The Street Portrait and Comfort Zones
What comfort levels can you push for growth? What is your comfort zone? Is it better to stay in your comfort zone or do you grow outside the comfort zone?
There are many different sub categories to street photography. My favorites are unobtrusive street photography and the street portrait. Unobtrusive street photography is also known as candid street photography and has overlap with photojournalism and documentary photography. It is in this realm my inner storyteller comes out. The art in this is choosing your subjects and anticipating the moment, For me this heightens my senses, forces me to be present. Robert Doisneau and Daido Moriyama are my favorite masters in this expression of street.
The Street portrait is a different animal. In this one I have to break the fourth wall and engage with someone. I am no longer silently observing. When I take a street portrait I ask people if I can take their portrait. I have five seconds to earn the next 30 to 90 seconds of their time and portrait. This is outside of my comfort zone.
Making Rejection Part of the Process
My fear is that people will say no and be upset or uncomfortable by the question. There is also, frankly, a self esteem issue on my end. I learned an exercise from street photographer Eric Kim that has helped make rejection part of the process.
The goal in this exercise is to keep asking people for street portraits until ten people say no. When they say no, I thank them and move on. Sometimes this exercise is over in less than hour, sometimes I will be on the streets for hours before I get that tenth no. On average I get a ratio of 8 yes per 1 no.
Patterns and the Suburban Problem
I have learned patterns. Individuals and groups of 3 or more are more likely to say yes. Two people of the same gender, even when a couple, tend to say yes more. Cisgender heterosexual couples are where I get the most no responses. That is mostly the male and he is usually defensive and aggressive in his body language and response.
The posing pattern. I can get individuals to pose more easily and generally get more time with them than couples or groups. If the group is younger or appear inebriated, I can get a little more posing time out of them.
The setting pattern. If I am in the city or a rural area, people are welcoming to street portrait. In the burbs, it is rare to get a welcoming response. 2 times people have called the police on me in the suburbs for the act of asking them for a portrait. Most urban and rural people who do not want their picture taken are polite and usually say "No thank you." That is not the suburbs. Most people, especially the white people, are aggressive and unkind in their no.
The Gift of Gratitude
In most of the instances I get a yes, I show them the picture and offer them my card to send them a copy of the image if they want. Not all of them contact me after our time together. But when they do, it is always a pleasure to give them the image. Sometimes our communication ends there, other times it continues into a friendship or a client or a referral source.
The Story Of This Image
This young man was with his girlfriend. I asked them for a portrait. He wanted the portrait and she did not . I asked him if I could shoot him by himself. I was able to get him to position himself in the light the way I wanted, but there was not much other direction I could give. Our encounter was brief but pleasant. He never did ask for a shot, but I hope he sees it on Instagram and appreciates it.
Pushing our comfort levels is often an element in growth. This applies in life, art, sales, and so many other daily elements and engagements.
What comfort levels can you push to grow?
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