Being bold is one of the most desired attributes in Street Photography. It allows you to act naturally in public without being nervous and let you get the photos you desire. But there is a thin line between boldness and being disrespectful or rude. To overcome the fear of shooting in public one needs courage and let go of all the social boundaries that are hindering your ability to get the best images and unfold your full potential.
Having fear of shooting in public and getting close to strangers isn’t inherently bad, nor is it something you need to worry about in the first place. It means that your parents taught you some social standards and that you can function normally in society. While these social norms are helpful in a lot of situations if you are serious about Street Photography you have to overcome them. To move freely and having the focus 100% on your photos means to stop worrying about yourself. As you can see there are enough reasons to abandon your fear of shooting in public and to let go of irrational negative beliefs.
Re-framing your Mind
What are the foundations of your fear and are they reasonable? From childhood on, we have been taught to respect one’s personal space and not to get too close to strangers. They were all potentially dangerous and therefore we built different zones where we feel comfortable acting with different people based on how well we know the other person. For strangers, the safe distance is around one to two meters. If we want to get really close in Street Photography we often violate this safe distance zone and therefore expect negative repercussions. But how the reality actually look like?
After more than a year of shooting on the street the worst experience I personally had, was that I got asked to delete a photo. This has been done in a friendly manner and was literally my “worst” experience. So as you can see all those negative expectations of people screaming at you, trying to smash your camera or attacking you are simply not realistic and the result of some irrational fear.
It easier said than done to overcome your fear, even if you now know that the real street is way friendlier than you expected. Your beliefs are deeply embodied in your sub-consciousness and there is only one way to change your negative expectations into positive prospects: gathering positive experiences.
The easiest way to anchor positive emotions with photographing in public is by shooting in spaces where people want to be photographed and are very open about it. This can be political events, where protesters want to send out a message or other gatherings where people are used to being photographed. Shooting public events and street photography are two different things, but the positive feelings that you receive while shooting events will translate into your everyday street photography. In general, you will be more self-confidence and your impression of strangers will be more positive. You are one step closer to shoot like it is the easiest thing in the world without any doubt in your mind.
Being bold but honest
Boldness in my point of view means leaving your comfort zone, trying something new you thought was impossible before and achieve something outstanding. This can mean photographing in public, up-close and in front of other people. You can stand out without being self-conscious and photograph like it is your natural habit. The streets are your playing field, your place where you feel comfortable to stand out. It allows you to focus on your work, without any self-doubt. Whether you are feeling that you are getting “dirty” looks from strangers, or that some people might confront you, it doesn’t faze you in the slightest.
How can we act boldly but simultaneously be respectful and not rude? For me, it is all about being open and transparent with what I do. I don’t try to conceive that I am photographing in public, nor do I try to “hide” my camera. If you act like someone who wants to hide his activities, people will be suspicious and act more hostile towards you. Respect, on the other hand, has to do with even levels of the photographer and the subject. By openly taking pictures in public people can express their concerns. It allows both parties to realize their rights of taking pictures and having their pictures taken. That is also the reason why I despise telephoto lenses in Street Photography. They undermine the rights of the people that are being photographed because they will never even notice that someone just took a picture up-close.
Overcoming your social fears means boldness in Street Photography and acting on equal footing represents respectfulness. Boldness doesn’t mean to act carelessly and leave negative impressions behind, just because you feel empowered to take pictures. A smile and open communication go a long way.