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How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

As a street photographer you may have had fear sometimes taking photos on the street. All of us who spend time in the streets shooting know that not everyone likes when you take photos of them. When photographing strangers, our biggest fear is of people noticing that we are taking photos of them or people complaining about being in the frame.

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

The biggest fear in street photography

Every time this thought hits your mind, just realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’d say that 99% of the fear and anxiety taking photos of strangers comes from inside you, not from the outside. You need to deal with your fears and know that the biggest problem you could have is someone calling the police (which doesn’t happen really often, at least it’s never happened to me). In most of the countries taking photos on the street is allowed and you don’t need permission. Always check the regulations of the country or the province where you are shooting.

If you want to photograph kids I’d recommend always asking for the permission of the parents. In a lot countries you can get in trouble really easily for taking photos of minors without permission. If you want to check in which countries you need consent to take photos, please check this link: Countries that need consent.

Requests to delete the photos

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

From my personal experience I have to say that sometimes it’s tricky to take shoots of strangers. Some people have come to me asking to delete the photos in front of them. You don’t necessarily need to do that. As per the law in Canada (British Columbia) I can take photos in public places as much as I like. If I want to publish them it’s different story, but you can take photos without having to be worried about getting in trouble. When people ask me to delete their pictures I do it, not because I’m afraid of them because I don’t want to start arguing with someone and lose time that I could be shooting, and out of respect for that person.

Advice to help you be invisible

Since I started shooting I’ve changed my technique a lot. With time you’ll get better and you will feel more confident asking for permission or framing your photo to get an interesting composition.

I have tried different tips and techniques that you can find on the internet, most of them from Eric Kim (one of the biggest street photographers of our time) and from other photographers like Bruce Gilden, among others.

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

Here is a list of different things people do and my opinion about each of them.

The shooting from the hip technique

You’ll find that this way of taking photos helps you at the beginning but it won’t take you really long if all the photos you do are like this. You need to frame your photo and think about what you want in your frame, otherwise you’ll end up just being lucky.

Shooting from the hip doesn’t allow you to decide, you are just finding something interesting and trying to get lucky pressing the shutter. Let’s be honest, if you want to get good photos don’t do this. Street photography isn’t easy, so you need to be confident and earn the photo. Last but not least it looks pretty shady having your camera on your chest and pressing the shutter when you see something.

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

Here is my advice to avoid shooting from the hip to give you a better result. What you can do is walk with your camera around like you are shooting a video, people will think that you are just a tourist and won’t care that much what you are doing.

Dress code

There isn’t a proper dress code for street photography, but I will recommend you to dress according to the style of shooting you are gonna be doing. If you go to poor neighbourhoods don’t dress fancy. I often dress with damaged or old clothing to fit in more in that kind of environment.

In case you are shooting in the middle of the city my recommendation would be always dark clothes rather than brighter ones. People won’t notice you that much, and if you want to capture candid moments that’s what you need to blend in more.

Camera and equipment go as light as possible

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography camera gear

In terms of camera equipment, you should always go as light as possible. The less you carry the more freedom you will have when you’re shooting. In my case, I bought my first camera about a year ago (Nikon D7200) and even tho I love the camera I realized after a short amount of time that I couldn’t take the camera around. It was too heavy and too noticeable.

When you are shooting street photography you want to be as invisible as possible, that’s why months later I decided to buy another camera (Ricoh GR II). The advantage of this camera is the fact that it’s super small and I can carry it around all the time. Now I take photos every day, and that helps have no regrets when I see something that I want to shoot.

My personal experience

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

Since I started I haven’t had a lot of problems. A bunch of people said no when asking for permission but many others said yes. Sometimes people will yell at you for taking photos and others will try to run away from you, but the more shots you take more confident you’ll feel.

I’ve experienced more problems taking photos of rich people than poor people. Which is funny to me, people who have less are seemingly willing to give more than those who have everything.

Rough neighborhood

As a photographer based in Vancouver, I find my inspiration in neighbourhoods like Vancouver East Side which is known for their problems with poverty and drug abuse in some zones. Hastings Street is the part of Vancouver East Side that interests me the most. There is where I take most of my portraits and where I get to talk and share some moments with the people.

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography confidence

In the image above you can see my portrait of a man with tattoos on his face. When I saw him I was by myself and I wished to take his photo. I won’t lie to you I was afraid. Taking photos of people doing drugs or in bad situations is not easy. I get too close emotionally sometimes and feel bad for taking photos of them, like I am stealing something from people who have nothing. But in these cases you need to be strong and see photography not as a weapon but as a way to capture something beautiful and exciting to you. Back to the point, I saw this man and I hesitated taking the picture or not, but eventualy I did.

I asked him, “Excuse me, I really like the tattoos on your face and I would like to take your portrait, do you mind?”. (Always compliment your subject, it gives you a reason for taking the photo.) The man looked at me seriously and said, “Just one, do it fast because I’m mad.” So I took the photo as fast as I could and after thanking him I left and continued taking photos of other people.

Be brave but also be safe

How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography

In most cases when you are in areas where is not always safe you don’t want to take a long time taking the photo so I switched to automatic and just took one frame. The outcome was great from my point of view but it is not always like that. Rushing is not always a friend of success, but in some cases you don’t have an option.

Many times some of the tough guys you see if you get closer and ask them for a photo you realize how easy is to take photos of them.

Note from the editor: Always put your own safety first and if you feel it would be dangerous or unsafe to take a photo then do not do so.

My point with this article is to help you realize it’s okay to take photos of strangers in street photography. Think about Robert Frank, Bruce Gilden, or Henri Cartier-Bresson. They didn’t hesitate when the shot showed up in front of them, the question is, would you?

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Camil Adell
Camil Adell

is a photographer, writer and visual effects compositor. He lives in Vancouver even though he was born in Spain, and he is interested in street photography, portraits and landscapes. In his free time he writes on his blog.
You can find him on Instagram or his 500px page.

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