This is the first in a series of posts covering the topic of fear in street photography.
If you have no anxiety in street photography - like none - either you're not doing it right, or you're sub-human. You should experience a healthy level of trepidation when shooting strangers on the streets. We're not talking full-on debilitating fear, rather a level of un-ease, of apprehension. You have to be aware that you're likely intruding on someone's day, getting in their personal space and you don't know how they'll react. You're likely an unwanted observer and you will raise questions in your subjects mind. But, there are ways to deal with both your own fear and the fear you could potentially instill in your subject. Street photography involves a complicated emotional balance, but with practice and a little self-awareness, it can be done with confidence.
Anytime I explain to people that I'm into street photography, I'm met with several questions and the questions mostly center around fear. "Aren't you afraid someone will catch you taking their picture?" "Don't people find it creepy that you're pointing a camera at them?" "Has anyone ever tried to kick your ass?" And, frankly, my interior monologue is posing similar questions while in the act of doing street photography. So with all of this risk and anxiety, why does anyone like street photography at all? I'll tell you why: it's an exciting, worthy challenge and the rewards are priceless.
Street photography is a photographic challenge on many levels. Technically, it's very tricky to capture candid images of people on the street and make those images interesting. You have no control over the subject, the environment or the light. It takes years of practice to become a truly great street photographer. At the same time, the fleeting moment is part of the allure because you're capturing a moment in time that will never occur again. It's magical.
Another technical challenge is knowing how to use your gear. Although some street photographers set their camera in auto mode with success, there's no substitute for knowing your camera inside and out. There's also the challenge of availability. Not everyone lives in New York, San Francisco, or Paris. If you live in a small town or suburb, you're limited by the lack of people on the streets which can require a great deal of patience or you might have to make trips to more populated cities.
But, lets say you know how to frame and capture a moment, camera settings are second nature and there are people-a-plenty to shoot in your area. Good for you. You have only addressed a small portion of the challenge of street photography because the biggest challenge isn't technical or circumstantial, it's psychological. There will be tension. For some people the tension is no big deal. For others, it's terrifying. Even if you're a shy introvert, there is hope that you can become confident while shooting strangers on the street.
For the past 5 years I've been shooting the streets. In that time, I have learned a lot about people in general and I've learned a lot about myself. In this series I'm going to cover the things needed to shoot the streets with confidence. This series won't cover gear, settings or locations. It's all about the soft skills this time. If the idea of shooting strangers in the street makes you excited, yet nervous (and it should to some degree) this series is for you, so check back soon. I'll be posting about this topic over the next few weeks. You can keep up to date if you subscribe to our email list or use the RSS feed.