The thing with photographing people on the Subways, Tubes and Métros of this world

I don’t know how things are with you, but I can hardly get on any train without noticing a bunch of potentially attractive (or interesting, hilarious, scary) photo opportunities. Excited little girls holding ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons bigger than themselves in their hands, an 50-year old man reading books with rather inappropriate titles and an exhausted basketball player who can barely keep his eyes open.

So trains are great because they are such an accurate snapshot of an urban society. But they’re also frustrating because you can’t just take a photo of everyone who comes your way. So I’ve come up with a few simple rules that make train-snapping that bit easier, also because I know how it is to be on the other side. A particular grand moment was when I was too tired to function properly and found my head peacefully resting on an elderly man’s shoulder (who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself though) on the Northern Line. Two seconds later (after I stopped hysterically apologising), I saw a grinning 14-year old recording (!) that graceful awakening on her pink iPhone. Do you have no manners, child!?

– Don’t take a photo of someone who is in a situation where they’re obviously uncomfortable, be it stressed out, crying or the classic, fighting on the phone.
– Don’t take photos of kids (even if their parents are not looking!) Just don’t, it’s not cool. – Ask where possible. If the person who caught your attention is roughly your age or looks like you could have a decent conversation, then there’s nothing wrong with a ‘Hey, I’m Caroline and I think you look pretty cool. Would you mind if I…?’ Now if they’re not called Alexa or if it doesn’t say ‘Fashion Blogger’ on their forehead, they might be a bit puzzled. Just offer to e-mail the photos over or give them your card and you’ve probably made someone’s day!

– On the other hand, sometimes it’s best not to ask. One of the photos below shows a snake on it and there’s nothing in the whole world that I’m more terrified of. The bald guy who was carrying it and playing with it was somewhat intriguing so I switched the camera on and didn’t pull off a ‘Good evening Sir, it has come to my attention that there is a snake in your hands. Would you be terribly offended if I took its photo?’ Things still went wrong though and he spotted the camera and walked towards me. With the snake. Which was working its way to my face. That was when I fiercely decided to run. But that was also when the driver announced a signal failure. In a tunnel.
– Skip all these ‘rules’ if you know your photo could be a legend. By legend I mean published in TIME Magazine. Then run or hide. Fast.

Below are some of my recent shots from the NYC subway but I must admit that I didn’t do the best job in terms of walking up to people and ask them for a portrait. I will put in more effort though when I’m back for 12 hours in two weeks and you’re allowed to shout at me if I don’t. By the way, the best New York photographer I know is Mister Tobias Koch, you should check his stuff out here. And now share your own street life photo tips!

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2 responses to The thing with photographing people on the Subways, Tubes and Métros of this world

  1. First of all, these are just spectacular photos. I love all your work, but these may be my favorites yet! Secondly, I completely agree with the allure of photographing people on the subway. But if I probe into what exactly makes otherwise normal people so interesting when trapped inside a subway car, I realize it’s because there is nothing to distract us from one another! When forced to sit in silence and stare at each other for lack of anything else to focus on, we realize just how peculiar and interesting other people are.

    You should come and check out Georgian subways. You’d be amused!

    • Caroline – Author

      That’s so interesting because people don’t suddenly get more interesting just because they enter a train, right!? There’s something about being locked there for a short while and not being able to rush off just yet. And yes, a thousand times yes, I need to come to Georgia!! Thanks so much for your kind words, that really means a lot Meghan : )

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