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There are several approaches that I use, depending where I am, as in; do I know the people here; is it crowded; are the people looking at me? The first thing to do, even if I am in a cafe where I am known, is to gauge the mood of the people. Known to me or not, people have different moods, and sometimes they just dont want to be messed with. This of course, dictates where I will point my camera. Secondly I look for groups of people, or individuals who are engaged in their own thoughts… or study.. or book… or are simply just spacing out. These people generally know me… or it can be determined, by experience in studying faces, that they really dont care if the camera is in their direction. They either notice it and dont care… or they just dont mind.
If there is a lot of traffic moving through the cafe… I will sometimes use a wide ange lens…set the self timer to 5 seconds… and place my camera on top of my camera bag…. and check out the results. It is kinda like camera tossing or holding the camera up above a crowd. You are never certain what you are going to get. Invariably, people will ignore a camera on top of a camera bag. Put the camera on any kind of tripod tho… and the people will equate this with an active camera… and they will back off… go around me…and so on. And this is obviously not what I want.
Flash is obviously a NO NO… so you have to set the camera to a combination of ISO, aperture… and shutter speed that will bring the results you want.
Shooting in color is challenging because you will always have a mixture of sunlight, tunsgten and flourescent lighting. So, depending on where your subject is…. and assuming you have time to photograph the subject… setting the WB in accordance to the higher percentage of available light… whichever it is… is advisable. I always shoot in RAW just to be on the safe side… as lighting conditions change rapidly in this emvironment. People can walk in front of a window where there is available light… just as you shoot the pic… and so your exposure settings can change just as rapidly. Finally… DO NOT bring the camera to your face… UNLESS you are certain of three factors.
One… the individual you are photographing knows you, and is aware you are photographing them, and that they are ok with that.
Two….You have permission from an individual…whom you have approached and asked to photograph them… in which case you have the opportunity to explain that you will wait for them to go on with their normal routine. This is important to say as most everyone does not feel so threatened… their personal space violated… if you tell them, just ignore me while I photograph you as I want a natural pic… I want to portray you just doing your thing. Three… you either have live view in the camera you are using… or you are willing to use AF and point the camera in the general direction while people are engaged in whatever they are doing. With live view you get to compose your pic… tho you have to be quick… and you can even zoom in if you have time and the capability to do so, unnoticed or very discreetly. If you have sufficient light… and the ISO is high enough and you can tollerate a little grain… which is usually very attractive in these cases, as the purpose is a film noir… grainy street photography genre anyway… then it is an advantage to set the aperture to between F9 to F11.
At this time take your lens OFF auto focus and gauge your DOF… set the distance to about the middle of your DOF… and wait for a subject. This is where shooting in RAW is so important…. because the lighting conditions are guesswork… and you dont have the opportunity to judge it thru the lens.This concept takes a little practice… ability to judge the light accurately… and familiarity with how the DOF works with the lens you are using. It is best to practice using the lens manually like this… by using props at home… set at various distances… so you can gauge the results. Then when you go * into the field*... you are already familiar with a given oportunity in that you are able to gauge the distance of your subjects and set the DOF accordingly. This is all assuming of course… that you are engaged in option three and that you dont have live view. The important thing to remember with all these options… is discretion… wait for the right moment .... consider the appearance of your subject… think how YOU would want to be portrayed. For example… who wants to be photographed with a finger in their ear… picking their nose and so on.
So … no matter what the option you are engaged in… be discreet… be patient… be observant!

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