7 Steps to Get Over Your Fear of Street Photography

7 Steps to Get Over Your Fear of Street Photography

This post is written by James Maher – author of The Essentials of Street Photography.

Astor Place

Hi, my name is James and I’m recovering from a fear of shooting on the streets.

I’ve been capturing strangers for a long time and while I’ve become much more confident and carefree, sometimes I still wake up feeling like when I first started.

Photographing people on the streets candidly from close distances can be petrifying, especially if you’re naturally introverted like I am.  The most common comment I see about street photography is that people are too nervous to try it or that they go out to try it and then freeze up.

We all froze up.  We all freeze up.  Street photography is so rewarding once you fight through these humps, especially if you’re introverted, but the problem is that most people stop before they learn to get through it.

So if you’re completely new to street photography or haven’t had much practice with it,  what is the process or the techniques to help you get over your fears?  Ultimately, time and practice is the only true way to do it, but there many steps you can take to make it easier on yourself from the very beginning.

Step 1: Try Street Portraiture

Street Portrait

Street portraiture is when you ask someone to take their portrait on the street.  It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s easy.  In addition to getting some fantastic portraits and experience with portraiture, it is the best way to quickly become comfortable around strangers on the street.

Start off by picking someone in a flashy outfit.  People in flashy outfits generally want to be seen and want to be photographed and they are great to start with.  Then, move on to more regular people.

What you will learn is how truly excited most people will be when you ask them and it will make you feel good about what you are trying to do.  You will become the most interesting moment of their day and the story that they will tell when they get home at the end of it.

Step 2: Pick a spot and let people come to you.

If you are constantly walking around and moving then it is so tough to not only see moments, but to change directions and run into place without being noticed or feeling self conscious.  Doing this will make you feel like you are invading someone else’s space.

Instead, pick a spot with a lot of foot traffic or an interesting background and wait for people to come to you.  This way, your subjects will be invading your space and the tides will have turned.  You will feel much more comfortable photographing them and it will also be less likely that they will notice you.

St. Marks

Step 3:  Use a small, wide-angle prime lens.

I love zooms.  Many different focal lengths at your fingertips for whatever photographic situation you might encounter.  But if you are afraid of street photography they can be your worst enemy.  Zoom lenses are heavy, cumbersome, and large, and are the most noticeable element of your camera.  It’s not the heft of your camera body that is noticeable, it’s the length of your lens.

When I put that 24-70 or 70-200 lens on my Canon 5D Mark II, every person that passes me by stares at it, whether it’s dangling around my neck or in my hands.  However, when I attach my light, tiny 28mm prime lens, the camera just disappears. People walk by it without noticing even though the 5D Mark II body is fairly large.

The difference is incredible and not only will knowing that people won’t notice you make you feel much bolder, but the speed at which you will be able to manuever your camera will make you much more daring.

Step 4:  Shoot from the Hip and Zone focus.

Shooting from the hip is when you photograph without looking through the viewfinder.  It is easiest to do with a light, wide-angle prime lens where you are used to the perspective, so that you can frame correctly without looking.  Zone focusing, or pre-focusing to a specific distance, is necessary for shooting this way and is a subject that needs its own article.  You can read more about that here.

But shooting from the hip does not mean that you should swing your camera all over the place and shoot randomly.  It’s quite the opposite.  I generally shoot from the hip with my camera right below my neck.  It’s the same frame that my eyes see just ever so slightly lower so that it doesn’t look like I am taking a picture.

In addition, if you are not in a crowded area then it can help to keep your camera strapped to your wrist at your side and out of view until you need to take a shot.  This will keep people from noticing your camera at a distance.

Step 5:  Pretend you’re a tourist who’s photographing the background

I do this all of the time, especially when I’ve staked out a general spot and am waiting for people to enter the scene.  Try not to look directly at your subjects and make it seem like you are photographing the background behind and a little to the side of them.  Then, after you capture the person, keep the camera still like you are still framing what is behind them.

Keep a smile on your face and look lost, like other tourists.  People give tourists a lot of leeway.


Sometimes it’s not the people you are photographing that you need to worry about, but the ten other people stopped at the stoplight staring at you. This is where you need to carry yourself confidently.

Step 6:  Look confident

This is the true key to not being noticed.  It’s so interesting, when you look confident, like you know what you’re doing, then people will ignore you, even if you’re weaving your way all around the sidewalks.  It’s when you look scared and tentative that people will start to notice you because they will pick up on that nervousness.  After all, if you look nervous then you must be doing something wrong, right?  And if you look confident then you must be doing something good.

Even if you don’t feel confident, act confident and bold.  Keep a slight, knowing smile on your face.

Step 7:  Choose your subject wisely


The old ancient street photography axiom goes: “Be careful who you shoot; they may shoot back.”

This is probably the most important tip.  You need to pick your subjects wisely.  If you see someone that you think is dangerous, such as a drug addict or someone with an angry look, then don’t photograph them (unless the photograph will be the best of your life, in which case do anything you can to get it).  If you pick your spots wisely then you will not be as afraid because you know that you won’t get into an altercation.  The times you do get caught will turn into friendly affairs, where you tell people what you’re doing, show them the photograph with an enthusiastic smile, give them your card, and offer to send it to them.

Your biggest fear will suddenly turn into the best moment of the day.

Bonus Exercise:

This is not for everyone, but if you want to take a major step in getting rid of your fear, then here is the way to do it.  Take a candid shot of someone and show it to them after.  Offer to send it to them.  Rip the fear away like a band-aid.

A comedian whose name I forget once told a story about the most memorable moment in his comedy career.  It was the first time he bombed on stage in front of a big crowd.  He had been frightened for so long of bombing and then it happened suddenly, as it does for every comedian at some point.  What amazed him was that it ended up becoming a freeing experience.  He realized that it didn’t kill him and wasn’t even that bad, and from then on the worry went away, he became more confident, and ultimately better at his craft.

Similarly, getting caught taking someone’s photograph is not that bad.  So get rid of the fear and go out and get caught.  Tell them you’re learning street photography.  Couples embracing are the best people to try this on because they will love the photos and want them.  Most couples don’t have photographs of themselves candidly embracing and they will cherish them.

Some of these tips may seem easy for you and some may be frightening to try.  Remember that we all started somewhere and the ones that succeeded are the ones that kept walking out the door to try.  Don’t expect the fear to go away quickly and don’t give up when it doesn’t.  If you are feeling exceptionally nervous one day then that is the day you need to force yourself out of the door; that is the day that you are going to get the best street photograph of your life.

Your goal should be to become ever-so-slightly better each time you walk outside.  Then, one day, you’ll wake up and the fear will be (mostly) gone.

Learn more about Street Photography in James Maher’s eBook The Essentials of Street Photography.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Achyut Hatimuria September 16, 2013 05:44 pm

    Very useful tips. To add on to these, a beginner should try to do weird stuffs in public; that helps in becoming carefree while taking pictures in public. I read it somewhere and not my words entirely.- You may try to stand on the lift turning your back towards the door (believe me this worked for me). While walking on the road try to sit somewhere abruptly or try to lie down on the road (if possible). Those kind of exercises helps in getting bold to take out the camera anywhere and snap anything.

  • idb August 6, 2013 02:20 pm

    Hi James,
    I just read your article a couple of days ago and was tempted to take my camera and try some street photography, so to speak, on a visit to a local shopping mall with my wife. Then I decided that was not fare to her because she would be sidelined while I was looking for subject matter. So instead I just watched for subject matter that I could have photographed if I had a camera with me. I saw several people and groups of people that I think would have been suitable subjects. But then I stopped to think about what it is that makes them "suitable" and later I came back to your article to look again at your subject matter. It seems to me that you kind of street photography singles out what could be called unusual people. Not just ordinary, every-day folks, but people dressed in a quirky way, or people with something else unusual about their appearance. Now it may well be that in New York City such people are more common than they are in a shopping mall in suburban Ottawa, but I still think there is something going on here other than "celebrating people, life and culture". Not that I don't like such pictures that are well done but I need to be honest with myself about why I would do it and more importantly, I need to be honest with any potential subjects if I end up in a conversation with them. Thanks. Ian

  • Will May 18, 2013 10:15 pm

    Love this article, I have no problem approaching people on the street, but not asking to take the photo I find a struggle. I agree with lens size too, so I bought a small Leica for using on the streets to blend in as much as I can.

  • Luis Seco March 22, 2013 02:39 am

    During Carnival I went on a trip through Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. Tried to do a bit of street photography there and found the perfect place to practise.

    Amsterdam is the greatest city to start taking photos of people while losing the fear of it. There are so people going around on their bikes that they make great photos. Also, no one is going to get off their bikes just to complain to you. With time and lots of clicks you will gain the confidence to also take pictures of walking and still people.

    What a great place to start.

  • Dave B March 21, 2013 11:59 pm

    Very informative and helpful article. Have just started getting into street photography recently and each point is completely valid. Thanks!

  • Joe January 28, 2013 06:14 am

    What I appreciate about articles such as this are the discussions that they generate. I find the responses very educational in that they challenge me to rethink or reinforce my own personal perspectives. I've been involved in street photography consistently for the last 6 years. This has lead to self-imposed assignments that eventually lead to varying commercial opportunities from gallery exhibitions, magazine articles, book publishing, journalism assignments, events and portrait work. It's more of a calling than something one does to occupy their time. The more you do it, the more you have; and it challenges me to understand my role in society.

    Unfortunately, there will be those who are threatened by someone in essence trying to "capture their soul" while in public. Lest we forget, we are photographed and videotaped 24/7 when we go out to mingle with the rest of the humanity. THOSE people who monitor your every move do it because they don't trust you. I engage in this art without malice. I enjoy the human race.

    Good article, James.

  • Elizabeth December 3, 2012 06:12 am

    After reading this, I was inspired, even made a video from my day's street photography. Very cool article. http://ehollowayvideo.com/2012/12/01/downtowndenverstillvideo/ [eimg url='http://wp.me/a27Gxx-14C' title='a27Gxx-14C']

  • Luis Seco December 2, 2012 11:42 am

    I travel whenever I can and one of the things that excites me the most about it is street photography. I usually have no problem taking photos os strangers in foreign countries or cities. But I do worry about taking pictures in my own town (I live in a small one, in Portugal). I don't want to bump into the person that suspected I was taking his/her picture a few days before.

    For those of you who are trying to get some courage, try starting with the camera in your phone (mute it). Just pretend you're reading some text.

  • surender rao October 22, 2012 03:55 pm

    i like this article which is is practical and useful tips to practice street photography.i love it

  • PaulB October 22, 2012 03:39 am

    Good stuff, it's an area of photography I'd like to get into more, but haven't found the time - well that's my excuse lol Think my 85mm f1.8 would work well for ths?

  • Trevor October 20, 2012 09:14 am

    I'm interested to see how many of your tips are about being 'candid' and 'hidden'. I'm just experimenting with a bit of street stuff but feel like a more 'open' approach is more honest. Take a look at this video of Bruce Gilden in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRBARi09je8

    I'm not there by any means! But I'd like to be.

  • Carlos Leiva October 19, 2012 05:46 am

    Great article! I'm gonna put everything into practice as soon as I've got time to take my camera and go outside

  • oznasia October 18, 2012 05:51 pm

    Thanks James, loved the article and loved the follow on discussion even more.

    I've been doing street photography for a few years now and I post my most interesting shots on flickr. Some time back I stopped posting pics of kids—candid or otherwise. Why? I noticed that such pics were often favourited and when I checked the other favourites of the people who added them, there were often lots of pics of children and some of them are what might be called 'dirty' pictures. I choose to not help such people get their kicks.

    Also I recently spent a few hours doing 'street' photography on an Australian beach. I didn't think my pics were 'dirty' but many of those pics get a lot of attention that suggests the viewer is not really interested in the artistic value. For the same reason as above, I choose to not post such pics anymore.

    Also, a quick reply to Ketan above, I spent a month in India a few years back and had a great time photographing people on the streets. Yes, many did pose willingly as you say but I never had any of the problems that you describe. If you go to flickr and search 'India street candid', I'm sure you'll see many photographers are successfully doing street photography in India.

  • Grant October 17, 2012 04:24 pm

    James - thanks for the great article.

    I wanted to support your explanations about if it is acceptable to take candid street shots and also some of your tips and techniques. In 2007 I shot and posted one street photo taken in Dubai UAE each day for a year. The blog is still online at http://dubaidailyphoto.blogspot.com/

    When I did this it was using a point and shoot camera - it really taught me so much about composition and camera technique. People are generally fine with having their picture taken, if they see you they'll agree or not and you never take a shot if they have not implied they are ok with it. Also I think you need to have your own in built code - I'd not take pictures of kids ever - that's a danger area for many reasons. Also in countries with other legal / moral codes - such as Dubai - I'd not take pictures of local women.

    I can't recall a negative reaction from doing street photography, most people are interested and enjoy seeing your pictures. The pretending to take a slightly different shot and not making eye contact really works well to get natural shots.

    Also street photography comes from a long history of classic photography from Bresson onwards - it is art. Of course in this digital era it can be abused, but done well it is true great art.

    Thanks again James - keep up the great work!

  • Lesley October 17, 2012 11:49 am

    I'm just going through the photos I took in China the past week and I have some beautiful examples of people going about their daily lives. Like David, I have a 60D and when I travel I only take the 18-200 kit lens which is perfect for what I want. Perhaps being a woman helps, but I always ask first if the subject is looking in my direction - a dip of the camera and an inclination of the head is a clear indication of what you want. If they nod, I go ahead, if they wave their hand, grimace or turn away, I don't take. I always show what I've taken afterwards and am rewarded by genuine interest and lovely smiles. This experience is what makes my travels. I walk around the morning markets, places where the locals eat and shop and it not only broadens my photography experience, I meet some lovely people as well.
    Another thing I do is buy things off their stalls - fruit, a bowl of noodles or a baguette. Poeple often come up to me ans ask me to take their children's photos and we have a little conversation, even if it's sometimes in sign language. I love being part of their lives for this brief moment.
    I find that being honest is much better, I don't sneak photos but I am careful about subjects, like photographing altercations between people who've had traffic incidents for example. Interesting as they can be, they could end badly if you are spotted taking photos.
    I have followed this personal set of guidelines in many parts of China over 5 visits to different regions, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia and will do the same when I go to Myanmar in Jan next year.
    I always come home from travels energised and happy with the beautiful interactions I've had and the people I've met.
    Thanks James for your article.

  • James Maher October 17, 2012 07:27 am

    Hi Arie, I'm sorry that you feel this way, and it doesn't look like we will be able to agree on this issue, but these have been practices that have been done for a very long time. This stuff is nothing new and I am certainly not close to the first person to teach them. I also have never had any of the problems like it sounds like you have, nor have I noticed more restrictions due to street photographers. If you are noticing more restrictions then that is most likely due to fears over terrorism. The are certain areas where this stuff can't be done and certain areas where it can.

    I judge the situations that I get into when I take photographs. I have never been called a pervert but if someone happened to I would go up to them with a smile and explain what I was doing.

    David - thank you, there's no such think as an acceptable wide angle lens. Use what is most comfortable for you. A majority of street photographers generally prefer either 28mm, 35mm, or 50mm focal lengths (50mm is not wide-angle but is great for SP). I use the Canon 28mm 1.8 lens and love it. The 60D is an incredible camera as well, but keep in mind that using the 28mm will be the equivalent of a 45mm focal length due to the cropped sensor. A 20mm lens will give you the equivalent of a 32mm focal length.

  • David October 17, 2012 06:10 am

    excellent article. thank you so much for posting it and i must commend you on the work that you do as well. i am curious what would be an acceptable "wide angle prime lens"? name brands, dimensions etc... i'm a one year newbie who is more of a scenery photography person than a person who takes photos of people but this article has me appealed to me so much so that i want to try something else. i own a Canon 60 D. thank you.

  • Lonnie October 17, 2012 05:37 am

    Sometimes I bring a friend with me and pretend to be photographing him. I have him stand so that my true subject is located nearby. It looks like I am shooting my friend when I am actually photographing my desired subject. It is similar to your background tip and it also gives me a little more security.

    Great tips. Thanks

  • Arie October 17, 2012 05:17 am

    Sorry, but this is bad advice. Unless someone is exhibiting something - street performer, festival, etc., it's not right to photograph them. The argument I keep hearing is that "well they're in public so they shouldn't expect privacy". Really? If you're in public talking to your child, can I just stick my face between you two and ask "wachya talking about?" So what gives you the right to stick your lens in there or zoom in from a far? Hiding it is even worse because it proves you know what you're doing is not right.

    As a photographer, I am finding that the general public is becoming more weary of a guy with a camera whether it's a DSLR and even point and shoots now. They are putting more restrictions on where photographs can be taken and I have been questioned several times by people who want to know what I am doing with the camera. I usually show them that I am just taking pictures of the sunset or something else and it eases their mind that their photos are not going to end up on a random picture, or worse sold. On occasion I have even deleted a picture that had someone in the background because they were not happy to be in there.

    When photographers start doing what you're doing, it's going to hurt the rest of us because of more restrictions. Sooner or later this is going to end up badly if you take pictures of someone who doesn't want to be in the picture or thinks you're a pervert.

  • James Maher October 17, 2012 01:47 am

    Richard that is one of the worst street photography stories I have ever heard. Wow. I would probably rather be attacked by a random person on the street after taking their photo than have a mother start screaming PERVERT in a crowded mall. I can imagine that has caused you a few bad dreams over the years :)

    Ketan that is a very important point. In some areas it's just not possible or so much tougher than in others. I would assume that using a small and inconspicuous camera is your best ally photographing the streets where you live.

  • Michael O' October 15, 2012 11:30 pm

    Get an old film Rollie (fantastic lenses) and carry and shoot from the waist; you are entirely inconspicuous
    and everyone in the street scene remains natural.

  • Ann October 14, 2012 10:10 am

    I think one of the most potentially useful articles on street photography I have found yet. The only thing really holding me back to this point is the fear (honestly terror- got to love panic) of how people will react if they catch me taking their picture. I think this may be enough in my arsenal to get out there and at least TRY it, although it sounds like I should get business cards finally made up first!

  • Ketan Gaydhani October 14, 2012 05:15 am

    Well, I have been reading all these articles on street photography on dps as well as on Eric Kim's blog; and I find them excellent. I sure feel it (street photography) as an interesting try out. But I am from India, and all the points mentioned in the articles are easier said than done. In India it's not easy to keep shooting on the streets without garnering attention. People are not the problem, many will even willingly pose for you. But soon there will be a crowd around you.( out of curiosity, waiting to see what you do next.) Secondly with all those terror attacks happening in India, the police are becoming adrenaline junkies and at times will even confiscate your equipment even if you happen to have proper id's with you. Hence unless there is a group around, it's difficult for a single person to do street photography in India. Another major factor is that there are a lot of thieves around. For many people selling a stolen camera will bring in a lot of money, so if you are not careful, you will lose your camera to unscrupulous elements sooner or later. I envy the people in Europe/USA, who can actually go out and start shooting on the streets. Laws in India are not very protective of the common man; as compared to the laws in USA/Europe. Hence by misfortune if you happen to lose your camera or run into trouble, it's really really difficult to get out of the sticky situations.

  • Richard October 13, 2012 11:00 am

    Superb article - almost wants me want to try street photography again. My last experience a few months ago was at a mall water feature on the hottest day of the year. I just left a camera shop and was trying my new lens out when a mother started screaming out "pervert" to everyone in the area, then the 'linebacker sized' husband ripped the camera out of my hands and deleting all my pictures. Security was called and they interogated me. I am not a pro, just love to take photos. Makes me happy to photograph trees as one of the previous post said. I've read many articles and enjoyed all the comments here with various opinions and legalities by country. While I may not legally need to, I usually ask just to be safe especially with children of any age.

  • Phillip October 13, 2012 06:21 am

    Good article,learn alot , never tried Street Photography but your ideas are a starting point from which I can try it out , keep up the good work james

  • Chris October 13, 2012 05:12 am

    Great article. It's nice to know that others freeze up every once in a while too. I have found that the vast majority of people don't mind at all and many will actually ask you to take more. I do make an effort to ask permission to shoot kids if the parents are available. As far as cultural issues with photography go, you need check those at the door when you enter a public space in the US.

  • Harry Singh October 13, 2012 04:22 am

    Thnx for the wiki link James ....
    All said and done Street / candid photography truly provides wonderful and endless photo-ops.

  • James Maher October 13, 2012 04:05 am

    Street photography is a poor term for it Paula but it's the one that stuck. I think candid photography about life seems to fit the bill a little better, but even that is not close to perfect. Street photography can take place anywhere and of pretty much anything.

  • parvez Bam October 13, 2012 04:03 am

    I Agree that large lens prutuding out from the camera draws attention of public.

    This also causes focusing difficult for street photography.By the time we focus

    more attention is focused on us from public

  • James Maher October 13, 2012 04:00 am

    My favorite thing about this site is the incredible comments. After I read the comments there are so many ways I want to go back to improve the article.

    Nadine it is very culturally important.

    Marc yes if you are going around at night and flashing people there is much more of a chance of getting in trouble. Sounds like you had lots of fun!

    Brian yes business cards can be very important. And the area you photograph in can make all of the difference in the world. I tend to conceal the camera at my side before I take a shot so people don't notice it, but I don't try to conceal the fact that I have a camera after. If people notice you trying to conceal it after then they will be more suspicious. If you act like nothing is wrong after then they will feel comfortable.

    Harry there was a landmark case in the U.S. about this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nussenzweig_v._DiCorcia
    But yes, in general it's best to pick your battles unless the photos is a once in a lifetime shot.

  • Harry Singh October 13, 2012 03:51 am

    Absolutely wonderful article James, Many thanks.
    The discussion and feedback about legality and ethics is also very enlightening.
    In our sue happy societies of today ... it is better to be safe than sorry. Often one comes across horrendous articles about wedding photographers getting sued.
    As long as it is not a compromising photo, most folks will probably be fine with it but an odd-ball person could potentially ruin your happiness.

  • Paula Harrington October 13, 2012 02:55 am

    Does street photography necessarily have to be done on the street? I like sitting on the pier and shooting back toward the the beach. I have gotten some really good shots this way. Most are kids building sand castles or playing in the water. Shooting kids is easier for women since people do not equate them to the predatory type.

  • Gayathri October 12, 2012 11:24 pm

    A very helpful tips James.. thanks a lot.. :)

  • aurelio marsili October 12, 2012 09:37 pm

    Thanks, good article, surely it will help me getting better photos !!!

  • Brian October 12, 2012 06:59 pm

    Hi James.

    Love the tips, I live in rough area, I simply wouldnt feel safe taking my camera out in Public!

    You mention it in passing above, but If I was venturing out to do this, I would have a bunch of business cards printed out. Just with my name an email address and my photo website printed on. (you can get 500 for a few pounds/Dollars.

    I agree with the pont about spoiling the moment by asking permission, I offten use a 400mm lens to take photos of my friend kids. If they know the photos are happening, they always act up for the camera, or pull unatural faces.

    Judging the situation, and being nice must be the most important point, I would say any act on our part to conceal the camera or the fact that you are tring to hide the fact that you are taking photos, moves away from the point of this post. And if a parent spotted you taking photos you have a diffrent situation to explain.

  • Desi Traveler October 12, 2012 06:09 pm

    Very nice post.... here in India for some reason street photography most people consider equivalent of clicking pictures of homeless people. I really liked your idea of showing somebody there candid shot after clicking... let me try the same. thanks.[eimg url='https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/p206x206/539330_3568361605305_2126016157_n.jpg' title='539330_3568361605305_2126016157_n.jpg']

  • Sally Corte October 12, 2012 05:15 pm

    Great article, thank you for posting it James. Lots of interesting points of view to consider as well. I too experience fear when trying to take pictures of people in the street, (I feel nervous even thinking about it), but thanks to your ideas I will try try again, all the while remembering I am after all taking shots with good intentions.

  • Marc October 12, 2012 03:07 pm

    My advice is to be careful and maybe even bring a friend along. I was a street photography daredevil. I used to do street phoyography in cities like Philadelphia and New York – at night, with a flash. I got some great photos but I also got into some scary situations. People are unpredictable and they can be dangerous. This is even more true now than it was back in the day.

  • Phoenix Wedding Photographer October 12, 2012 12:10 pm

    Good suggestions. I have a periodic fear of street photography. Sometimes it comes easy and other time I get queasy. That's what makes it fun. It is a great way to enhance your skills in social photography. Wedding and event photography is definitely easier when you practice street techniques.

  • Jason October 12, 2012 08:23 am

    This is exactly the article I have been needing. I am trying to get into taking photography of people and candid shots. Thank you!

  • Susan @ Travel Junkette October 12, 2012 08:21 am

    This fear is definitely something I grapple with while traveling! Thanks so much for the helpful post... I swear I am going to be brave now, and get that perfect shot!

  • Mike Willey October 12, 2012 07:42 am

    One way to conceal that you are doing street photography is to simply hang the camera on your chest using the standard strap. Using a short lens on the body, use a piece of styrofoam cut at an angle to level the lens if needed. The styrofoam is then affixed to your camera or shirt to keep the lens level. Connect a wireless remote to your camera with the control in a pocket. This allows you to take pictures without your hands being on the camera. Yes, you need to do some testing first but its worth it.

  • Nadine October 12, 2012 07:09 am

    Great article. I have also struggled with the fear factor, and at times the moral dilemma of, do I don't I take the shot. I totally agree though that candid street shots show real life and not a posed version of it. What absolutely convinced me of its importance as a record of our culture is looking back at street shots from the past. Without them we wouldn't have that snapshot of the times that we as a generation now cherish.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/66860686@N07/6833554141/' title='365:38 Touching' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7147/6833554141_97921bf1f9.jpg']

  • James Maher October 12, 2012 06:50 am

    Very important point Ian. You have to look up your local laws.

  • Ian Davis October 12, 2012 06:01 am

    Great article James but everyone, please be aware that the right to photograph people in the street may not be the same as in the US. Here in France, it is illegal to publish anyone's photograph without their permission (and that includes Internet photo sites like Flickr) and you are laying yourself open to a hefty sum in damages if you do.

  • James Maher October 12, 2012 05:36 am

    Thanks John,

    Hagen commercial means using the photos to sell something else, like a product or a story. Selling the photographs themselves as prints or in books is art.

  • Hagen October 12, 2012 05:30 am

    What exactly do you mean by 'commercial'? Selling the photos for any reason is commercial.

  • John Lambert October 12, 2012 04:48 am

    This is my second post on this topic. In Paris, I sat at a sidewalk restaurant with my camera on the table. My jacket was thrown casually over the camera just leaving the lens exposed. I held a remote device under the table and when interesting people walked by, I took the shot. Another way to avoid possible confrontation is to mount your camera on a tripod, and hold another camera. Point this second camera at the scenery (passing traffic, buildings, etc.) but take your picture with the tripod camera. People think you are photographing the scenery, but you are actually shooting them. This works the best if you are shooting video.
    J. Lambert

  • James Maher October 12, 2012 04:42 am

    James that story is terrible. Creepers give us a bad name unfortunately. I just try to be overly nice and enthusiastic for the random times that things like that happen.

    John photographing children is a tough, tough issue. The interesting thing is that in the history of street photography, children are probably the most prominent group captured and make us some of the most famous street photos of all time. I don't refrain from photographing children but the situation has to be right and the photograph has to be amazing for me to do so these days. And I always make sure to have a business card with me.

    Thanks CWT!

  • Sergejs Babikovs October 12, 2012 04:41 am

    It's all I always tell to newbies in street photography, but figured this out for myself on my own, intuitively. I ALWAYS follow these so called rules and the result can be seen at my website (click the Name) . You'll LOVE IT

  • CWT October 12, 2012 04:31 am

    I like to shoot streets often and still learned a few new things here...Great tips!

  • John Bolle October 12, 2012 03:45 am

    Street photography piece here was great. However, PLEASE mention that today,
    it is not acceptable to photograph children. Need permission from the parent/ guardian.
    I photograph children, avoiding their faces; but some parents are STILL not happy and
    will approach me.

  • James Gonneau October 12, 2012 03:35 am

    Interesting timing of this, as here in Toronto, the MSM (mainstream media) has discovered that there are people who photograph people in public, and then actually POST the photos on line. I know, hard to believe, but like most media items these days, its terribly contrived. Must fill those pages in between the car ads, after all.

    Of course, it didn't help that they guy called himself a "creeper" and was posting them on a website that was less art than, well, creepy.

    I mainly stick to trees, as they don't yell at you or ask you to spend an hour editing out wrinkles, but here's what happened when I tried street shooting:


  • Steve McIlree October 12, 2012 03:19 am

    Very good piece. My only quibble would be with Step 3. What has become my favorite walk-around lens is an old Minolta 35-70mm lens. While its focal length is more normal than wide on an APS-C camera, it is smaller and more inconspicuous than even my kit lens.

  • James Maher October 12, 2012 03:10 am

    My pleasure Ranjith.

    Anjum same here and good point. These tips are to help people get over that first hump, which is the hardest, but really time, practice, and desensitizing yourself is the best tip.

    Lesley that sounds so interesting. China is one of the places I long to travel to. Hopefully one day. It sounds so incredible.

  • Lesley October 12, 2012 02:45 am

    I love street photography. I'm currently in China and every day people come up to me and ask me to take photos of their kids, particularly when I'm wandering around the 'regular' areas of town with 'regular' people just going about their daily life.
    People out for a walk after dinner, going to the toilet in their pyjamas. :-) Some of the older houses in older cities don't have their own toilets and the folk have to go down to the local.

  • Anjum October 11, 2012 06:27 pm

    i remember the days when i just started with photographing on streets. i was scared as shit approaching people and all the pics i took used to be from the back. confidence builds up over time, u get the balls to go to anybody u find interesting and take an image up-close. there will still be objections or people getting pissed off, for that you just stop and move on. there is a lot more on the street.

    blog: http://bit.ly/NBBUHZ

  • Ranjith October 11, 2012 03:12 pm

    Thanx for such a wonderful article. I will be more confident when i shoot in future. But how much ever confident, i would not have the courage to show their candid photograph!



  • James Maher October 11, 2012 08:40 am

    Thanks Marcus.

    Katesi It's a moment of life; it's a beautiful thing. Asking permission ruins the candid nature of the photo. It would be nice to be able to do all of the time, but it is impossible to do it and have the same effect, in most cases. A person takes pictures that go hand in hand with their morality. Look at the photos taken by Bresson or more recently Vivian Maier and what they mean to us today. It's important.

    I guess we will just need to agree to disagree.

  • katesi October 11, 2012 08:36 am

    I thought of a really simple way to put this. Noticing someone is photographing you is creepy and frightening for a lot of people, especially women. If you are doing something that has a good chance of scaring or worrying someone if they caught you doing it, and this does, then you should ask permission first.

  • katesi October 11, 2012 08:18 am

    "I personally don’t feel that it’s morally necessary to ask people since I use my moral judgement as to whether I feel right taking the shot or not. I pass on taking a lot of photographs because of this."

    That still means you are saying your desire trump what someone else feels should be done with their own face. It's nice that you consider it but not asking permission at all still means you think whatever someone else may value about themselves doesn't matter if you think you should be able to do what you want with their picture. I understand the importance of public photography when it comes to photographing events, political expression and I'd say things police, but I think it's morally reprehensible to say your own photos trump where someone else wants their face to show up. It doesn't matter if you don't intend to take a photo that ends up being derogatory, what matters is if it makes the person actually in the photo feel a negative emotional response (or possible physical one) or becomes the recipient of mistreatment because of it.

    You enjoy capturing people without even asking whether or not they want to be captured. Why is that right? People that do it on facebook are just as bad, even when it's with people they know. Incidental in a background is still not the same as the subject of a photo. The news stations that do the "headless fatties" reels are just as wrong because what they are doing is surreptitiously making someone the clear subject of images without their consent. Some cultures also find it incredibly offensive to take pictures. In other cultures women whose images are taken can cause their deaths and people from those cultures live in the western world. You are not taking a moral path of least harm here by rationalizing that your intent matters more than possible outcome. I'm not questioning your intent for your photos, I'm questioning your reasoning that because you want to be ok that it is actually ok. The bare minimum activity here to match up intent with outcome is to ask permission.

  • Marcus Davis October 11, 2012 04:42 am

    Great article. Street Photography is something that petrifies me. I like the idea of taking a picture of a couple and then showing it to them. It's a nice thing for them and could result in new business for you.

  • James Maher October 11, 2012 04:17 am

    Some very valid points Katesi and thank you for opening up the discussion.

    This is not meant to be derogatory or the same thing as "People of Walmart." The point of this is to celebrate people, culture, and ideas and to create photos of society that have a lasting value.

    A major part of this is the judgement of the photographer. Each photographer has to judge each situation with their moral compass. You don't want to ruin anyone's day. I personally don't feel that it's morally necessary to ask people since I use my moral judgement as to whether I feel right taking the shot or not. I pass on taking a lot of photographs because of this.

    But at the same time I also do agree that it is an invasion of privacy. I'm personally okay with this. It's not just private security cameras; it's newspapers, news shows, magazines, and facebook. It's a lot of things.

    I do understand your points, but I don't think that I am an asshole for doing it. I happen to enjoy every single person that I capture and that is why I do it.

  • katesi October 11, 2012 03:56 am

    I think this needs to be mentioned with every street photography article but if someone asks you not to photograph them then don't photograph them. I understand what the laws are but there are safety concerns for some people and just plain old privacy for others and they both need to be respected. Yes, you are fair game in public. No, that does not mean that if someone photographs you and you notice them doing it and you ask them not to that they are not a complete asshole for still doing so. But saying you're going to ignore someone else's comfort and safety for your own personal gain is really crappy.

    As far as the safety issue goes, and this never seems to be considered by men for sad and obvious reasons but some people, especially women and their children, have escaped seriously abusive situations and are now hiding from their abuser. Yes, women have been found by their abusers because of random photos on the internet. When you post a face that is anonymous to you, and a location, you tell someone where that person is. If they did not want the world to know you've just opened them up to serious danger.

    Another concern is if someone does not follow conventional body standards you open them up to personal attacks. This is the type of photo that sites like "People of Walmart". Asking permission, although legally not necessary, is the morally right thing to do. Being in the background of someone else's tourist photo is not the same as being a subject. Being recorded by CCTV camera that will never see public eye unless there's a crime committed and it ends up on the news is not the same. Being photographed by someone who intends to distribute that photo without consent just because you are in a public space is wrong. Saying that "being out in public people don’t have any privacy" is rationalizing behavior to a lower standard. You have the right in America to use racial slurs that doesn't mean you should.

  • raghavendra October 11, 2012 01:37 am

    love the article,
    i like pretending as a tourist


  • John Lambert October 10, 2012 06:50 pm

    I was once taking a series of rapid fire shots of a dog running in a dog exercise park. A girl came running over to me shouting, "Don't take my picture! Don't take my picture!" I explained that I was not shooting her. I wanted to say I was taking a picture of the other dog, but decided not to.

  • James Maher October 10, 2012 11:27 am

    John they can be sold both as art prints and in an art photography book.

  • James Maher October 10, 2012 09:56 am

    It is an invasion of privacy in many ways Scott, and many people aren't comfortable with that. I appreciate you saying that you're not trying to bash it and your point of view is completely understandable. This issue is the main one that a person has to weigh before they decide to try street photography. On the other side of the debate, by being out in public people don't have any privacy. There are cameras everywhere taking photos and video for a million different purposes.

    For me, I don't always feel comfortable doing it, but the outcome and the intrinsic value of these photos over time makes me go out and do it anyway. I'm aiming to celebrate people and as long as I feel morally okay with the content of the photo then I'm personally okay with the means needed to capture it.

  • Shobhit October 10, 2012 09:55 am


  • Scottc October 10, 2012 09:38 am

    I've tried a little of this type of photography, but mostly in situations where cameras were everywhere. It seems like an invasion of privacy in a way. I think some of the terms and phrases used in this article, such as "pretend you're a tourist" and "getting caught", kind of make that point.

    I don't bash it and I'm not against it, it's just not for me.


  • John October 10, 2012 08:17 am

    Wonderful tips. now what to do with theimages that can be taken. Can they really be sold as prints and also can they be sold in a book of street imagery? Do I need to have the permission to do any of this?

    Cheers Johnb

  • James Maher October 10, 2012 05:07 am

    It all depends Nancy. You have to judge each situation differently. If you think you can do it without anybody caring or paying attention then go for it. You don't want to ruin the candid moments. If you see the parents nearby and the girl won't notice then certainly ask them. The key though is acting confident when you are shooting. If you act like you're being shady then people will notice you. If you act confident then people will think you are a photographer.

    As for releases, you only need them if you want to use the photo for commercial or advertising purposes. You can sell art prints without a release.

  • Nancy October 10, 2012 04:11 am

    I found this article very interesting. I have been having conversations about doing street photography but that I had to have a generic permission slip to photograph on the street. There was a little girl playing in a fountain that I would have loved to photograph. I think in that case it would have been better to have permission from her parents. Do you agree?

  • Jai Catalano October 10, 2012 04:05 am

    Imagine picking a spot and letting the New Yorker of yesteryear come to you? Google New York City 1970's and you will see what I mean.

  • Mridula October 10, 2012 03:54 am

    I dread street photography! But I think I can try some of your steps. Maybe to start with shooting the background bit. Otherwise I am just inclined to wait till I get the people out of my shot. This was quite a crowded place and not one person in frame!


  • James Maher October 10, 2012 03:26 am

    David I find that there's not too much difference with an SLR with a small lens on it. My 5D Mark II with the tiny 28mm prime doesn't garner much more attention than the X100.

    Put a zoom lens on it though and it's suddenly so much more noticeable.

  • James Maher October 10, 2012 03:24 am

    Hi Shaw,

    What you said is a very important thought about street photography and one that some people have trouble with.

    It is my personal belief that as long as you do it with good intentions you shouldn't feel bad about it. Street photography is about celebrating people, life, and culture. If you know that you are going out with good intentions then you shouldn't worry about what other people think. If someone stops you and asks what you are doing, then smile, shake their hand, show them the photos, give them a business card if you have one, and get into a conversation about street photography with them. I have never had a problem after doing this and you'd be surprised how many people open up after you speak to them about it.

    In the U.S. and many other countries it is legal as long as it's for artistic purposes. There is no right to privacy in public. However, you cannot use them to advertise a product or service or to, say, illustrate an article where it might imply something about the person that is not true.

  • David October 10, 2012 03:24 am

    Definitely looking confident and using a compact camera such as the X100 or X-Pro1 is good advice. People don't like to see a DSLR being waved around.

  • shawmutt October 10, 2012 03:05 am

    It looks like a fascinating and fun endeavor, but I always wonder about putting the pics on the internet. I just know if someone put my pic (or even worse, my children's pics) online I might have an issue with that. How do you handle that? Are there any legal requirements? Can someone get into trouble legally?