I recently conducted a video interview with Satoki Nagata, a talented street photographer based in Chicago about his photography and approach.
One of the questions I asked Satoki was regarding his Cabrini–Green Housing, a documentary he did with people in the Cabrini–Green area of Chicago (known to be a dangerous area full of gang-activity with low-income housing). Satoki was drawn to the area, and he was able to take some incredible portraits of the people in the community. My biggest question for him was: “How did you conquer your fear of photographing strangers you didn’t know, especially in a dangerous area?”
His answer was that he photographed a month shooting at his Leica’s minimum focusing distance: .7 meters (2.3 feet).
Satoki said that by shooting for .7 meters for an entire month, it forced him not only get physically close to people, but also emotionally close to them. He often spoke to the people he photographed and got to know them more personally.
Many of us have hesitations when it comes to photographing strangers — especially getting close to them. If you want to build your confidence when shooting on the street, I highly recommend you trying out the “.7 meter challenge” for a month. Of course it doesn’t have to be .7 meters (every camera and lens combination is different).
Some additional points/suggestions:
1. The photos don’t need to be candid
Talk to strangers on the street, get to know them better, and perhaps ask them for a portrait. The shots you take at .7 meters don’t necessarily need to be candid. I actually find it more difficult to ask people permission to take photographs than taking photos candidly.
When you ask people for permission, you step outside of your comfort zone and make yourself open and vulnerable to the other person you are photographing. Shooting candidly takes guts, but the connection you have with your subjects is very shallow.
2. Use the viewfinder
If your camera has a viewfinder, use it. Satoki discourages “shooting from the hip” as it can be a barrier to overcoming your fear of photographing strangers and from connecting with people. Of course if you only have an LCD screen you should use that, but if you have a viewfinder try to use it.
3. The photos don’t have to be just portraits
One of the things I loved most about Satoki’s Canrini-Green project is that he photographed both portraits and “detail shots”. Not only did he focus on faces, but he also photographed chests, hands, and more.
I can guarantee that if you stick to this challenge for a month, your confidence of shooting in the streets will go up and you will be much better at communicating with people.
If you would like to take part of the “.7 meter challenge”, upload your photos to my Facebook Fan Page and write “.7 meter challenge” as the caption. At the end of February I will share my favorite photos on my blog and Facebook!