The Golden Rule in Street Photography: Photograph Others How You Would Like to Be Photographed

SF, 2015
SF, 2015

One thing I notice when I’m teaching street photography workshops is that a lot of photographers don’t like having their own photograph taken.

This is a huge problem.

If you want to build up your confidence in shooting street photography, I think you also need to be comfortable being on the other side of the camera.

Why is that?

I think we mostly follow the “golden rule”– we treat others how we would like to be treated.

Therefore if you don’t like having your own photograph taken, you assume that everyone else also doesn’t like having their photograph taken.

But this is a mistake, because not everyone else thinks like us.

For example, I personally love having my photograph taken. I’m very comfortable being on the other side of the camera, and therefore I assume that everyone else likes having their photograph taken.

Of course this isn’t the reality, but this gives me more confidence when it comes to shooting street photography. Not only that, but because I assume that everyone else likes having their photograph taken, I use body language that helps people feel more calm and at ease.

Photograph others how you would like to be photographed

I think as street photographers we should follow the “street photography golden rule”: Photograph others how you would like to be photographed.

So for example, if you don’t like having your photograph taken without permission, perhaps you should only photograph others by asking permission.

If you are self-conscious when it comes to being photographed because you are uncomfortable with how you look or your body image, perhaps you can use that to empathize with your subjects.

After taking a photograph of a stranger on the streets, perhaps show them the photo on the back of your LCD screen and ask them what they think about the image. If they say they like the image, offer to email them the photograph. If they say they don’t like the photograph, perhaps offer to delete the photograph and ask them how they would like to be photographed. Or what about the image they don’t like. Then continue to keep shooting with them until you make a photograph they like.

How does it feel to be on the other side?

If you see someone interesting on the streets and you want to build a quick rapport with them, you can ask them to take a portrait of you with your camera. Then after they take a photograph of you, you can ask to take a photograph of their photograph as well.

I think this is a great strategy— as it makes the photography-making process a two-way street. It is a collaboration, rather than you just grabbing their photograph and running off. (As a side note, don’t give your camera to people who give you a bad vibe— you don’t want them to also literally run off with your camera).

If you still find yourself uncomfortable being photographed, perhaps you can book a 1:1 portrait session with a professional portrait photographer. See how they are able to make you comfortable being on the other side of the camera. Then you can use those tips and tricks to better make your subjects feel more comfortable.

Personally when I’m photographing people on the streets, I like to simply ask them how their day is going. When they start talking, they totally forget about the camera and become a lot less stiff and self-conscious.

Another strategy is that I compliment my subjects. Generally when I approach someone who I find interesting— I tell him or her specifically what draws me to him or her. I will compliment them on their pearl earrings, their blue hair, or their cool tattoos. There is a reason why you singled out a certain person to photograph— so perhaps tell them what exactly about them you find interesting. Once you compliment your subjects, they are much more open to being photographed. However my suggestion isn’t to give fake compliments— give them honest-to-god compliments.

Even if your subject might be overweight or asymmetrical in the face, you can tell them if they have a great smile, or a warm presence. There is always something positive you can tell your subject.

More articles on shooting street portraits

If you are interested in learning more about street portraiture, I recommend these articles:

  1. How to Direct Your Subjects When Shooting Street Portraits
  2. How to Shoot Street Portraits With Permission by Danny Santos
  3. 3 Tips To Conquer Your Fear of Shooting Street Portraits

Articles on how to overcome your fear of shooting street photography

Below are some of my tips on how you can overcome your fear of shooting street photography – and how to be more discrete.

Check out my Free Ebook:31 Days to Overcome Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography

  1. How to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography with “Rejection Exposure Therapy”
  2. How to Harness Your Fear to Become a More Confident Street Photographer
  3. How to Avoid Paralysis by Analysis in Street Photography
  4. How to Become a Fearless Street Photographer
  5. How to Become an Invisible Street Photographer
  6. 5 Tips How To Overcome Your Fear of Shooting in Public
  7. 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Sneaky When Shooting Street Photography

Upcoming street photography workshops in 2015

If you want to become re-inspired in your street photography in 2015, sign up for one of my upcoming street photography workshops! You will learn how to conquer your fears in street photography, how to find your own voice, and join a community of other passionate street photographers– see my full schedule below:

January 2-4th

Downtown LAIntroduction to Street Photography Workshop – CLOSED!

January 9-11th

Portland – Intermediate/Advanced Street Photography Workshop – CLOSED!

February 25th-March 1st

San Francisco – Week-long Intensive Street Photography Workshop – SOLD OUT!

March 27-29th

Chicago – Intermediate/Advanced Street Photography Workshop – OPEN!

April 3-5th

Toronto – Intermediate/Advanced Street Photography Workshop – OPEN!

April 10-12th

New York CityIntroduction to Street Photography Workshop – OPEN! 

June 5-7th 

Seattle – Introduction to Street Photography Workshop – OPEN! 

June 12-14th 

Vancouver, BC – Introduction to Street Photography Workshop  – OPEN! 

June 24-28th

Paris – Week-Long Travel Street Photography WorkshopOPEN!

July 8-12th

MoroccoWeek-Long Travel Street Photography WorkshopOPEN!

July 15-19th

Prague – Week-Long Travel Street Photography Workshop – OPEN!

July 31st-August 2nd

Vienna – Introduction to Street Photography Workshop – OPEN!

August 7-9th

Berlin –Introduction to Street Photography WorkshopOPEN!

August 14-16th

London – Introduction to Street Photography Workshop – Register Intent – NEW! 

August 19-23rd

Istanbul – Week-Long Travel Street Photography Workshop – Register Intent

August 28-30th

Stockholm – Introduction to Street Photography Workshop – Register Intent – NEW!

October 14-18th

New Orleans – Week-Long Travel Street Photography Workshop – Register Intent

So are you comfortable being photographed? How does it feel like being on the other side of the camera? How are some ways you make your subjects feel more comfortable when photographing them on the streets? Share your tips, tricks, comments, and thoughts in the comments below!