Dealing with Confrontation in Street Photography

This is not the photograph described here.

This is not the photograph described here.

Several months back, a reader emailed us about how to avoid confrontation in street photography. Up until that point and beyond, I had successfully photographed without incident. That, however, has changed. I was walking up towards the train when I saw this man with his cat. I knelt down to get a photo on their level and made two images before inching slightly closer to get a tighter frame. He looked up just as I made the shot, and that’s when it all went wrong.

“Hey bro, give me some change,” he called out as I crossed the street towards the entrance to the subway.

I said that I didn’t have anything, and kept walking. I flatly refuse to pay for any photograph that I make on the street. He followed me across the street, and yelled, “Hey, bro!”

He demanded that I either pay him or delete the photo. I told him again that I have no money, and that I won’t pay him. He tried to reason that I “can’t just walk up to someone on the street and take their photo.” I told him that I could, but he persisted. He said that he didn’t want people seeing him having a problem with his animal.

I tried to assure him that I have no malicious intent, but he responded, “I don’t trust you as far as I can stab you.” It was at this point that I decided the photograph was not worth money nor blood, and while I didn’t know if the threat was legitimate, I did not want to take that chance.

I deleted the images in front of him in order to get him to leave. In my previous post about this topic, I was speaking from the viewpoint of someone without any direct confrontational experience. My musings were just that, musings. Nothing can really prepare you for the first sometime someone gets hostile about a photograph in a public space.

What I can say is that it’s best to maintain your composure. Don’t fight fire with fire, fight it with water. Be somewhat conciliatory, but don’t give an inch unless you have to. In my case, I really didn’t want to chance his pulling a knife on me, so I thought it best to sacrifice the photo.

When I got home, however, I was able retrieve the photograph from the depths of deletion, thanks to a program called PhotoRec. It’s a free program that runs through your Mac’s terminal, and while it’s barebones in its layout, it’s very effective at pulling everything possible out of an SD card. There’s a Windows version, too.

All of this is to say, be mindful when you’re out on the street. Every photo you take of a person is a gamble, and there are occasions when the cards are not in your favor. Should conflict arise, handle it smartly and calmly, and if you have to delete, know that there are ways to get those images back.