How to Be Less Timid in Street Photography

Tokyo, 2016

Dear friend,

A lot of us hesitate before hitting the shutter.

Therefore we end up regretting not taking certain photos we wished we could.

Have no regrets in your street photography

Tokyo, 2016

For me, I try to employ the ‘regret minimization framework’ as much as possible when it comes to my photography.

What I mean by that is this: my goal of a photographer is to minimize regret as much as possible.

For example, I want to have the confidence and the courage to click whenever my heart compels me to do so. However the problem is (even today), I still hesitate too much before hitting the shutter. I hesitate because I am afraid of pissing someone off, I am afraid of someone yelling at me, or I am afraid of having some physically attack me for taking their photo.

What is the worst that will happen?

Downtown LA, 2015

But in reality, the worse that ever happens is someone gives you a dirty look, or perhaps yells at you. And for me personally, the worse that has ever happened to me was that someone physically pushed me.

But honestly, I have been beaten up when I boxed with my friends. I know how to take a punch. And being knocked unconscious isn’t actually as painful as I thought it was.

Why are we timid?

Hanoi, 2017
Hanoi, 2017

Why are we timid when it comes to our street photography? Perhaps it is because we are more introverted, and afraid of confrontation. But regardless of our personality type (whether introvert or extrovert) we all have fear. Fear of upsetting other people, or making other people feel uncomfortable.

But honestly, in your heart, you have all the best intents in your street photography. You are shooting street photography because it makes your heart sing. Because you want to capture the beauty of everyday life. Because you want to immortalize these precious ‘decisive moments’ which you see in front of your eyes— which are fleeting, and will disappear.

Know that you have a duty to shoot street photography. You are a part anthropologist, historian, sociologist, and artist. To be a street photographer is a great duty — and your job is to create beautiful images, to empower humankind.

How to be less timid

1 eric kim street photography tokyo-0000511
Tokyo, 2016

Here are some practical tips to be less timid when it comes to your street photography:

1. Get rejected 10 times:

Downtown LA, 2011 by eric kim street photography
Downtown LA, 2011

Many of us are timid because we fear rejection. Therefore, the quickest way to overcome this is to intentionally try to get rejected as many times as possible, as quickly as possible. Then you train yourself to not fear rejection.

Downtown LA, 2011 / Photo by Rinzi Ruiz
Downtown LA, 2011 / Photo by Rinzi Ruiz

So the assignment is to approach a bunch of strangers, and ask to shoot their portrait. You have to keep asking until you get 10 people to say “no.”

2. Shoot a self-portrait series:

Sapa, 2017 (photo by Cindy)

Many of us are uncomfortable photographing strangers, because we don’t like it when others photograph us. Therefore we make the wrong assumption that everyone hates having their photos taken. But in reality, a lot of people (myself included) actually like having their photo taken.

Therefore, to overcome your hesitations in shooting street photography — learn how to photograph yourself. Shoot selfies of yourself, and be comfortable being on the other side of the camera.

Perhaps even ask a friend to do a modeling session with you— and take headshots of you. Or put your camera on a tripod, and photograph yourself.

Overcome your self-consciousness of yourself in photos, and you will build more confidence photographing others.

3. Don’t think so much:

eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000358
Tokyo, 2016

Easier said than done. In street photography, hesitation is what kills us. I know when I think too much before taking a photo, I don’t take the photo. Therefore to be less timid, it means to hesitate less, which means to think less.

I know for me, I need to walk around for at least an hour before I get in the ‘zone’, and become less self-conscious of myself. When I really get into the ‘zone’ of shooting street photography, I don’t think so much. I just respond. I look, perceive, feel, and click.

What I practically like to do is set my camera up as simple as possible. I want to make my camera a simple point and shoot camera. I set my camera to “P” (program) mode, ISO 1600, center-point autofocus. Therefore when I see a street scene I want to photograph, I don’t think about what settings to use — I just point and click.

Be a little bit less timid everyday

Tokyo, 2016

Nobody can be courageous like a lion over night. My suggestion: try to be a little less timid everyday. Don’t add to your courage; just subtract from your fears.

If you make it a daily practice to be a little less timid, over a year, you will be far braver than you ever imagined you could be.

Be strong,

Overcome Your Fears with Street Notes >

If you want more practical assignments, and a personal handbook to accompany you on your street photography outings, pick up a copy of Street Notes.