I want to write you this article on how to practically have more courage to shoot street photography:
Street photography favors the brave
First of all, realize that street photography is probably the most frightening form of photography.
If you take a photo of a flower, it won’t possibly yell at you, or punch you in the face.
Being a street photographer means that you are brave. It means that you have more guts than the (average) person. It means that you are a risk-taker for your photos.
So to start off, pat yourself on the back for having the courage to even pursue street photography.
1. Baby steps: The fishing technique
When I started in street photography, I came from a landscape/architectural background. Therefore, I was afraid of getting close to subjects.
I had my first baby steps in street photography by shooting from a distance.
They call this the ‘fishing’ technique— you find a nice background, wait for your subject to enter the frame, and you take the photo. You pretend to be photographing the background, not the actual subject.
2. How to get closer: The video camera technique
The next step is to slowly get closer. I recommend using the ‘video camera’ technique — holding up your viewfinder to your eye (or using the LCD on your camera), and pretending like you’re shooting a video.
Go to a busy downtown area, and walk around (slowly) and pretend like you’re shooting some home-video. Then while you’re pretending to shoot a video, get closer to your subjects, and click away.
The most important part of the video camera technique is this: don’t drop your camera from your eye, or check your LCD screen (chimp) after you take a photo. This will give away the fact that you’re taking photos of strangers.
3. How to interact with subjects: Ask for permission
I believe that ‘street portraits’ is another sub-genre of street photography. A ‘street portrait’ means you approach a stranger, and ask permission to photograph them.
A simple assignment: approach a bunch of strangers for an entire day, and try to get 5 people to say ‘yes’ to you photographing them, and try to get 5 people to say ‘no’ to being photographed.
The secret is to not be afraid of being rejected. In-fact, if you have an aversion to being rejected, try the ’10 no’ assignment. Approach a bunch of strangers to shoot their portrait, and try to get 10 people to reject you. You will find it is harder to get rejected (than you think it is).
Not only that, when you do find people who say ‘yes’ to having their portrait photographed, learn how to interact with them. Make small talk. Talk about the weather, their life story, or how they are doing.
The better you build social skills, the more confidence and courage you will build in your street photography.
4. The next level: Get close and shoot candidly
One of the scariest things is to get close to subjects, and shoot without permission.
For me, my suggestion is to not hesitate. Don’t think too much when you’re shooting. The more you think before you shoot street photography, the more you will hesitate, and the less likely you are to take a photo.
I also make a practice to shoot street photography with a smile on my face. Therefore when I take photos of strangers without permission, people don’t feel as afraid or offended.
5. Don’t take one photo and run: Work the scene
The next step in building your confidence is this: learn how to ‘work the scene’ (taking multiple photos of a scene).
The biggest mistake we make in street photography is we run away too quickly. Meaning, don’t take 1-2 street photos, and run away. Rather, learn how to take 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50+ photos.
The biggest misconception in street photography is that there is only 1 ‘decisive moment.’ Rather, there are many potential ‘decisive moments’ in a street photography situation.
When you are ‘working the scene’ — you can either make eye contact (and talk to your subject while you’re shooting), or pretend like you’re shooting something behind them. Experiment with both techniques:
6. The ultimate: Use a flash
The scariest thing that takes the most courage in street photography to use a flash. But in reality, when you shoot with a flash in street photography, you look more like a tourist. And the flash isn’t as bright as you think it is.
I suggest: don’t shoot with a flash at night (when you’re starting off). Rather, learn how to use a flash in the middle of the day, in order to fill in the shadows of your subject’s faces.
I recommend using a small flash that is built on your camera, or a small external flash. Get close to your subject, and after photographing them with a flash, learn how to smile, and just say ‘Thank you.’ When you learn how to master shooting street photography with a flash, you will not fear anything else.
More street photography techniques
Learn how to shoot on the streets:
- 70 Street Photography Tips for Beginners
- 15 Street Photography Techniques and Tips
- Take More Risks
- Don’t Think About Composition When You’re Shooting Street Photography
- 7 Tips How to Capture “The Decisive Moment” in Street Photography
- 7 Tips How to Make a Great Street Photograph
- Tokyo Street Photography Contact Sheets
- Video: Why it is Important to “Work the Scene” in Street Photography
- Shoot Less, Better
- Make Shitty Photos
- Shoot Effortlessly
- 10 Tips for Candid Street Photography
- 103 Lessons I’ve Learned From Street Photography
Conquer your fears a little bit everyday
My last suggestion: make it a daily practice to build your confidence. Everyday, just try to be a little less fearful. Then one day, you will totally eliminate all fears in your street photography.
Conquer your fears in street photography
If you want assignments to conquer your fear of shooting street photography, read the free ebook: “31 Days to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography” and check out my upcoming street photography workshops.
Here are more articles how to conquer your fears in street photography:
- How to Conquer Your Fears in Life
- Photography Favors the Brave
- How to Have More Confidence in Yourself
- How to Overcome Hesitation in Street Photography
- Shoot What You’re Afraid Of
- You Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
- How to Channel Your Fear into Bravery in Street Photography
- Don’t Be Afraid
- How to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography with “Rejection Exposure Therapy”
- How to Harness Your Fear to Become a More Confident Street Photographer
- How to Avoid Paralysis by Analysis in Street Photography
- How to Become a Fearless Street Photographer
- How to Become an Invisible Street Photographer
Videos to conquer your fear of shooting street photography
Learn more about street photography
Learn more: Street Photography 101 >