Have you ever heard the term “street photography” and wondered why, exactly, anyone would find taking pictures of the street fun and interesting? No, you're not crazy – there aren't a lot of us who find pictures of tar or concrete terribly riveting. Luckily, “street photography” doesn't mean you take pictures of the actual road. Instead, street photography is the term used to describe the kind of photography done while you are walking down the street and looking for unplanned photo opportunities.
A lot of the time, the photos that street photographers take are portraits of people. A lot of street photographers shoot in stealth so the people they are capturing don't know they are being photographed. This allows the street photographer to capture natural expressions, interesting events, and everyday people/objects that might otherwise not be photographed in their natural environment. It's not often that you can tell someone to “just act natural” and have them actually do that. Much more common is that they will feel self-conscious, try to pose, or otherwise try to present themselves in a certain way. Street photographers can capture some pretty incredible moments – times when people don't realize they're being observed, and therefore aren't nervous or forceful in their behaviors.
But portraits aren't the only type of street photography out there. Some other examples could be patterns on buildings, textured doors, cars all lined up in traffic, or many other interesting things. Check out this link for some tips on doing street photography.
At this point, if you know much about photography, you're probably wondering whether or not you can use your street photos once you've taken them. After all, these are unplanned shoots, and you don't have a model release. In fact, most of the time the subject(s) of your photographs doesn't even know they have been captured on digital film. Is this a problem? Are you destined to forever keep these photos hidden away, never to see the light of day?
Remember – we're not your lawyers. Jim went to law school, but he's most likely not licensed in your jurisdiction. We can't offer you legal advice. But what we can do is tell you how we understand the law and encourage you to understand how to apply the law in your area to your particular situation.
In some countries, there are legal issues that require the photographer to have the consent of the person being photographed. However, in the United States, people in public places have no expectation of privacy. This means you are free to photograph anyone in a public place and use that image for whatever purpose you choose. Does this mean it's a good idea to go to the park and take pictures of all the little kids while they play? You are technically not breaking any laws, but I guarantee this is a way to make parents and caregivers mighty uncomfortable with you. So use your judgement. Don't go photographing things that are going to get you into sticky situations. And be sure you know the laws in your area.