Street Photography is more than a simple craft of Photography. As a genre, it is greatly dependent on Your personality and Your psychological strength. To fully enjoy Street Photography, You have to get rid of Your fear of getting close to strangers and be able to leave Your comfort zone. Fear is not a desirable partner in Street Photography and in this article I will show You how to not be fearful anymore, but confident instead.
Documenting the human life means to take pictures in public. Unfortunately, there is a growing aversion against photographers, although cameras and pictures are more prevalent than ever.
If You are interested in Street Photography but fear that people might react negatively to Your passion, then I have the 7 Day practice guide for You that helps You to overcome Your fear in Street Photography and helps You to leave Your comfort Zone in Street Photography.
Street Photography – The Extraordinary Genre
There are a lot of easier photography genres out there than Street or Documentary Photography. I would even argue that Street Photography is the most difficult genre that You could ever pursue.
Portrait, Landscape or Animal Photography are perfectly accepted by society and You won’t have any problem practicing them.
On the other hand, candid photography is sometimes seen as something dangerous and that people want to protect their picture. First of all, You should know that candid photography is legal in most places and even in countries where there seems to be the public opinion that it is illegal, it is not that easy to tell and a grey area.
I understand Your interest in the human life and congratulate You on Your decision to try Street Photography. Now that You want to actively pursue it, You will notice that it is a lot harder than expected, from a mental aspect.
People might look at You and it feels intimidating getting more attention than usual. Just because You have a camera it seems that people notice You a lot more. Being the center of attention might lead to missing great photo opportunities and rather than getting close, You stay far away to not raise any more attention than needed.
Doing Street Photography that way isn’t fun.
Street Photography is all about being part of the scene, rather than being a distant silent observer.
But how can You get close and at the same time not influence Your subjects?
Street Photography should be candid. I want raw emotions, real stories and candid moments. If this wasn’t my goal I could simply go out and arrange everything like a director in a movie.
But the candidness in Street Photography is the appeal of it for me. It is real and not some fiction.
To get the images that You want You to need to get rid of Your fear. Could You imagine a Hollywood Director having the fear to move around and change the scene or acting?
The same way we need to be able to move and capture any moment from any point of view. We can only do that if we “own” the street and place. If we have no fear to go somewhere because some people might be against it.
To reach that point, You need to become confident.
Sensing Fear in Street Photography
People have a natural sense and will notice when You are afraid or nervous. Of course, being a beginner in Street Photography and going out to shoot for the first time, You will be afraid that something will go wrong.
It doesn’t even need to be connected to people. You might be afraid that You drop Your camera, that the settings are off, or simply that You won’t find anything interesting.
Then there is also the unknown factor in Street Photography.
How will people react? Will they scream at me, take my camera away, or call the cops?
These are a lot of topics that can facilitate Your fear in Street Photography.
The Reality of Street Photography
In reality, 99% of that fear is just in Your mind. People aren’t that angry and okay, some will say something even in a louder tone, but then what is the negative outcome? Most people will just ignore You and others might be simply interested in what You are doing.
You also don’t get a lot more attention than on normal days. The difference is, that now that You carry a camera, You are more self-conscious and more alert of the reactions of strangers.
In almost 3 Years of Street Photography, I was asked once to kindly delete a picture and maybe shouted at from a distance 5 times. Never had I any physical contact because of my Street Photography, whether in Berlin, Germany or anywhere else that I traveled.
Now that You know the reality of Street Photography and that there isn’t really anything You need to be afraid of, getting the negative thoughts out of Your head is easier said than done.
Let me be clear, that fear in Street Photography is not unnatural. In fact, any person raised in western culture will feel the same, no matter how confident or outgoing they normally appear to be.
We are raised with the notion, that we need to stay from strangers and they are a potential source of harm. Additionally, we are also afraid of rejection and that people might simply not “like” us.
As social beings, we like being part of a group and integrated into society. Being rejected or receiving negative reactions triggers the fear, that You might not be accepted by the bigger group.
In today’s society, this fear has become very irrational. Society, especially in big cities is just an anonymous group of people whose opinion about us shouldn’t matter.
Since the fear of Street Photography is not only irrational, because negative reactions are a lot less likely than what You expect, even the few negative events shouldn’t affect Your mentality.
Leaving the Comfort Zone and becoming more Confident
By now You should have realized that fear is not helpful in Street Photography. In different situations, fear can be a lifesaving mechanism, but for Street Photography it is just a hindrance.
When I started I had the same fear that prohibited me to get the pictures that I wanted. It took me a long time, to build up the confidence to actually get close and take the Street Photographs that I am looking for.
Now I can get close with a flash at night and it is no problem for me.
With the following one week program, I want to give You 7 tasks that will get You out of Your Comfort Zone, built up confidence and make You realize, that Street Photography is nothing to be afraid of.
I would advise You to fulfill the tasks in the given week and concentrate completely on Street Photography. But if You don’t have that much free time, it is okay to complete the challenges at Your own pace.
The One-Week Challenge
Get rid of Your Fear in Street Photography
Day 1 – Take Your Camera Everywhere
The first day sounds very tame. You don’t even have to take any pictures or do any of the stuff You imagined a Street Photographer would do.
Yet it is one of the most powerful tasks You can do to become more confident.
You think that everyone is looking at You while You are carrying your camera. Instead of focusing on taking pictures You are more worried about the thoughts of others. You become self-conscious and people notice that You are becoming more nervous. As a reaction, they are more hostile and question what You are doing.
Have Your camera around Your neck and wear it with pride as if it is a piece of jewelry. Wear it to work and Your peers will ask why You are carrying a camera and what it is good for. Answer with confidence, that You picked up photography as a hobby.
When You are going grocery shopping, wear Your camera around Your neck as well.
After some time, having Your camera with You will feel very natural. You won’t feel any difference with or without Your camera. Also, You realize that people don’t give You more attention than any other day. Some might be curious about Your gear because they are photographers as well, but that is not something to worry about, it is a good social interaction.
Day 2 – Getting Rejected
For some, the next task may be a walk in the park, for others, it might change a long manifested worldview. On this day, You will realize, that getting rejected by strangers is not the end of the world. Rejections happen in real life as well as in Street Photography.
A lot of the fear stems from the psychological aspect that we are afraid of negative reactions. We don’t really fear physical harm since that is an unrealistic encounter. Rather we already fear that people disagree with our Street Photography. That they will give a negative comment or ask us to delete the photograph.
Ask people to take their portrait. Do this until 10 people gave You a no. If they ask what the photograph is for, You can simply reply that You are doing a photography challenge and want to learn photography.
There are two things that You can learn in this task.
First, there will be probably a lot more people willing to agree to have their portrait taken than You expected. This will show You that people aren’t that negative and that You a more positive impact than You thought.
The second more important lesson is, that rejections of strangers don’t have any negative impact on You. The first “no” might feel a little odd, but by the time you collected all 10 You will realize that it doesn’t change Your day in any form. You will keep up Your self-confidence and work on Your goals no matter what the opinion of strangers is.
Day 3 – Standing Out
As a Street Photographer, You still may be standing out from the crowd. The following task helps You to overcome the uneasiness when You are not following the mass, but go Your own way.
Everyone can take “normal” photographs from usual places. As Street Photographers, we sometimes have to break the boundaries to get the one of a kind shot that makes You stand out from the mass. This can be literally meaning to go to places, where no other photographer would go, or simply to take pictures, were You don’t feel comfortable.
Stand at one spot in a busy corner and take pictures for an hour.
Not going with the flow of the pedestrians will make You automatically stand out. You will get a lot of attention while You take pictures and people might be suspicious of Your actions.
The good thing is though, that those people are more interested in reaching their destination than caring about what You do. They simply care more about themselves.
Take that as a lesson and realize, that an influx of attention doesn’t stop You from taking meaningful photographs.
Day 4 – Photographing an Event
Going out on the street to gather first experiences will seldom yield good results. Most of the time You will still be too nervous, change settings on Your camera all the time and in general won’t have a good experience.
To have a first positive impression search for an event where people are accustomed to being photographed and where also other photographers are present.
Although we worked on the mental aspect, going out on the street to do photography still will feel like a huge challenge. Not only might the fear still be present, but the street is a very hectic place and getting any good picture is very hard in the beginning. In most of the cases, You will have a negative experience and be disappointed by the results.
Instead of facing the real world, we search for an easier practice field at first. Political rallies, sports events or music festivals are usually great places to gather some first experiences.
People are used to photographers at these events and be more open to being photographed. Go out and have some fun, search for unique angles and try to tell Your own story.
Try to also capture the event from a different point of view than all the other photographers.
Day 5 – 100 Shots
Now You had Your first experiences with a camera and photographing strangers. The next step is probably the hardest one in this weekly challenge. You go out on the street and do “real” Street Photography for the first time. Capture 100 pictures with people in it.
When I first tried my luck in Street Photography, I was so nervous that I walked for hours but couldn’t bring myself to actually take any photographs. Throughout the 4 hours, I took 2 images, both of which were void of any people.
A lot of Street Photographers felt like that the first time they went out to shoot. Fear is a real thing and apart from making You more nervous, also steals Your inspiration.
You already have a lot more knowledge than the average Street Photography Beginner. Rejection doesn’t affect You negatively, You have no problem to stand out and have gathered the first experience in shooting an event.
I absolutely trust You to do some Street Photography at this point.
To have some goal in mind for Your first session I want You to take at least 100 pictures that show people. Search for gestures, symbols and simple stories that You want to tell. Go to a place where the life of the city thrives and photograph as if You wanted to show the city life to a distant friend.
First and Foremost have fun, it is not about the quality of the pictures, but that You feel comfortable photographing on the street.
Congratulations, You got Your first 100 Street Photographs!
Day 6 – Fixed Focus
If You have a look at Your previous 100 Street Photographs, there is a high chance that they are from a relatively long distance. This is natural in the beginning, but Street Photography is a lot about getting close.
Getting close makes it easier to tell a story, it does simplify the composition and emotions are more clear.
To force Yourself to get closer, You will set Your camera to a fixed distance of 1.5m with a lens no longer than 35mm full-frame equivalent.
Passing the previous tasks, You feel comfortable taking simple Street Photographs. That is alright, but to truly leave the comfort zone and capture great pictures You have to get comfortable getting closer.
Taking pictures from far away will always create a distance to the subject and the viewer feels left out of the scene.
You will also notice that comparing Your 100 Shots to other good Street Photographs simply don’t have the same effect. A lot of this has to do with distance.
As Robert Capa already told, “If Your Pictures aren’t good enough, You aren’t close enough”.
So to get better, compelling Street Photographs You have to force Yourself to get closer.
The easiest way doing so is by setting the focus to a very near distance and working with an open aperture. To capture people that are in-focus, You have to get close now.
Set Your Focus distance to 1.5m and set the aperture to around f 1/5.6. This will narrow down the focus field and in order to capture people that are in-focus, You have to get close.
Work Your way through this task and notice how people will react IF they even react. Most of the time they won’t even notice that You are taking a picture of them when You are that close.
Day 7 – Be Flashed (Bonus)
Successfully passing Day 6, You now have the right mindset to be a great photographer. If any fear is still present, You are able to overcome it and leave the comfort zone to capture great Street Photographs.
From there it is pretty much about repetition and practice. Over time, the things that You learned here will become natural and part of Your personality. Instead of “overcoming” fear You have built-up natural confidence were fear isn’t part of Your Street Photograph character anymore.
If You want to take Your Street Photography to the next level You can also try out using a flash.
Often times I find myself on the street and the light is absolutely boring. Clouds are preventing any interesting light and it can become very frustrating to work with the natural light.
The same applies to the night time, where Street Photography can also be more difficult when there aren’t bright lamps lighting the Street.
Work with an off-camera flash to illuminate the street Your way. In order to have the full effect of the flash, You have to get close, similar to the previous task.
Whether You want to go out during the night, or the day is Your choice, but in both cases, You will raise more attention using the flash, than without.
If You master working with the flash in Street Photography, then You truly have no fear left in Your body.
Mental Aspects of Street Photography
Fulfilling the 7 Day week challenge won’t make You a good Street Photographer all of the sudden.
Yet it does prepare Your mindset in the right way and from then You have every tool available to get better in Street Photography.
It took me probably a year to finally be comfortable on the street and with this week full of tasks, You can skyrocket Your success a lot quicker.
I would guess that Street Photography is about 70% mindset/personality and character of the Photographer and around 30% actually photography skills. I’d even argue that some “popular” Street Photographer have no idea of photography but are able to capture the most outstanding characters, that others would be too afraid even looking at.
If You have passed this week, You can now analyze the composition of photographs, why some are more compelling than others and become more knowledgeable in photography theory.
The most important challenge will be to keep shooting and having fun on the street!