that being friendly can go a long way. People do feel less threatened by smaller cameras. I’ve taken some of my best street shots with an iPhone with a wide angle adapter (most of the time people don’t even know they are in the frame). I’m hoping my new X20 will give me a similar experience as it is small and almost silent in operation. I usually try to keep walking , or sitting still in an outdoor cafe. It seems like I draw less attention that way. I hope to learn more about technique from folks just like you. Just seeing your pictures gives me more confidence. Thanks!

      1. Ohh, nice. I owned an X10 for over a year and enjoyed it for the most part (orbs aside). The X20 looks to be a great camera.

        Enjoy and I look forward to seeing your work! Are you on flickr?

  3. Saturday I attended a course of street … they left us in the middle of the market and ALL of us wondering why we were photographing.
    With a moment of calm and patience we explained why we were taking pictures of the place and after people have found a smile to be photographed without fear.
    Great Job!

  4. I really enjoyed your insight and your work. Having an Xpro, you are convincing me to get an X100s when I can find one. Can you share any favorite settings or workflow to get the B&W tones you get from your Fujis? Some of the best I’ve seen coming from these cameras. This is all new to me.

    1. Hi Warren and thanks very much for the compliment. I wouldn’t overlook the original X100. I bought mine as people were dumping them ahead of the X100S launch and prices were trending down (600.00 for a great condition camera plus the Fuji case and a spare battery – prices are lower now if you’re discerning and patient). It’s a great camera and with firmware 1.30 it’s very usable and produces amazing photographs. When I bought it, the original owner hadn’t upgraded the firmware since 1.12 or something and it was a-w-f-u-l-l-y slow to autofocus and sluggish in general. I could see what everyone was so upset about. Much better, now.

      To your workflow question – I shoot JPG+RAW and have the film simulation set to BW in camera with highlights to -2 and shadows at 0 or +1, spot metering if I’m hurrying. I shoot mostly manual with Auto ISO at 800 and shutter speed at a minimum of 1/250 in mixed light, aperture between 4 and 8. I import to Lightroom and do all nearly all of my post processing in Silver Efex Pro, which is a great tool. If you’d like more specifics, shoot me an email.

    1. Hi Ravi, thank you. Images 3-6 were shot inside City Hall. Great light in there. I shot my best friend’s wedding in March and made a mental note to go back to play with compositions. Glad I did. There’s always something going on.

  5. Your encounter in the Tenderloin (where I used to live…) is not surprising. I carry business cards just for this reason – they have an email & website, the backside has a photo I’ve taken. BTW, I’ve also taken a lot of pics at 1 Bush.


    1. Hi Chris and thanks for the comment. Biz cards are on the agenda, but I just keep procrastinating. 🙂 I have a layout in mind that sounds like yours…I just have to get off the schneid and get em printed.

      I used to live on Russian Hill and work at Civic Center and walked to and from work every day, so I’m no stranger to odd behavior. First time I’ve had to do that with a camera in-hand though, and probably won’t be the last.

      One Bush – indeed that whole block…especially that little garden/path/stair area between the main building and the eTrade (remember when it used to be The Sharper Image?) building gives some great backgrounds, don’t you think?

  6. I think that Sharper Image actually built that building…. Re: One Bush – I particularly like the sunken ‘pebble’ courtyard with the weird curve at the bottom of the wall juxtaposed with the linear ‘balcony’. People often smoke down there, which makes for interesting photos. Chinatown (of course) also makes for great pics, so do the old docks in DogPatch.

    FTW, here are my cards (PDF ~5mb): + Flickr = Done in 10 minutes! I’ve also built a basic ‘vanity’ domain ( to explain what I am doing.

  7. Lovely photos. The tree shadow is really beautiful.
    If you are looking to get business cards, I heartily recommend mini cards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s