Overcome Your Weaknesses As A Street Photographer

I hate photographing little kids in a portrait setting…  It’s like herding cats…  But that’s not a weakness, that’s a dislike.  Figuring out what your weakness is and using it to your advantage is not only a huge advantage in photography but it comes in handy in everyday life too (pretty sure it’s in the book The Art Of War by Sun Tzu).  It’s important that we identify our weaknesses and improve them if we want to improve as photographers.

In can be difficult to separate a weakness from a dislike because like everyone else we tend to dislike things we aren’t good at.  I can’t play soccer very well so I compensate by hating the sport, problem solved.  Lot’s of photographers are now claiming to be “Natural Light Photographers” because they are unsure of how to use artificial lighting (lot’s, not all!).  Tackling your weakness in photography can improve your photography exponentially (that means a lot).

As Street Photographers we tend to compensate for our weaknesses by giving ourselves a crutch.  Don’t like getting too close to your subject?  Use a telephoto lens (and look like you’re on a safari).  Don’t like pissing people off?  Take lots of photographs of people’s backs.  Sound familiar?  It should, it doesn’t matter where you are in skill we have all tackled those hurdles.  Show me a photographer that was never afraid of upsetting someone and I’ll show you a photographer with a personality disorder.


Finding interesting subjects isn’t usually the challenge, having the courage to photograph them when they look right at you can be.

One of my early weaknesses in Street Photography was having the courage to photograph an interesting subject when they are acutely aware of my presence.  I’m not talking about being in a large crowd and stealing a shot or two here and there, I’m talking about when you stumble upon someone and it’s just you and them and you want to take their photograph.  This would be a weakness not a dislike, I didn’t feel like I had control over how I felt and it severely limited my abilities as a Street Photographer.  To me, a dislike is something that is more of a choice…  I don’t like it so I don’t do it but If I enjoyed it I’d be able to do it without a problem.

JMB_6401Just shoot.  By sticking around and not worrying about upsetting my subject I was able to get six or seven shots like this.

If your weakness isn’t a mental one (that sounds awful) then you may struggle with a technical weakness, maybe your shots are always under exposed or blurry.  Technical weaknesses are generally easy to fix and require a little reading about camera settings and focusing techniques.  Overcoming a technical weakness can be done in a day, focus on working on that specific technique for the entire time you are out and about shooting one day and by the end of the day you’ll likely have it mastered.


An example of a missed shot because of a technical weakness, the shot happened so quickly and I was not set up in a way that allowed for adequate shutter speed.  Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.

For example, when I first started street photography I would have sharp shots mixed with blurry shots and would get peeved because I would miss something really good.  What I was running into was the varying light in the city, one block was sunny and the next was in the shade of a tall building.  When I would shoot in aperture priority my shutter speed would sometimes drop below what was needed for a sharp image.  It took me a couple of outings to decide to either shoot in Shutter Priority or increase my ISO right from the start (whether it seemed necessary or not).

Incidentally I generally don’t drop below 800 ISO when practicing Street Photography unless I find I have much more time with a subject…  Then I will take a moment and adjust my camera to the lowest ISO setting I can manage and still get a sharp image.  My camera is set up in a way that I can take a shot in the quickest amount of time humanly possible until I feel I have more time to marinate on a subject.

Some examples of Street Photography Weaknesses and Ideas To Improve Them

Mental Weakness

Fear Of Confrontation
This is one of those ones that you just need to get out there and see for yourself.  Very few people (read 1 person in three years for me) will actually get angry at you and most of them will not have the courage to actually confront you.  You may get a middle finger or two, an evil glare, or a huff and dodge (that’s where the subjects huffs angrily and then quickly moves away from you and your camera).  When someone does get angry it’s usually easily disarmed by smiling and explaining why you are taking their picture.  It’s a good idea to compliment them rather than saying something like “I’m taking your photo because you look ridiculous in that outfit”.
Look, we aren’t all Peter Parker…  Most of us have real jobs that we go back to at the end of the weekend and it may feel weird if you run into someone on the street you know from work or who doesn’t know about your passion for photography.  Here is the simple truth, most people would be lucky to have a passion like yours.  Seriously, think about your friends and colleagues…  How many of them have a hobby they are passionate about?  Sadly, lots of people just lumber through life without any true aspirations.  Be proud of the fact that you are passionate about something, that you aspire to be better at something.  Most people will respect the fact that you are capable of using a camera for more than a Selfie.
Fear Of Spiders
There is no solution, spiders are the devil.  Sorry.

Technical Weakness

Blurry Images
There are a number of reasons your images could be blurry, crappy camera, lens, slow shutter speed, and body shake from walking and shooting are just a few.  Let’s talk about the most common problem, shutter speed.  Whether you shoot in manual, aperture, or shutter priority you’ll want to make sure your shutter speed stays at least above the focal length of your lens…  Meaning if you shoot with a 50mm lens your shutter speed should be 1/60 or higher.  The two easiest ways to give yourself a faster shutter speed are increasing your ISO or opening your aperture (lower f/number).  Like I mentioned above, I generally start my day (whether it’s early or late in the day) with an ISO of 800 or above.  I also leave my aperture fairly wide (anywhere between f/1.8 and f/4).  Dialing in these settings are a quick way to ensure your images are sharp no matter what lighting you walk into.  *Obviously you’ll need a much higher ISO (around 3200-6400) if you are shooting after dark.
Focus Locking
This is a challenge for many photographers, especially in lower light when anything less than the best cameras have difficulty achieving quick focus lock.  In Street Photography we need to be able to grab focus quickly if we want to capture the “Decisive Moment” that brief second where something interesting presents itself.  If you shoot with auto focus you’ll want to use the center focus area in your viewfinder, this is the most sensitive of most cameras.  If that doesn’t work you’ll want to use manual focus.  The fastest way to use manual focus in Street Focus is to pre-focus your lens to a set distance and wait for your subject to enter that area or use your feet to move them into that area…  This is called Zone Focusing.
I'm Too Slow
Use Shutter or Aperture Priority and you’ll increase your speed greatly.  Bragging about how you only shoot in manual only impresses people who don’t know how to shoot in manual.

Find your weakness and work on improving it.  Don’t spend a few minutes thinking about it and then putting it on the back burner for another day.  Set aside an entire day, week, or month to focus on improving your weakness.  Tackle one weakness at a time and then move on to the next.  You may surprise yourself at how easy it is to overcome your weakness and improve your photography.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments with us here at the site or on our Facebook page.  Enjoy!