My first portrait at f/1.2 Or, How I nearly got beat up and had my camera broken by this gentleman.

See the crazy up close!



I was walking down 6th Ave at around 16th St. at around 6PM when I spotted this sunglasses seller on the sidewalk. He seemed like a cheerful, relaxed guy -- he was in the middle of an extremely affable exchange with a passerby, laughing and giving a thubms-up while trying to push his wares. As I passed his stand, I glanced over and saw that he was in nice light, the late afternoon sun separating him nicely from the buildings across the street.


What better way to test out the $1,800 Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens I had rented from Adorama about three minutes earlier?


In my experience, the guys in New York selling sunglasses, counterfeit designer purses, etc. can be pretty wary of photographers, and who can blame them? Their legal status is sometimes suspect, they routinely get hassled (or worse) by cops, and can be forgiven for misunderstanding the motivation of strangers on the street taking their photos.

Knowing this, I was trying to be quick about grabbing a profile of this guy, mostly because I was curious about the sharpness of this lens at f/1.2. I try not to be too sneaky when taking street photos, and anyone who's seen the lens I'm talking about knows just how impossible it is to be sneaky with it anyway. He turned and looked at me just as I was pressing the shutter... I thought nothing of this except that I now probably had a better photo than what I intended.



By the time I lowered my camera, he had already rounded the sunglasses table on his way toward me. It was so fast that it took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening. He was screaming in my face, which I initially perceived as a joke, until I realized, to my great surprise, that he was gripping my left wrist and twisting my arm, hard.


His hand that wasn't holding my wrist was curled into a fist that he was brandishing in my face as he demanded repeatedly why I took his picture. I tried to reason with him, telling him to chill out, that it was a public street, and that I take pictures of all kinds of people around New York. He called me a liar and again demanded to know why I took his picture. I told him if he felt that bad about it, I would erase his picture right in front of him, if he would just relax and let go of me. Instead, with the hand that wasn't still trying to twist my left arm, he grabbed for my camera.


At this point I decided that, no matter what, I was keeping my photo of this guy. In a few seconds, people walking by began to take notice of our little dance -- him still twisting my arm and grabbing for my camera, me trying to twist away and protect my brand new 5D with the nearly $2K uninsured piece of glass that I had attached to it a couple of minutes earlier.


Some girl shouted, "the photographer is always right!" over her shoulder as she walked by. While I certainly appreciated the sentiment, it did little to improve my situation. More helpfully, a couple of guys stopped and started pleading with my new friend to let me go, in vain. One of them was holding a cell phone, and I told him to call the police, hoping this would have a cooling effect. It didn't exactly work, but by this time a small crowd was gathering around us, and they were on my side. Finally the psychopath let go, and me and my equipment were able to go on unharmed.


This unfortunate experience has left me with a couple of conclusions.


First, I already know this, but I'd like to repeat it here: New York tends to get a bad rap, which is largely undeserved. Within about 30 seconds, at least two strangers had stopped to try to help me out. Without their intervention, things might have spiraled out of control - either through him breaking my camera/lens/arm (more likely), or through me giving the side of his skull the business end of the Canon 5D's magnesium alloy body (less likely).

Thanks guys.


Second, I cannot believe how sharp this lens is at f/1.2. It's otherworldly - not to mention the incredibly creamy bokeh... I will own this one day.




So there's the story of this picture. It was hard-won, I'd say. He's a handsome gent, if completely insane and dangerous. If you're walking buy a sunglasses table at around 16th and 6th, watch yourselves.


Also, out of curiosity, if you've read this far: has anything like this ever happened to you?


As for the ethics/morals/logistics/etc. of taking candid photos in public, there's lots of that in the comments.

  • Dmitry Gudkov PRO 5y

    j l t No matter what you think about the ethics of street photography, no one deserves to be assaulted for taking a picture.
  • j l t 5y

    Dmitry, you're right, and I suppose I did misspeak. I retract that portion of my complaint, but seriously, if people don't want their photograph taken, then don't take it, unless you're serving some kind of greater good - i.e., exposing corruption or crime, or the hubris of a security guard who believes his building is somehow exempt from the law, etc.

    I do believe - very, very strongly - that is was incredibly unkind and unethical not to delete this photograph the second that this man made it known that he was unhappy his photograph was taken.

    It was also very stupid for the photographer to put himself in harms way like this - does he have children, a family, people who count on him? If so, why risk his life taking photos of people who very clearly don't want them taken? That's not just unethical, but irresponsible as well.
  • Dmitry Gudkov PRO 5y

    There was nothing to indicate that he "very clearly" didn't want his photo taken. If you read the story, you will see that the first indication I got that he was "unhappy" was when he was twisting my arm with one hand and shoving his other fist into my face. Even then, I offered to delete his photo if he ceased being violent. He did not. After that point, I there was no way I would delete the photo. If he had broken my camera, or my arm, I would have something to show the police.

    If he had simply asked me to delete the photo, I would have done so without any hesitation.

    I'm glad that this story has generated some heated discussion, but let's keep the facts straight.
  • Steve Culverwell 5y

    have some fucking respect for peoples privacy. before you went off and got your 'edgy' photos you should have asked around and got a measure of how these guys felt about getting their photo taken unawares. seeing as you already knew they wouldn't be too comfortable with their photo being taken you got what you deserved.
  • Gregory Franklin PRO 5y

    Maybe he is from another place where they believe a photograph takes your soul from your body.
  • Thrifty Somethings 5y

    i didn't realize you were entitled to invade people's privacy these days, not to mention being further entitled to keep the photo based on his violent reaction to having his privacy invaded. how dare he not concede to your "request" after you failed to have the common decency to ask before taking his picture? frankly, if he'd broken your camera you wouldn't have had a chance in court, with or without an ill-gotten photo.
  • MattInVA2006 5y

    The comments here are ignorant beyond words.
    I hope you're all kidding.
    Dmitry is in the right.
    Photography is not a crime.
    I am re-posting it here:
    "Dmitry Gudkov nearly got beat up and had his camera broken by this gentleman." by MattInVA2006
  • j l t 5y

    @Mattin, you don't seem to understand: "photography is not a crime" is inflammatory rhetoric and has nothing to do with this conversation, and only demeans it. Nobody is claiming he did anything illegal.

    Ethics, though, are - for ethical people at least - more important than laws, and taking a photograph of someone who doesn't want their photo taken (or, in this case, of using their violent reaction to having their photo taken to justify KEEPING the photo rather than erasing it - that I really don't understand!) is, as plain as it can be, purely unethical. Period.
  • MattInVA2006 5y

    I understand what you're saying . . . and I now understand you're the sort of person who likes to talk over people, running their mouth endlessly about "your ethics" - believing that, if you say it loudly or repeat it enough, you'll somehow be correct.
  • Paul Gallo 5y

    Some of the people in this comment thread are simply delusional.

    "frankly, if he'd broken your camera you wouldn't have had a chance in court" Assault vs taking a photo in a public space is a no-brainer...

    "have some fucking respect for peoples privacy" When they are on a public street? It's not like the photographer was peering through a window.

    Real photographers - that is, ethical people who do this for a living - don't take shots like this without at least a nod of permission. Thank you, judge of who is and is not a 'real photographer'. Henri Cartier-Bresson? Pshh, what a hack... totally not a 'real' photographer.
  • Gary Hunter 5y

    Thanks for posting this, awesome story. I'm shooting with a 5dmk2 and was thinking of getting this lens, this threads been a great help. The comments that have followed were pure amusement, that is all I have to say...
  • Dmitry Gudkov PRO 5y

  • JJ Lee 5y

    i would say bad things happen when photographers don't run.

    never let a sense of propriety or concept of normal decorum inhibit your survival instinct.

    i take quite a few street photos. i either take them with permission. if i'm shooting candid, i use a wide lens. somehow they're less threatening. and i always move after taking the shot.

    HCB always moved. also, joel meyerowitz said once, HCB snapped his Leica like a yoyo to ward off a would-be assailant.

    the gesture created enough space and time for Bresson to move on out of there.
  • Pete Thompson 5y

    I think he tried to beat you up because you are a Canon user and he is a Nikon man.. LOL ;)
  • Beckywithasmile 5y

    Interesting story! As a female, I'm always a tad nervous about taking stranger's photos without asking, which I know ruins the spontaneity of taking the photo, but I worry about things like that.

    I've never had anything like that happen. I have tried to take photos of artist's work, because it's had a cool texture/design (things like jewelry or ceramics) and have been asked not to.

    -- (?)
  • Nam Le PRO 5y

    Nice pic!!!!!!!!!
  • diana gee PRO 5y

    Great photo and story. Although I completely enjoy and respect street photography, I don't tend to take photos of strangers for precisely these reasons. As a rather petite girl, I wouldn't stand a chance against an arm-twisting crazy person!
  • Karl Blume PRO 5y

    I dream of someday finding the cojones for shooting strangers in the street. But for now, shame and fear rule my life.
    Congrats on a great camera, a great photo, and a great pair.
  • I Love Badger Dogs! PRO 4y

    Extraordinary photo and accompanying narrative! When I am out and about with my camera I always carry pepper spray for the occasional boor who would attack an old guy with a cane (me!) Seriously though, the guy has some major temperament issues and you caught his true spirit in this photo! Just look at his eyes!
  • Oat Vaiyaboon 2y

    Wow, interesting story. And great photo for a quick snaps.
64 faves
Taken on July 10, 2008
  • EF85mm f/1.2L USM
  • ƒ/1.2
  • 85.0 mm
  • 1/1600
  • 100
  • Flash (off, did not fire)
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