Let’s get real about street photography, shall we? If most of us see a well composed street photo, at first glance, we probably would think something along the lines of “cool” and continue on about our day.
Now, if you looked at that photo and imagined yourself trying to photograph it, you might start thinking something along the lines of “OMGEEE! THIS IS SO AMAZING! THIS PHOTOGRAPHER IS THE BOMB!”
Because y’all, shooting the streets is some scary business when you really start thinking about it.
When I started, it was initially walking around the small town I live in. Even though I had my camera, I didn’t take many photos, just walked and looked. The first couple times, I told myself I was working on my compositional eye.
Eventually though, I knew I was lying to myself.
I wasn’t “getting ready” to try street photography, I was scared.
Like, cue the jaws music while I’m swimming in open water with a sinking boat in the distance, scared.
In no particular order, here were my 3 fears in street photography:
- I would get punched.
- I would get arrested.
- People would think I’m a freak.
Pin this image for when ya need a little pep talk in shooting the streets:
One weekend, I had rented a 70-200 to shoot an event (for those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s a lens the size of my leg). I decided I was also going to use it for my inaugural street photography outing.
Please know, being discrete is a goal, so you can imagine I stuck out like a sore thumb. Regardless, I took my gear to a farmer’s market in a nearby city and upon arrival, went to a bar and slammed a mimosa for a little liquid courage. It didn’t work.
I got a few decent photos, but roughly 90% I shot from the hip, so the majority were out of focus images of other people’s waistlines. Quality.
After that, I purchased a smaller, more sensible mirrorless DSLR. I kept going out, shooting from the hip, terrified beyond belief, and getting crap photos. Finally, I annoyed the hell out of myself. I was wasting all of this time (which I have very little of to begin with) and not getting any remotely good photos.
So, I asked my husband if he would bail me out of jail, he said yes.
I asked him if he thought people would think I’m a freak, he said yes.
And then, I asked if we could go to Chicago. Sweetly, he said yes.
I shot for almost 7 hours that day and came home with almost 1,000 images. I didn’t shoot from the hip once. The day was a dream.
I didn’t get punched and I didn’t go to jail.
I’m pretty sure people thought I was a freak though, because I over heard a group of guys laughing saying, “I think that girl just took a photo of me!” I started laughing as I walked away. I realized, it didn’t matter what people thought of me as long I got the shot.
The point of me telling you this whole story is, it’s normal to be scared when trying something new, and street photography is no different. Hell, I was terrified of going to the city when I started this journey and now I don’t think twice about taking a train into Chicago to shoot solo for a day.
When it comes to fear and photography, unfortunately, I don’t have a magical solution. Mimosas don’t work (but they are delish!) and shooting from the hip is discreet, but rarely results in a good shot.
You just have to do it. Just shoot. Put the camera up to your face and take the photo.
I’ve read some people will ask subjects permission to calm their fears or use a longer focal length to keep some distance, but for me, just taking the shot and moving on is the best practice.
Once I finally put my big girl pants on and started shooting, I totally fell in love.
I think the biggest reason I’m so drawn to the streets is the fact there’s no pressure. Nobody is paying me, nobody needs to like these photos. I don’t have to present a gallery to a paying client and keep my fingers crossed I’m delivering everything they hoped for.
If I get on a train tomorrow, spend a day shooting a city and come home to a memory card full of corrupted files, I’ll feel disappointed, but there won’t be any real consequences. If I see an interesting character, but miss the shot, it’s a bummer, but not an end-all.
I could talk about street photography for 5 more pages, but I’ll stop with one final story:
I was at a cross walk in Chicago last week and a woman noticed my camera. “What are you shooting?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I started, “I didn’t expect the rain, so for now I’m shooting the umbrellas of the city.”
“I hope you got one of mine!” She said excitedly.
I told her I did and we chatted a little bit about my new love of street photography. She looked at me intensely before saying, “The things in life we feel like we have to try are the ones that turn into the best things of all. You’ve just changed your life.”
I hope she’s right.
We’d love to hear about YOUR attempt at street photography — or better yet see your work. Share your experiences or link to your work below!
Writing + photography contributed by Ashley Manley.