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Often, the honest answer to "what are you taking pictures of and why", when taking them in a public space (not: In a space where it is unambigously inappropriate!), would be "I am practicing and/or testing".

Nowadays, with everyone having fully automatic phone cameras and considering themselves good enough photographers from the start, this answer will sound strange, since it will no longer be understood why anybody would need to practice or test. In the worst case, you will be judged either as being exceptionally bad (at what everyone else doesn't think they would need to practice) and/or as somebody who is trying to cheat around lack of talent via hard work.

Also, depending on how you equipped for what you are practicing, you might be unable or unwilling to respond to "can you take a picture of me, or that and that, too?" requests.

How to elegantly explain what you are doing without sounding either arrogant or nerdish, ideally so that your actions are seen as socially positive? How to politely say that no, the results are not intended for instagram or similar platforms?

  • If you wanted to avoid people interrupting you in general, another option is to just throw on some big headphones. Most people would probably just assume you won't hear them and not bother. – Tyler Sep 6 at 22:44
  • Good in some cases. However, when working near streets, roads, walkways, having your eyes in a viewfinder and your ears under headphones (unless they are really letting all the sound through and you have the music off) can quickly turn you into an obstacle, accident casualty or target.... – rackandboneman Sep 7 at 6:23
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I just literally tell people what I'm doing, though I remove any potential for suggesting I'm currently incompetent at my task.

"I'm testing this new lens in low light" or "I've got this new lens & I'm seeing how it looks"...

You really don't need to be very specific - keep the details very light. I'd avoid just saying "I'm practising" or that I'm testing a new ND filter, because they won't understand. Telling them it's something 'new to you' will cover the amount of interest most people actually have & everybody knows what a lens is. Also 'testing' sounds better than 'practising' though no-one will spot precisely what you said. If you get someone who is actually interested, or another photographer, then the conversation rapidly changes direction anyway.

If a vaguely interested non-photographer wants some pictures of them in that situation, I just take them. Get them to pose, feel like they're participating, show them how you'd talk to a model to get them to do specific things. "Push your chin forward, it makes you look slimmer. Don't lift your head, just push… that's it."
They learned a new trick & you only wasted 5 minutes max.

If they want copies I get their email address, but they don't get mine. I don't get a release [that would change the casual nature of the episode*] & I don't use the material. I also say as I'm just experimenting with the 'new toy' I'm not sure there will be anything worth seeing. If there is, I might send them one or two shots, low qual jpgs. The chances of me sending them are inversely proportional to the chances of them wanting to strike up any kind of relationship that doesn't involve them paying me for my future services.

*Always having releases in your pocket allows you to change your mind at any time during this 'free 5 mins', if you think you're actually going to get something usable from the chance encounter. Don't burn your bridges ;)

Addendum:
To be honest, a lot of this is just 'people skills'. Figure out what they actually want & deal with it appropriately.
45-year old bloke whose dad once had an instamatic: Give him more details than he can cope with & he'll go away.
Gaggle of teenage girls: Make damn sure they're properly & decently clothed & take a few snaps. Send them one for Instagram.

  • 1
    You must be a stud, Tet. Never have I ever been asked to shoot someone while out and about with my camera. – Hueco Sep 6 at 14:13
  • @Hueco - lol, hardly; I just have 2 'work modes' depending on what mood I'm in - either the open, smiling, looking right at everyone mode, or the scowling, staring at nothing but my feet, avoiding everyone's gaze mode. The first tends to be more conducive to people approaching me… who'da thought that huh? ;) – Tetsujin Sep 6 at 14:23

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