Street Photography can be a little intimidating, a quick Street Photography web search will yield a dozen or more articles on how to overcome your crippling fear of Street Photography. Street Photography doesn’t have to be scary, there are some solid ways to ease into being comfortable enough to capture the shots you want. Photographing street performers, artists, or vendors is a good place to begin.
Fortunately, people who make a living on the street are used to having their photos taken and generally don’t take notice of people photographing them. Even if they do, you can explain that you’re a Street Photographer and nine times out of ten they will understand and appreciate the difficulty of your discipline.
In order to make life easier it pays to carry some dollar bills, rubles, yen, or shiny beads in your pocket in order to tip a performer before you take their photograph. I’ve found these type of subjects to be much more accepting after you give them a dollar or two… It’s only fair, especially if you plan on using the image in a way that would generate a revenue.
A lot of people start out by photographing homeless people and I can’t really say you shouldn’t do that without knowing where your heart is. What I would say is consider why you are photographing them and how you would feel if the situation were reversed. I have seen some really moving photography of the less fortunate done by photographers who cared and wanted to create influential photography that made a difference. If that is what you’re after then I’d say go for it.
For more on the subject of should you or shouldn’t you when it comes to photographing homeless people check out my article Should I Photograph Homeless People.
If you think of the least intimidating people you run into on the street these subjects are generally where one starts with Street Photography. There is absolutely nothing wrong with picking the low hanging fruit when you are starting out. Building your confidence with subjects you aren’t afraid to photograph will help you be a more confident Street Photographer down the road.
I’ve seen photographers lose interest in Street Photography because they listened to a veteran Street Photographer who told them they needed to get right in their subjects face with their camera or their photos would be worthless. Starting out this way is not for the faint of heart… You will get accosted or even shoved if you aren’t careful. In fact, I wrote an article about why shoving your camera in a subjects face is dumb.
From A Distance
Distance can be your friend when you’re just starting out. Now I will be perfectly honest and tell you that you’ll want to eventually get closer to your subjects or you’ll miss a large percentage of great Street Photography shots… But with that being said, there is nothing wrong with starting at a distance and working your way closer as you get more comfortable.
From Behind Or Beside
Contrary to popular belief (isn’t that the way it always is?) photographing people from behind can create some really great Street Photography. Granted, it’s rare but when done right it’s great. The tough part about shooting from behind is just shooting someone’s back isn’t that interesting. You’ve got to capture the photograph in a way that conveys a feeling, emotion, or tells a story.
Shooting off to the side of a subject works as effectively as shooting from behind but remember that people’s peripheral vision is pretty impressive so be quick.
As you get more and more comfortable with the situations and subjects above you can start to move on to other tactics like setting a trap (where you stand/sit/hover and wait with your camera pointed where you know subjects will walk through your frame), hold the camera at belly button level and take photos without letting subjects know you’re photographing them (also known as shooting from the hip), and finally putting the camera up to your eye and shooting properly once you’re confident enough.
What were your favorite first subjects? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Remember, you can check out and join the DecisiveShot Street Photography Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/groups/decisiveshot/.