Street Photography Tips

AndyAndy BicameralNew YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
edited April 15, 2008 in Technique
there's a lot that goes into successful street photography. i'll try to open up a few subjects, and let's discuss...

awareness/focus

i'm in a zone when i street shoot. i'm looking for slices of life, expressive moments, odd juxtapositions, funny scenes, interesting people. i'm totally focused on the scene, i'm part of it as i'm walking through it. constantly watching, looking, peering, seeing. imo you cannot "street shoot" in 15 minutes. for me, it takes me a while to get in the zone, and then once there, i hope for the best - i've said it before that we make our own luck by being there. others have said "f/8 and be there!" -- same concept. so when i'm in the zone, i hope that i find some of the above criteria met - and i usually do, but some days i have to look harder than others. make mental note as you ply your streets... i have posted here before that there's a shot i'd been wanting for months, but i was never near this "standpipe" when someone was sitting on it... well, patience paid off and i got this:

13637212-L.jpg

what makes this shot for me, is the indifference of the subject (hey, i'm just sittin' here, reading my newspaper...), his reflection, and the reflection of the cab. and of course, the irony of the "sitting" on the "stand" pipe....

people in context

people shots are great, and i live for my street portraits. i really try to put people in context. so, rather than tight up to the cab driver, i waited weeks to find the right cabby (facial and other "attitude" character), the right light, and the right scene (again, i had this shot in my mental inventory before i even took it:

5425379-L.jpg

what works for me here is the fairly wide angle view of the street, the cab and the waldorf-astoria... and the absolute cooperation of the subject. i simply told him "hey, you look great, may i take your photograph? this was a one-shot-shoot, i popped in a little fill flash to get some twinkle, chatted him up a bit, asked him his name (henri), shot, smiled, thanked him, gave him my card and was on my way all in less than a minute.

more "in context" and one of my favorite street portraits, is the "suit seller" who actually approached me first :lol3 trying to lure me inside the men's store to buy a suit... i stopped, did a button-hook, and went right up to him... "hey, you look great here, in front of your store like this, may i take your photograph?"

5766045-L.jpg

again, what works for me here is the absolute clarity of subject/environment, it's clear that he's in front of men's clothes for sale. i adore his expression, and his eyes. this shot is on my wall.

in this gallery you'll find many more examples of people in context. take a look at the chess players, for an example of some street people that i spent quite a bit of time with, they became comfortable with me, and i shot them up without disturbing their games.

confidence

street shooting requires confidence.. *you* are doing nothing wrong, so don't sneak around! put away that tele, and stick a fifty or thirty-five on your dslr, or set your digicam's zoom to the wider end of things, and see the scene "normally," up close and personaly. this may be strange for some of you, but i assure you it gets easier after your initial trepidation wears off. the worst that can happen is people say "no, i don't want my photo taken," and so you smile and move on! the wider angles offer so much more to the viewer imo, that they're worth the extra effort in becoming more comfortable ...

5644604-L.jpg

readiness

learn your camera's controls, shoot in a way that let's you shoot quickly! i'm always pre-set for the most part (choice of iso, aperture) and i typically shoot in aperture priority mode. i also learn the hyperfocal distances of my lenses, so that i can shoot comfortable within a distance range. watch the lighting, which can change by 8 or 9 stops just by turning a corner! it's really important to have all your senses focused on the job at hand. maybe that's why i have to stop for food and starbucks so much :lol3

attitude

if you have a confident attitude, learn your camera inside and out, focus on the lighting, the scenes, have a mental inventory of shots you want, put people in context, show an interest in your subjects, and work swiftly and politely, you'll be rewarded with good people shots and street photos.

6166164-L.jpg

enjoy (street) photography,
«1

Comments

  • AngeloAngelo Turning frowns upsidedown Posts: 8,937Super Moderators moderator
    edited March 1, 2005
    Andy:

    Thanks for a great thread; informative as well as entertaining, not to mention motivational.
  • 4labs4labs Major grins Posts: 2,089Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 1, 2005
    Andy thnxs so much for sharing your craft its great to have a better understanding of your processthumb.gif
  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Posts: 15,471Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 1, 2005
    Excellent tips, Andy, thanks for sharing them. The hyperfocal link is a good 'un, it's something I need to study because it's been an issue more than once. I hate not knowing what my lens is doing. Yet I suck with numbers. umph.gif
    Sid.
    Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam
    http://www.mcneel.com/users/jb/foghorn/ill_shut_up.au
  • NirNir Major grins Posts: 1,400Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Andy,


    Thank you for sharing your insight into the essence of street photography!
    __________________

    Nir Alon

    images of my thoughts
  • MongrelMongrel First Rate Plumber Posts: 622Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    As usual Andy-
    Good stuff! thumb.gif

    I appreciate the time you take to share your insights and experiences. As said above, very motivational.

    Sometimes it's hard to get over the *anxiety* of street shooting, but that's where the *action* is.

    One of my favorite (if not *the* favorite) types of photography to view, and yet probably my least practiced.

    Thanks again
    If every keystroke was a shutter press I'd be a pro by now...
  • canonguycanonguy Major grins Posts: 145Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    Andy,

    These are excellent tips. I am going to try this out on the streets of Miami and see if I can capture 1/10th of the character you capture in your shot from NYC. Just have to get over some shyness and get to it.
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    Angelo wrote:
    Andy:

    Thanks for a great thread; informative as well as entertaining, not to mention motivational.

    thanks angelo, glad you found this useful :D
  • ginger_55ginger_55 Crazy Creek Babe Posts: 8,416Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    My problem with street photography, so far, I am not on the street, or the sidewalk. I am in the antiseptic suburbs. Gotta go get dirty.

    Thanks Andy, I have always loved those shots, thanks for the tips.
    g
    After all is said and done, it is the sweet tea.
  • BridgeCityBridgeCity Major grins Posts: 338Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 4, 2005
    I live in Downtown Portland, so I think I am going to go get my hands dirty this weekend and try out some of these tips! Thanks for giving me the courage to get out and snap :)
  • ndsimmndsimm recovering lurker Posts: 25Registered Users Big grins
    edited March 4, 2005
    I knew there was a good reason to join this forum!rolleyes1.gif thanks for the great info that people like me are looking for
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 6, 2005
    4labs wrote:
    Andy thnxs so much for sharing your craft its great to have a better understanding of your processthumb.gif

    glad you found it useful, 4labs :D
  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Posts: 15,471Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 7, 2005
    So cocky little me thought I knew what I was doing on the street. Yeah, right.

    On my Saturday walk a guy strolls by with an iguana perched on his shoulder. OK, that's unusual. I ask if I can take a shot. He says yeah. Ideally, I'd have an igauana and the guy on a third of the screen, and an out of focus street behind him.

    Sure.

    Let me count the errors I made, through lack of preparation and awareness. In other words, for not being in the 'zone' that Andy mentioned.

    One. I had the wrong lens. I had just finished shooting the sunlight on a water tower on the top of a building, and still had the 135mm mounted.

    Two. My 35mm was safely tucked away in my bag, where it was in no danger of getting the shot I needed.

    Three. My ISO was OK, but could have been higher. It was at 400, but the sunlight was already gone from street level, and it was getting murkier fast. Not that it mattered, because I was oblivious to my ISO and would have had to think about it before telling you what it was. See 'zone' and the lack of it.

    Four. Aperature. I was still at f8 from compensating for the sunlight on the water tower, for which shots I had been in Manual. Did I know this? The heck I knew it. See 'zone' and my missing visa for entry.

    Result? Blurry shots, rotten framing, a completely wasted opportunity. The guy was kind enough to wait whille I grabbed four frames. But the lens was too long, the shutter speed too slow, the results predictably atrocious.

    umph.gif

    The lesson? Concentrate. Always know what your camera's doing. Know its settings, what glass is on it, what you'll have to do to get the shot you want. Focus.

    Anyone got a pass to the 'zone'?
    Sid.
    Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam
    http://www.mcneel.com/users/jb/foghorn/ill_shut_up.au
  • AngeloAngelo Turning frowns upsidedown Posts: 8,937Super Moderators moderator
    edited March 7, 2005
    wxwax wrote:
    So cocky little me thought I knew what I was doing on the street. Yeah, right.

    On my Saturday walk a guy strolls by with an iguana perched on his shoulder. OK, that's unusual. I ask if I can take a shot. He says yeah. Ideally, I'd have an igauana and the guy on a third of the screen, and an out of focus street behind him.

    Sure.

    Let me count the errors I made, through lack of preparation and awareness. In other words, for not being in the 'zone' that Andy mentioned.

    One. I had the wrong lens. I had just finished shooting the sunlight on a water tower on the top of a building, and still had the 135mm mounted.

    Two. My 35mm was safely tucked away in my bag, where it was in no danger of getting the shot I needed.

    Three. My ISO was OK, but could have been higher. It was at 400, but the sunlight was already gone from street level, and it was getting murkier fast. Not that it mattered, because I was oblivious to my ISO and would have had to think about it before telling you what it was. See 'zone' and the lack of it.

    Four. Aperature. I was still at f8 from compensating for the sunlight on the water tower, for which shots I had been in Manual. Did I know this? The heck I knew it. See 'zone' and my missing visa for entry.

    Result? Blurry shots, rotten framing, a completely wasted opportunity. The guy was kind enough to wait whille I grabbed four frames. But the lens was too long, the shutter speed too slow, the results predictably atrocious.

    umph.gif

    The lesson? Concentrate. Always know what your camera's doing. Know its settings, what glass is on it, what you'll have to do to get the shot you want. Focus.

    Anyone got a pass to the 'zone'?

    :whip
  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Posts: 15,471Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 7, 2005
    Angelo wrote:
    :whip
    Harder, harder, I need to be punished, I deserve to be punished. mwink.gif
    Sid.
    Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam
    http://www.mcneel.com/users/jb/foghorn/ill_shut_up.au
  • fishfish Site Megalodon Posts: 2,950Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 7, 2005
    For me, the need to ask permission is inversely proportionate to my focal length. If I'm shooting with a short lens that requires me to practically stick the lens in the person's face, then I'll ask permission. If I'm shooting with a long lens that allows me to shoot from a good distance away, then i don't bother.

    Permission:
    15466383-L.jpg



    No permission:
    2619609-L.jpg




    um...what was the question again? headscratch.gif
    "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
    "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson
  • GSPePGSPeP Major grins Steendorp, BelgiumPosts: 2,175Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 8, 2005
    Very interesting thumb.gif

    Thanks
  • founders2founders2 RoaringMouse Posts: 5Registered Users Beginner grinner
    edited March 17, 2005
    What about Model Releases
    Thanks for the inspiration, Andy. But how do you handle Model Releases (or lack thereof) with your street shots?

    Maureen
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 26, 2005
    wxwax wrote:
    Excellent tips, Andy, thanks for sharing them. The hyperfocal link is a good 'un, it's something I need to study because it's been an issue more than once. I hate not knowing what my lens is doing. Yet I suck with numbers. umph.gif

    it's worth it, sid, it's way worth it.

    thanks for commenting, and putting this in the hall!
  • ginger_55ginger_55 Crazy Creek Babe Posts: 8,416Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 27, 2005
    wxwax wrote:
    So cocky little me thought I knew what I was doing on the street. Yeah, right.

    On my Saturday walk a guy strolls by with an iguana perched on his shoulder. OK, that's unusual. I ask if I can take a shot. He says yeah. Ideally, I'd have an igauana and the guy on a third of the screen, and an out of focus street behind him.

    Sure.

    Let me count the errors I made, through lack of preparation and awareness. In other words, for not being in the 'zone' that Andy mentioned.

    One. I had the wrong lens. I had just finished shooting the sunlight on a water tower on the top of a building, and still had the 135mm mounted.

    Two. My 35mm was safely tucked away in my bag, where it was in no danger of getting the shot I needed.

    Three. My ISO was OK, but could have been higher. It was at 400, but the sunlight was already gone from street level, and it was getting murkier fast. Not that it mattered, because I was oblivious to my ISO and would have had to think about it before telling you what it was. See 'zone' and the lack of it.

    Four. Aperature. I was still at f8 from compensating for the sunlight on the water tower, for which shots I had been in Manual. Did I know this? The heck I knew it. See 'zone' and my missing visa for entry.

    Result? Blurry shots, rotten framing, a completely wasted opportunity. The guy was kind enough to wait whille I grabbed four frames. But the lens was too long, the shutter speed too slow, the results predictably atrocious.

    umph.gif

    The lesson? Concentrate. Always know what your camera's doing. Know its settings, what glass is on it, what you'll have to do to get the shot you want. Focus.

    Anyone got a pass to the 'zone'?

    You know why I miss those shots? Nerves, fear.......the idea that I should not be doing this, that these people are doing me a favor and I should hurry.

    Change my lens? Would they mind? No one has yet, but then I usually don't. I do all I can to do what you did, Sid. And no matter the shutter speed, I blur the shot, usually.

    (Don't look at the shot I took yesterday of someone "on the street". It is in my chal thread, but it was the second time I shot the guy, he was very cooporative and friendly. My husband was gone with the car, I was stuck there, as was my subject. And I took almost two RAW 1gb cf cards.)

    I usually do what you did, Sid. You actually know more and are better at this than I am, but we choke. You choked, and I choke all the time. Sometimes I cannot believe how hard I must have worked to blur a shot. To say the least of the lack of good composition. I am thinking I am lucky that good them actually are letting intrusive me, rude me, take a shot of them.

    Hey, at least we try. You more than most. So you choked once. And will again. All the good athletes do it, but they still show up. doG, I hate that "showing up" stuff.

    ginger
    After all is said and done, it is the sweet tea.
  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Posts: 15,471Registered Users Major grins
    edited March 27, 2005
    rolleyes1.gif

    Good post, Ginger. nod.gif

    I reckon you put your finger on it at the top of your post. Confience is really important. Instead of feeling like we're doing something wrong, we need to feel like taking shots of folks on the street, with their permission, is a good thing. When we radiate that kind of self assurance, they pick up on it and respond in kind. People are funny that way.

    That self confidence also has a calming effect, which means we're less likely to rush things and make mistakes.
    Sid.
    Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam
    http://www.mcneel.com/users/jb/foghorn/ill_shut_up.au
  • fstopfstop http://fstop.cjb.net Posts: 2Registered Users Beginner grinner
    edited March 29, 2005
    This is a side of photography I always wanted to do. It looks like the only thing missing is...going out and doing it...


    Great post.!
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 15, 2005
    be a crocodile
    excellent street shooting advice by good friend petteri

    highly recommended reading....
  • NikolaiNikolai Darth SLR Posts: 19,316Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 15, 2005
    Thanks, Andy!
    Andy wrote:
    excellent street shooting advice by good friend petteri

    highly recommended reading....
    It pretty much sums up everything I used, but in a very conicise way. And I like the "gator" analogy very much..:-)thumb.gif
    Cheers!
    "May the f/stop be with you!"
    Star*Explorer: on Dgrin, home; Master Class: open;
    Class is in session, My Facebook, @DarthSLR, #NiksTips
    member: NAPP, PPA, partner: Adobe
    Comprehending life, universe and everything - one pixel at a time
  • MarkjayMarkjay Markjay Posts: 860Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 16, 2005
    Why do you shoot in AP mode?
    Do you feel that the nature of your photography specialty: street photography, means that being in AP mode is best suited for this type of photography?

    And why do you feel that way? Is it speed with which you can adjust to the changing parameters more quickly in this mode?

    Just a curious beginner, trying to learn more.

    Markjay
    Markjay
    Canon AE1 - it was my first "real camera"
    Canon 20D - no more film!
  • MarkjayMarkjay Markjay Posts: 860Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 16, 2005
    I'm still a little shy shooting "Street photography"
    This is a somewhat frustrating thing for me, Andy.

    As you know, I am overloaded with images of beach scenes, nature, florida birds, studio / macro / still life images..........

    but I'm really "short" on candids and street shots. What I mean by short on it is, I really don't have a lot in my portfolio at this time.

    Every once in a while I feel the urge to do some street photography but, I must admit I'm still a little shy when it comes to just walking up to people or even pointing a camera in their direction and firing away. This is not a good thing, 'cause as a photographer / artist, variety is important to me..... I like to shoot other "things" besides shorebirds and still life images.

    Maybe there is something you do that makes you seem more " camera friendly" out on the street, then I am? Maybe I'm so self conscious of what the other people are thinking that I am intimidated by them?

    Any tips, suggestions, all welcome and encouraged.

    BTW, in a few weeks, I'm planning a trip to NYC. I've not been back to the NY for quite some time and, surely not with a 20D in my tool kit like I have now :-)

    So, I know I'll be doing my usual abstract building shots and, some unique perspectives on things one sees every day but, I would really like to hike around "the Village" and do some street shooting..........

    help!

    Thanks a bunch in advance,
    Mark
    Markjay
    Canon AE1 - it was my first "real camera"
    Canon 20D - no more film!
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 16, 2005
    Markjay wrote:
    Do you feel that the nature of your photography specialty: street photography, means that being in AP mode is best suited for this type of photography?

    And why do you feel that way? Is it speed with which you can adjust to the changing parameters more quickly in this mode?

    Just a curious beginner, trying to learn more.

    Markjay

    excellent question! i like to control the dof, mark. often, i'm wanting to try and isolate a particular subject..

    like this:

    (f/2.8)
    10164940-L.jpg

    other times, i want max dof:

    (f/11)
    14367787-L.jpg

    thanks for asking, and i hope this helps.
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited April 16, 2005
    Markjay wrote:
    This is a somewhat frustrating thing for me, Andy.

    As you know, I am overloaded with images of beach scenes, nature, florida birds, studio / macro / still life images..........

    but I'm really "short" on candids and street shots. What I mean by short on it is, I really don't have a lot in my portfolio at this time.

    Every once in a while I feel the urge to do some street photography but, I must admit I'm still a little shy when it comes to just walking up to people or even pointing a camera in their direction and firing away. This is not a good thing, 'cause as a photographer / artist, variety is important to me..... I like to shoot other "things" besides shorebirds and still life images.

    Maybe there is something you do that makes you seem more " camera friendly" out on the street, then I am? Maybe I'm so self conscious of what the other people are thinking that I am intimidated by them?

    Any tips, suggestions, all welcome and encouraged.

    BTW, in a few weeks, I'm planning a trip to NYC. I've not been back to the NY for quite some time and, surely not with a 20D in my tool kit like I have now :-)

    So, I know I'll be doing my usual abstract building shots and, some unique perspectives on things one sees every day but, I would really like to hike around "the Village" and do some street shooting..........

    help!

    Thanks a bunch in advance,
    Mark

    first of all - read, and read again, the article that petteri wrote and that i linked just above. it's great advice.

    ok - it's really about confidence :D you're not doing anything sneaky, unless you're trying to shoot street with your big nasty lens from far away. try and use at 50mm, or better yet, 35mm lens. even wider if you've got it thumb.gif

    get to know your subjects, look at them, snap, smile, move. for street portraits (look at #s 2 and 3 in the first post of this thread), i will say something like, hey, you look great! can i take your photo? i give them a card and ask them to email me if they want a copy.

    it's really a confidence thing, mark - know that you are doing nothing wrong! just get out there, spend hours walking and shooting. get in "the zone" try lurking like a croc... standing in one spot where some likely action will occur, and shoot it - it's like fishing though - you have to be patient and the fish don't always bite, eh?
  • SpiderJohn23SpiderJohn23 Big grins Posts: 13Registered Users Big grins
    edited April 20, 2005
    Composition question
    Andy,

    Wanted to say thanks for this thread!

    I've been watching your work for going on 3 years now, and, aside from the fact that you are a heathen who drinks Starbucks instead of smooth, silky Dunkin' Donuts, we have a lot of the same tastes.

    I HATE taking pictures of people. I can take 50 pictures of a flower or landscape and it doesn't get twitchy, impatient or pissed off at me. It also doesn't start making faces at me!! Laughing.gif! Hopefully, some of the tips in this thread will help me get over my "fear" of people.

    On to my question....

    When you are out shooting your street scenes, do you compose for black and white? Occasionally when I am shooting, I see a shot that has B&W written all over it and I will shoot it with the intentions of a B&W print. This doesn't happen very often. Most of my B&W's are color shots that I experiment with. At what point do you decide "This is a definate Black and White!?"

    Thanks,

    sj
  • Daniel ChuiDaniel Chui UCSD Student Posts: 65Registered Users Big grins
    edited May 4, 2005
    Thanks Andy, I completely agree with everything you've written... having had some experience with street photography myself this advice is very similar to the advice I give people when they ask me.


    You are right, #1 thing is confidence; knowing why you're there, and that the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

    Still, I carry around mace when I'm in bad places.

    - Chui
  • AndyAndy Bicameral New YorkPosts: 60,808Registered Users Major grins
    edited May 20, 2005
    street photography article, ny times
    from yesterday's new york times

    May 19, 2005
    An Invisible Street Photographer Gets His Close-Up
    By DAVID BERNSTEIN
    CHICAGO - For 40 years the photographer Gary Stochl has prowled downtown Chicago, sometimes nine hours at a time, photographing street life. It is no wonder, he says, that "all of my shoes are comfortable."

    On a recent afternoon outing around the Loop here, Mr. Stochl wore brown soft-leather Timberlands. They might as well have been glass slippers, given that his story is something of a Cinderella tale.

    Though Mr. Stochl (whose name is pronounced with a long o) has produced tens of thousands of prints, by his count, until recently he had never sold one. Nor had he ever shown his work to anybody, not even his parents, until he had a one-man show at a small Chicago gallery in October 2003 that went mostly unnoticed.

    So one day late last spring Mr. Stochl showed up unannounced at Columbia College Chicago and asked Bob Thall, chairman of the school's photography department, to look at his pictures.

    "We get a lot of older students at the college, and I thought he was a returning student trying to place out of a class," Mr. Thall recalled. "He had this gigantic pile of 300 or so pictures just loose in a paper shopping bag. That was kind of a bad sign. Anyone who had gone through one of our Photo 1 classes would have been much more sophisticated about how to show work to somebody."

    "But as I flipped through the pictures," he continued, "maybe I got through 20, 25 pictures. I was shocked by how good some of them were."

    Mr. Thall helped Mr. Stochl edit his portfolio and arranged introductions to some photography curators and collectors around Chicago. He also used department money to mat 50 of the best works, just as, he says, "an English department would if it found a great manuscript that really needed to be part of the world."

    Since that day, Mr. Stochl has quickly ascended in the Chicago art world. Today he is represented by a prominent Chicago photography dealer, Shashi Caudill, who sells Mr. Stochl's vintage prints for $1,500 apiece. (Nonvintage ones are $800.) The Art Institute of Chicago has acquired some, as have several collectors here. His first major exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, which closed last month, was widely praised, and a paperback monograph of his work, "On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004," was recently published by the Center for American Places and Columbia College (www.americanplaces.org, $25).

    "If you had told me eight months ago that all this would be happening," the photographer said, "I wouldn't have believed it."

    Mr. Stochl, who recently turned 58 and has been taking photographs since he was 17, said he only recently felt ready to expose himself to the public eye. " "I suppose I had been uncertain as to whether the work would be warmly received," he said.

    He shoots in black-and-white on a Leica M3 - the same camera he has used since 1968 - and roams looking for what he described as "that right moment," when "the various visual elements come together to create a composition."

    Unlike many street photographers, Mr. Stochl is not drawn to the odd or shocking, or to the poor or homeless. Rather, he often photographs ordinary commuters and workers, capturing the daily grind of urban living. His subjects typically appear lonely or sad, tending to provoke feelings of gloom and alienation.

    "It's not that I dislike happiness," he said, "but I suppose it's not my attitude."

    Mr. Stochl's admirers have compared him to street-photography masters of past eras like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank.

    "Technically, he's as good as anybody," said David Travis, curator of photography at the Art Institute. "I was particularly struck by how sophisticated the pictures are."

    Yet other observers have not been so quick to praise Mr. Stochl. "Keep in mind we wish him well," said Rod Slemmons, director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. "But if he's just as good as Robert Frank, or someone like that, we'd rather spend our money on Robert Frank."

    He added: "If somebody came to the Art Institute with a bunch of paintings that looked just like - or were just as good as - the Franz Kline paintings of the 1950's, in the heyday of his work, do you think the Art Institute would buy them or show them? What would be the point?"

    Mr. Stochl lives in Stickney, Ill., a blue-collar suburb southwest of Chicago, in the same home that he shared with his parents since he was 14.

    Aside from taking pictures, he has not held a steady job since serving as a photographic specialist in the Army from 1966 to 1968. "Great pictures don't come easily," he explained. "You really have to work for them. I could not do what I do if I had a regular job."

    To make ends meet, he became a caretaker for his parents, doing household chores, cooking and looking after them as they got older. They died in 1998.

    He took up photography in high school; two classes were his only formal training. A teacher who had noticed his flair for street photography gave him Cartier-Bresson's "Decisive Moment" to read, bringing about the sudden discovery of a career path.

    Much of Mr. Stochl's knowledge of photography indeed comes from books, and he admits a lack of career sophistication because he has little contact with the artistic world.

    For example, not long after the Art Institute acquired his work, Mr. Travis, the curator, invited Mr. Stochl to the museum for a meeting. When it was over, Mr. Travis told him that from now on, when people went to the museum for the Brassaï and Atget photographs, they could also see Mr. Stochl's pictures.

    Mr. Stochl was shocked to learn of the Brassaïs and Atgets there, Mr. Travis recalled. And when he took him to the photography study room to see the trove of Cartier-Bressons, Winogrands and Franks, "he couldn't believe it," the curator said.

    "Not only that a museum with big steps and lions in front would buy some of his pictures, but that he would be in a collection that had his heroes. It's like being on a list of books with Susan Sontag - like, 'Wow, how did this happen?' "
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