A HOOT (Humans of Old Town)

You’ll notice from this post that I’m a shy street photographer, as most of my subjects are either not paying attention or shot from behind. The thought of asking a stranger if I could take their picture rattles me, but I do enjoy observing the life bits of people going about their day. This strategy is the polar opposite of Brandon Stanton’s work, the photographer and genius behind the Humans of New York, or HONY, the popular street photography blog that inadvertently evolved from one man’s photo journey into capturing the pulse and spirit of everyday New Yorker’s. If you haven’t heard of Humans of New York yet, it’s worth taking the time to visit his site to experience this unique story. Brandon also recently released a New York Time’s bestselling book in the same name. I’m having a HOOT (Humans of Old Town) in honor of HONY, my street photos (less the conversation) from a late cold winter afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia.
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87 comments

  • Yay! We speak the same language, Elisa. (I already figured we did but this proves it once again.) I own the book “Humans of New York”. Wonderful – but just like you, I’m a shy photographer of people. I try to be invisible. Sometimes I’ve had to ask permission but usually I pretend I’m taking something else and then quickly move my camera to include an unsuspecting passer-by. In Paris I had the experience last year where I actually WAS taking a photo of the architecture. I didn’t even notice a person in my view – but suddenly this person (young woman) began screaming at me (in French) for photographing her. I jumped out of my skin while others in the area sniggered. I yelled back that I didn’t even notice her – but probably in a language she didn’t understand. Still, all in all, photography walks are such inspirational fun!

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    • Funny, I’ve tried the trick of pretending to focus on an obvious object in hopes of capturing the guy wearing the loud hat and the bold t-shirt theme, but I still think they’re on to me. And your Paris story is so funny, I almost had to go back to bed and hide under the covers at the thought of being yelled at in a foreign country by an angry stranger. I guess the best advice for people like us is to get back on the bike and ride!

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  • hi Elisa, you wrote: “The thought of asking a stranger if I could take their picture rattles me, but I do enjoy observing the life bits of people going about their day…” – it needs a little bit courage (I do not have it, but my wife, she is a professional photographer) – and after asking a stranger, often a good communication starts; so, when we stayed in Manhattan, we had some funny experiences…
    maybe you have time to explore our New York set on flickr:

    posing with an old Buick 1956

    especially the man with the red Gucci dress made a great dialog…

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      • Those were great stories Frizz, the opinion of Nikon vs Canon made me smile. The thing is, I can talk to strangers all day…something about the camera gets I’m my way. Could be called confidence. Your wife has a nice touch, she should consider publishing a book, if she hasn’t already. Gucci man must be on the cover!

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    • Even I (another shy photographer) asked strangers’ permission in New York to photograph them. I think New York has the sort of vibe where you feel you can ask things like that. It’s such a sassy city.

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  • Some times the back of people is their better side… I would not be able to take street photos… my subjects in the wild can’t say no and embarrass me… any way I’m no good at taking photos of people, just don’t seem to be able to capture the look… but I do love your photos Elisa…. buy the way I love your name…

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    • Ha, I had a sudden image of your posting the backsides of animals, can you imagine? Although that would be a terrible waste, since you’re so accomplished at all angles of wildlife photography….still, might be interesting! And thank you, there was a time when there weren’t too many Elisa’s out there, now I’m running across the name more often, which is comforting for some reason.
      Have a great week!
      Elisa

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  • You and I are so much alike Elisa! I too hesitate to ask to take photographs of strangers, but I LOVE HONY and envy his brilliance at communicating with those he does not yet know. Love all of your images! Great post!! Cease the day! Robyn

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    • Ha, thanks Robyn…I’m glad I’m not the only scaredy-cat out there! It takes a special person to pull-off what Brandon has in HONY. I’d love to meet him (oh no, he’d want to take my picture) he must have an openness that appeals to all people. Glad you stopped by and yes, I’m going to CEASE, right now…after I empty the dishwasher…

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  • Sometimes it’s better to be a cautious street photographer, or as you say an observer. I really like this series of photos you took 😀 As a New Yorker when I take to the streets with my camera it’s a little easier because of the sheer amount of people there are going about their day. You might like this website of street photos – http://jonathanauch.com have a great day.

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  • I’m glad I’m following your blog because it looks like I’m sure to show up in an Alexandria photo sooner or later…

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    • Ha, lucky for you I’m terrified of street photography, AND I live in Atlanta….but you never know, I do visit the DC area often. But don’t worry, if it’s me out there taking the picture, there’s a 99% chance it would be of your back!
      Take care,
      Elisa

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  • I like your use of “shy,” because it is such a strange phenomenon to take photos of strangers. The really great photojournalists do such an extraordinary job of documenting ordinary street life, which is very much a part of our cultural history. I know exactly how you feel. I’ve slowly before enamored with street photography. It’s a reall challenge to not invade others’ privacy. I like your small peeks of those meanderings, trying not to invade their space but capturing the city’s spark.

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    • I agree with you, and I can only imagine my reaction of seeing a picture of myself on my worst day on someone’s photoblog! It is an interesting phenomenon, drawn I guess from our new social media world where everything and everyone is out there. I like Humans of New York because of the interaction between the photographer and stranger, and I think I would like to try his approach. Someday….
      Have a great Tuesday, Sally!

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  • I am right there with you. Most of my street photography has been at the end of a 70-300mm lens. One of these days I plan to breakout of this pattern and shoot more intimately…some day.

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    • Street photographers must have a gut instinct as to who will respond positively versus those who will chase him/her down the street with their fist in the air. Eeek, just the thought of it, like you, makes me want to get a bigger lens. I’ll look for your street photography post, soon!

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  • Ask me how much I love HONY! I fetched the book from Amazon when he announced the first edition on Facebook. Shooting street portraits in NYC would be easier, I think, than doing it in the South. Now, that he’s famous, nobody minds. I haven’t done much of that sort of thing, but I can vouch for the ease of it if you just ask. You are entirely too charming to refuse, you know. So what if a person says no? Move on. Just ask, Elisa! Of course, you know I have absolutely no shame! Do you follow Richard Guest? He does wonderful portraits in London. I love your approach to the ones here though. I like the people in context. So pretty, and the new theme showcases them really well. I think this theme fits the focus of your work effectively, don’t you? I like the size of the showcased images. Good choice! 🙂

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    • Thanks for the pep talk, George. I think I’m going to give it a go, but I do think I should try it in a larger city…one with more humans wandering around. Funny you should mention my new theme, I’ve been going around with the developer to try to get him to allow for a footer. The sidebar set-up really detracts from the look of the blog, but he’s pretty firm in not wanting a footer. Funny. What difference does it make? Give us the option, at least! I will check out Richard Guest, thanks for the tip, and THANKS for your kind words!

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  • Stunning street photography Elisa and I am one with you there. I think that is the main reason why I don’t photograph strangers and it’s because I don’t like asking them for permission. People usually rattle me and I also like taking shots of them when they are not looking. You get more natural shots then. I don’t like the ‘pose’ thing. 😀
    Thanks for sharing these beauties. *hugs*

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  • A great piece of street photography, Elisa. I like your approach of standing back and shooting from a distance. It really showcases how we move about in our individual lives.

    But, if you need “practice” in asking people, begin with horse people. They’re more than ready to have their photo taken with their horse(s). Of course, they’ll make sure their horse(s) is front and center.

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    • David, that’s a great tip. I have a good friend whose daughter has a great love of horses and competes in lots of local shows. I need to go and immerse myself in their world…it will be especially nice to have a ready, willing and able group of subjects, too!

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    • Ha, you’re braver than I! I do have one funny shot from that day of a woman who looked none too please with me, even the photographed scared me.
      The lens was a 70-300, first time I’d used it.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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    • You’re the only person who mentioned the feet! That was my favorite too. I shot it without looking throughout the viewfinder and have five or six shots in a row….all of them of the two walking in unison!

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      • Nice. I often get shots like that – ‘not’ looking through the viewfinder. Feet are one of my favorite subjects, too. They tell a lot about a person. And NO, I’m not a foot fetishist! %~)

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  • Nice photos Elisa. I’ve always been a fan of Alexandria too and tried the street photography there (and elsewhere) with much less success than yours. A discreet, focused shoot-from-the-hip (or belly button) approach is sometimes not-so-good when walking those undulating brick sidewalks and the stopping at the many attraction distractions for street photography. As always…you’re one of my favorite go-to’s 🙂

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    • I remember you posted a story about a trip to Alexandria, and I was excited you’d been to my old stomping grounds. Now I’m stomping around in a different way. Thanks for the nice comment, I feel the same way about your blog…sometimes it just feels like going home.
      Enjoy your week,
      Elisa

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  • Discreet but full of life. That’s a good thing 🙂
    You’ve seen mine. Not a human within 50 miles!
    Had a look at the site- it could keep you entertained for hours. Oh, those human stories! Thanks for sharing, Elisa.

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    • The last picture was taken down at my hip and I snapped without looking, same with the feet. I’m still surprised they turned out! Thanks for stopping by, Laura.

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  • Fantastic street shots! Alexandria looks like such a charming town. I’m a shy street photographer too…which is why I usually come home with hundreds of shots of people’s backs! 🙂

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    • Haha, backs CAN be quite interesting, right? I’m with you, and I doubt I’ll change my stealth street photography style!
      Thanks, Soonie.

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  • I often see someone I would love to photograph head on, but I don’t dare to approach them. If they asked me why I wanted their pic, I wouldn’t quite know what to say. They might object to being put on my blog. 🙂 Your pics are great, and somehow I prefer the back views, and the unaware portraits. These are really good.

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    • Thank you, Sylvia. I think street photography is here to stay, so I’m preparing myself to be captured with a silly expression on my face by a strangers lens. Maybe that’s why I prefer the back views, too!

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  • “The thought of asking a stranger if I could take their picture rattles me, but I do enjoy observing the life bits of people going about their day.”

    I know that feeling well. I’m actually quite extroverted but there’s something about taking someone’s picture that makes it hard for me to speak up. I think part of it is that people habitually pose if they know you’re going to click the shutter at them, and I like to see people behaving naturally. Humans of New York captures very personal stories and gives them a face, but I think street photography like the photo you posted here shows another perspective of city life.

    Beautiful shots!

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  • Elisa, what a great post, I enjoyed it a lot ! Your photos are so beautiful with wonderful colours. I love the angle in the first photo with the couple. One that I also really love is the one with the brick wall, I love how you focused on the wall and leaving the rest of the image blurred. These are all great compositions. And I’m going checking this blog, Humans of New York, I’ve never seen it and I am in love with the big city so I’m sure I’ll love this blog.
    Have a wonderful week-end Elisa 🙂

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    • Jocelyn, thank you so very much for your lovely comment, it left me smiling. I enjoyed myself that afternoon, getting lost in the world of others going about their day. I hope by now you’ve visited the Humans of New York, blog…it inspires!
      Take care, Jocelyne.

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