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The Woman in Cafe Grumpy. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 BC. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.


The Story Behind That Picture: "Mirror, mirror"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. September 17, 2016.


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Today's story is a simple one about a chance to take a photo, and it worked out. I guess that makes it a better story than if it hadn't worked out.

A few days ago I was walking in New York and decided to stop for an afternoon coffee at Cafe Grumpy on 20th street. It's one of the good coffee places.

As I walked in, I see a woman showered in soft light, reading a book by a mirror.

She's sitting right inside as the first thing and she notice the camera as I come in. I can't stop in the middle of the flow and take a picutre. It would be like 10 people stopping in front of her.

I go out again, and then in a bit later to to pick up my coffee. By that point my camera is set for that picture. Without hiding it, I bring the camera to my eye just the moment she looks at herself in the mirror and - I am sure - her eye will meet my camera in a moment.

But somehow she doesn't notice, or she doesn't care.


I only took one photo. I decided to crop away her legs because the photo would look simpler and cleaner without.
I only took one photo (in color and black and white at the same time). I decided to crop away her legs because the photo would look simpler and cleaner without. When I want to compare different crops I will make a Virtual Copy in Lightroom of the alternative crop and compare to see which one works the best.


I only took one photo becuase I didn't want to be intrusive. Generally when I photograph people, they don't notice me. I don't hide and I don't sneak around. I am just invisible.


Should I take it, or should I not take it?

Now, this opens up for the always interesting question if you should take pictures or not. My own policy is that I will take the photo, and then I will decide later if I will use it. I only want to take photos that do something good for the person in them. But I also know that if i hesitate or don't take the photo, there will be no photo to decide about. So I take it and decide later.

So how do I decide that? I look, and if I think it is not a favorable photo, I will not do anything with it. Nobody will get to see it.

In this case I decided it's a good photo. She might have said no if I had asked. In retrospect I know she would have said no if I had asked (because somebody else tried that).

There's a good chance she would like it if she saw it. There is also a chance she might not. That's the responsibility I take in deciding if it's an ok picture or not.

In this case, there are too many good things speaking for using it than reasons not to use it.


The Woman in Cafe Grumpy. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 BC. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
The Woman in Cafe Grumpy. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 BC. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.


Should I ask first?

I try to be invisible and get what I see. If I ask, I know the scene will most likely change and the magic of what I saw is gone.

I only ask if I am in a persons face and there is no chance they would not notice. Then it would be rude to act as if they are not there. So I ask first.

You can usually sense from a distance if people don't like a camera. Some will walk on the other side of the street far away to avoid a camera. Others just have that look that tells you they see the camera and they don't like what might be coming. So you leave it alone. Well, I do.

Some people you have no idea. They are not even in the picture but will come up to you aggresively and ask if you took a picture of them. I'll get into that in a later article.

I hope you enjoyed this little story. As always, feel free to e-mail me at with any questions, suggestions and ideas.




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Above: The Woman in Cafe Grumpy. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 BC. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.



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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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