How Has This Negative Experience Made You Stronger as a Street Photographer?

Downtown LA, 2014
Downtown LA, 2014

It is inevitable. Sooner or later, someone will give you shit for taking their photograph. No matter how good your intentions are, there will always be someone who will be offended.

You can smile, be friendly, and use all the right techniques — but there are just some people who won’t respond positively.

There will be some people who will give you dirty looks, tell you to fuck off, or threaten to call the cops on you.

As a street photographer, these kinds of negative events come with the territory.

However we cannot 100% prevent negative events happening to us. Rather, we can change our interpretation of the event.

So for example, let’s say that you take a photograph of a stranger and they act very aggressively to you. Rather than feeling depressed from the experience, ask yourself: “How has this experience made me a stronger person?” Perhaps this negative experience helped you grow a thicker skin, perhaps it helped you deal with confrontation, or it has helped you build your confidence.

Let’s say that someone tells you that your photos suck, you have no talent, and no future in photography. Rather than letting these words hurt you, think of how their words can empower you. Perhaps you can take their negative critique with a grain of salt and ask yourself, “How can I objectively improve my photography and become the best photographer I can?”

Also remember this kind of experience can also help you grow a thicker skin in regards to negative criticism. Or you can remind yourself that getting overtly negative criticism is better than no criticism at all.

Let’s say that you haven’t seen any progress in your photography for a year. Rather than thinking: “I suck, I have no talent and will never become a great photographer”, perhaps you can think to yourself: “I’m glad that I haven’t reached my potential yet. My best work is ahead of me, and I haven’t hit my peak yet. At least I am critical of my work enough to know that I can achieve a lot more.”

Let all negative experiences, thoughts, and interactions empower you, rather than make you depressed.

Remember: iron only becomes steel with lots of heat and pressure applied. Diamonds can’t be made without pressure either.

But these things take a long time. Diamonds take lots of pressure (and a long period of time to form). With enough waves, the ocean can turn the biggest boulder into the smallest grain of sand.

So rather than trying to avoid confrontation and negative experiences, try to seek them head-on. If you’re afraid of being rejected when it comes to street photography, purposefully try to seek to get rejected (seek scary looking people). If you hate getting negative criticism on your work, ask people: “I’m trying to become the best photographer I can, help me kill my babies.”

Be strong, be brave, and be you. Life is a valley of thorns, and there isn’t anything we can do about it, but put on a pair of sandals. We can control our emotional resilience like putting on an iron plate to shield us from the piercing arrows of everyday life.

Now go forth and create art that you were destined to create!

If you enjoyed this article, I recommend you read the book: “Letters from a Stoic” and also check out my free e-book: “Letters from a Street Photographer“.

10 thoughts on “How Has This Negative Experience Made You Stronger as a Street Photographer?”

  1. I really couldn’t feel more strongly connected to this post. You graciously talked me back from the edge of quitting after I had a negative experience on the street that I internalized and took personally and even though I was quiet and reserved the rest of that day (contemplating things over and over in my head) I pushed through the urge to run off and be by myself. The next day was even better and in the end I think I had somewhat of a breakthrough moment and let go of how that stranger made me feel about myself and focused on how I felt with my new friends instead and my pride in myself for even putting myself out there. I started to think of it as an accomplishment that I took that stranger’s bad reaction head on in front of the crowd on the sidewalk and kept my head up and said ‘thanks I needed a no for my assignment to anyway’. And really he and his two friends lost out because they could have had a cool experience, story to tell, and some pictures to share, all for just sparing a few minutes of their time. I almost lost out but thankfully you wouldn’t let that happen. Now part of me wants to be tested with another bad reaction to prove to myself I can just shake it off as an annoying barking dog and keep looking for the kittens waiting to purr if someone like me just offers to stroke their fur a little. Thank you again for the encouragement and wisdom. Not a single word was wasted on me.

    1. Giovanni Pascarella

      Frankly speaking, I find quite disturbing and antisocial these assignments that push wanna-be “street” photographers to see people around them like guinea pigs with which you can use a set of “techniques” aimed at getting your dirty self-absorbed job done. Rather than hiding behind a camera, you may stop for a second and consider that maybe, maybe, that person that over-reacted was having a difficult day, was perhaps feeling particularly vulnerable or fragile on that day, and you made his/her life worse even for a fraction of second. Yes, then you can shrug this feeling from your shoulders and go on with your life and your photography, but empathy is the way to pursue, because before trying to be a better photographer, we all should aim at being better human beings…

      1. Your comments are hurtful considering you were not present in the situation and have no knowledge as to what transpired. If you want to be a better human being you might start by asking for the details of what happened before you provide commentary on the situation. For your knowledge I merely approached this young 20ish jockish guy with his two friends and said ‘excuse me may I ask you a question’ to which he immediately yelled at me with a disgusting look on his face because of what I looked like. Now my camera was hanging from my shoulder, not in my hand, and I could have merely been about to ask for directions like any one of a number of tourists in NYC so this wasn’t necessarily about being a ‘wanna be’ street photographer as you so insensitively put it. I was not hiding behind a camera at all. Please do not put your bias opinions on me unless you have taken the time to ask for all the details or you were present during the situation being discussed. Yes this person may have been having a bad day, I never said that was not possible and my post was not about them but about me and my reaction and getting over my internal limitations.
        Personally I find your post to be contradictory as you slam me (without fact checking) and then talk about us all aiming to be better human beings. Maybe start by doing that yourself and we will all be a bit better off. Thanks

        1. Giovanni Pascarella

          I apologise if you feel offended by my words, it was not my intention to be judgmental towards your negative experience: I wasn’t there, so of course I don’t know what happened. My comment was more concerned with the attitude that is preached and encouraged by many “street photography” gurus in our present days, to go out there in the streets and justify everything because you’re on an assignment. Yes, I am questioning Eric’s encouragement to treat people in the streets like guinea pigs, touch them to elicit a response, and similar other suggestions. Is questioning still allowed in this age of likes and thumbs up? Is it a bad thing to have a debate, and try to think a bit more about different perspectives on these topics?

          1. Thank you for the apology. Just to make you aware, photography is a form of therapy for me to learn how to connect with people and get over my self consciousness and shyness and self loathing that has keep me home behind my closed door for the better part of the last two decades. Eric really helped me before the workshop, and then during it when this situation happened, discussing how to approach and think of people and things like this and put the right perspective on things. I had not really connected to anything before I came across this blog so for me its not just about photography its about my life being fixed with the help of photography as a cathartic journey or conduit.

            I see nothing wrong in his assignment approach. I made a few nice street portraits and some of the people were ecstatic to receive so much attention so I know we made their day too.

            I believe other well established photographers in the past have done this even in their own work and they certainly were not wanna be street photographers.

            So I think we can agree to disagree. No one is against healthy and respectful debate.

          2. Giovanni Pascarella

            Good to know that and fair enough if it works for you.
            Good luck with your life.

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  3. A Master Criminal once said that the perfect crime was one where nobody was aware that it had happened. Likewise street photography. The perfect shooting session is not only one where you do not get threatened/shouted at/apprehended by police etc but one where nobody has really noticed or realised just what you were doing. Of course, threatening behaviour is (in the UK at any rate) illegal and if somebody grabs your arm or try’s to grab you camera, hit them hard in the face with it. You are allowed to defend yourself after all. Best cameras for self defence are Canon F1, Nikon F, Leicaflex, any Zenit.
    Also, consider carrying a large monopod – Manfrotto do some whoppers. You have lawful excuse for carrying it as you are in possession of a camera. Anyone threatens or attacks you, jab them in the solar plexus hard. HOWEVER: Methinks the sight of it is a very powerful deterrent !

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