Street photography techniques: 10 ways to overcome your fear
Some of us are comfortable with shooting strangers on the street – others less so. Whenever I run a street photography workshop at least half the participants cite this is the main thing which holds them back in their street photography. But it should not – and need not – hold you back. Let’s look at how you can overcome your fear and make life easier for yourself.
- Get yourself into the right mindset; slow down, relax and enjoy it; remember you’re doing this for pleasure – not for pain. And have an unwavering belief in the fact that you’re not doing anything wrong. If people notice you, it’s rarely a big deal. If they challenge you it’s usually out of curiosity rather than anger. Just smile, say ‘thank you’ and move on.
- Start with easy targets who are used to being photographed – such as street performers. Whilst I’ve rarely seen a good street photograph of a street performer it’s a good way to hone your skills and widen your comfort zone.
- Work on the assumption that most people are perfectly comfortable with having their picture taken – they may even be flattered.
- Think ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ At the very worst, you may be asked to delete a picture (which I would usually avoid doing, but don’t compromise your personal safety – it’s not worth getting duffed-up for!). In reality, however, most people will ignore you, especially if you have a small, unobtrusive camera.
- Plant yourself. Find a good vantage point / great light / ideal background or whatever and have your camera at eye level and ready to shoot. Most people will assume that you’re shooting anything but them.
- Try the psychological technique of ‘desensitisation’. Spend a few weeks shooting people from shooting from a greater distance and gradually get closer. You’ll eventually become more comfortable in close proximity situations and will think nothing of it. This is a technique sometimes used to treat phobias such as fear of flying, dentists or even spiders.
- Shoot with a buddy. You’ll probably feel more confident knowing that moral support is there if you need it.
- Wear sunglasses when you’re out shooting. This is one of the most valuable street photography techniques I ever learned. Shades put a physical barrier between you and your subjects and completely remove the possibility of any engagement as a result of eye contact. You’ll find that people ignore you and probably even look away.
- Try shooting from the hip. Okay, it’s a bit of a street photography cliche but it remains a valid technique – just don’t become overly reliant on it. With practice, a wide lends (ideally somewhere between 24-35mm) and zone focusing, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
- Imagine you’re not a photographer but a tourist; you’re shooting all that’s around you rather than focusing on one particular person or group.
Finally, be quick when you’re photographing people. Have your camera pre-set and compose the frame in your head before you raise the camera to eye level. Make make sure you turn of everything on the camera that bleeps, flashes or clicks. And don’t look furtive or secretive – you are not doing anything wrong!
My book, ‘Mastering Street Photography‘ (Ammonite Press, 2016), is packed full of techniques to make you a better street photographer. It’s available from me, directly from the publisher, worldwide through Amazon and in all good bookshops like Waterstones and Foyles.