How I Overcame My Fear Of Street Photography

There was once a time where I couldn’t force myself to bring my camera up to my eye and snap photos of strangers on the streets. I would watch beautiful moments pass me by, never to realize their potential on the silver halide medium of film. It was gut wrenching, I was suffering and I knew I had to do something about it.

I was new to street photography at the time, but boy did I have the fever.

Nights would disappear as I watched documentaries on all the greats like William Klein, and others…..

To call street photography a love of mine would be an understatement. 

I dreamt about it, it was all consuming.

It probably didn’t help that I was living in New York City at the time either.

Here’s a few tips to overcome that fear on the streets.

Shoot street performers

They are comfortable with having their photo taken and won’t think twice about you pointing your camera in their direction.

It is, after all, exactly what they want.

Attention.

They’re on the street to get tips and draw people towards them. You’re basically doing them a favor by taking their photograph.

Begin by asking strangers for their permission

Ask yourself this… what’s the worst thing that can happen?

Don’t overthink it – the worst is that they will say no.

Nothing else.

Offer them a cigarette, I didn’t smoke, but I would carry around a pack just in case they were interested and wanted to strike up a conversation.

You never know, you might be able to sway them after having a chat.

Start With Less Intimidating People

It sounds funny, but I started shooting older people first before I got comfortable shooting everyone.

Older folks seem to care less about what is happening around them. They are much more indifferent than their younger counterparts.

There was the odd occasion when I have had some soda cans thrown at me, but generally the older generation are less prone to aggravation.

And if they are?

Just out run them.

Go with a friend?

Going photographing with a friend who can offer support will increase your confidence and make you feel more comfortable out on the streets.

Shoot Film

People tend to dismiss film as a less-threatening medium for having their photo taken.

Why is that the case?

I still can’t quite put my finger on it. And if you have any suggestions please fire up a discussion in the comments section.

I think it has something to do with people’s perception of film. People associate digital cameras with an immediacy and can relate it to the paparazzi or most photo scandals. A photo can be taken and a moment later appear online.

With film the roll still needs to be finished, it has to be developed and scanned. It does finally (usually) end up as a digital product, but the process is different.

It might have something to do with the intimidating appearance of big DSLR cameras.

Keep A Diary

Diary
Keeping a diary is a great idea in general.

No kidding.

After you get home from being out on the streets photographing, write in a diary about you felt. What frightened you, how frightened it made you, what you feel you improved upon and what you would like to work on next.

I have used this process in certain areas of my life to overcome fear.

It’s a great way to document and actually see your process.

It’s All About Habituation

The science behind overcoming fear says it is all about a process of habituation.

And overcoming your fear of street photography is just like overcoming any other type of fear.

Following a slow process of habituation will build your confidence and make you comfortable in a environment that would once frighten you.

Fit in

If you are in a sketchy part of town, make sure you either have your street smarts or fit in. People tend to become annoyed when the

At the end of the day, understand that like with everything there is some element of risk. But that risk is what makes street photography so exciting. Ever hear any news reports of street photographers getting in trouble on the street? I didn’t think so.

At the End Of The Day

Humans play an important role in street photography, but they are not the defining role.

You don’t need to have incredible portraits so close you can see the pores on their face.

The power of plenty street photography shots are in the power of people’s identity having been obscured. It leaves an air of mystery and the mind wondering: who is this person, what do they look like, where are they going.

It forces our mind to fill in the blanks.

Take the iconic photograph by Robert Frank for example.

Other important elements you should be focusing on are the lights and shadows, structures and buildings, patterns and, finally framing and composing.

Humans are an element in these, but they are not the only element.

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James Grundy

I’ve been photographing for 13 years and have a penchant for 35mm and medium format film. Black and white street photography is my go-to. My work has been featured in online and print media through a few publications like Shutterstock, Brooklyn Resource Mag, Off The Rails and Collective Quarterly.

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