Street photography is an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you’re walking the streets, feeling uninspired and frustrated, then suddenly, you’ve seen and taken a shot that completely changes your day, and ignites that creative spark. War photography aside, no other photography discipline has such an effect on the photographer's mood and requires such a broad range of skills.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a street photographer is fear. The fear of being seen. The fear of being confronted by a person whose picture you have taken. Every street photographer, no matter their experience and ability, will experience some anxiety and apprehension while shooting. And it’s this that makes street photography so daunting and incredibly rewarding.
Every time you take a candid shot of a stranger, there will be an awkward feeling as you raise the viewfinder to your eye and compose the shot. You’ll be hoping the subject doesn’t see you, and if they do what will happen? Will the person react angrily? Will they perhaps even physically confront you? Or will they merely appear a little bemused and go on about their day?
Just after I took the photo above, one of the subjects confronted me. They had an attitude and swagger about them which I had observed before I took the photo, and I had a feeling I would be confronted. So why did I take it?
I made a deal with myself that if I’m ever out photographing the streets and see a shot I want to take, then I will take it, regardless of the potential for something uncomfortable happening. Too often I’ve seen a photo opportunity and not taken it because the fear got the better of me. As you walk away from a missed photo opportunity, the feeling of frustration and self-doubt is far worse than the risk of a confrontation.
The most important thing to remember is simple. You’re not doing anything wrong, and you have every right to take photos in public. There can be no presumption of privacy in a public space. So why not take the photo and see what happens. Chances are nothing will happen, and you’ll continue on your merry way, with the photo and the satisfying feeling that comes with it.
In the ten years, I’ve been taking photos in public. It’s the only photo I’ve taken and been confronted afterwards Think about that. Ten years and one confrontation. Below is a selection of photos where eye contact has been made. None of these resulted in a confrontation. Just smile and continue on your way. Unless you’re sitting opposite on the tube of course. Because that will be awkward.
If you’re ever in need of some motivation to be brave, then all you need to do is look at the work of Bruce Gilden and Dougie Wallace. Their work is truly inspirational both on a photography level and as an example of their clear confidence and fearlessness. This fearlessness shows in their work, and as a result, their work is truly fascinating.
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