The hardest part for many aspiring street photographers isn’t spotting snap-worthy compositions or scrambling to make last second adjustments to exposure settings. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is mustering up the courage to walk up to a complete stranger and take their photograph without any warning. This actually keeps a lot of photographers from getting out there and trying their hand at street style shooting, so don’t feel bad if you’re a little shy!
I’ve assembled a few pointers you can use in the field to help you calm your nerves and overcome your fear of photographing strangers.
Study Body Language
Body language plays a major role in street photography. It will help you predict when the decisive moment is about to happen and it can also help you gauge a situation when shooting strangers. Pay attention to people’s expressions, the way they are standing, their tone of voice if they’re talking, etc…All these things can help you evaluate how open an individual will be to having their photo taken. (Of course, people will always surprise us in both good and bad ways!) With practice, you’ll start to pick up on body language and other nuances that will make evaluating a situation seem like second nature.
It’s not often someone will actually stop and confront a street photographer who had just taken their photo. That being said, it does happen, and if this possibility is what is keeping you from street photography, you could try preparing a loose answer to break out should someone stop you. In these cases, it’s always best to just be honest. Tell them you’re a student of photography practicing your skills and you thought they looked cool. Offer to email them a copy of the photo. This usually helps break any tension and allows them to start trusting you a little more. At least have an idea of what you’re going to say so you’re not left tongue tied and scrambling for words should it come up.
Be Confident, Be Classy
In other words, don’t be bashful, but don’t be over aggressive. Once you’ve had a little success and you’re confidence level is up, be careful not to overstep your boundaries. Don’t shove the camera in a subject’s face, bent on getting the photo you want, without any regard for their personal space or how they might feel about the situation. Look to create something more like an interaction with your subject rather than trying to dominate the situation. It’s all about swagger! Approach the situation with friendly confidence and your subject’s will pick up on those vibes!
When All Else Fails, Be Still
Truthfully, this is great advice whether you’re having a hard time photographing strangers or not. When you’re walking around and moving about, it can be too easy to miss things. But when you’re standing still, staying in one spot and studying the scene, all of the sudden, photo opportunities start to bring themselves to you!
So if you’re really struggling to approach and photograph strangers. Position yourself in a place where they are likely to pass you. You can always take their photo, then keep holding your camera to your eye like you’re waiting for them to walk past–they’ll be none the wiser and you can still get your shot!