Tips on How to Get Rid of Your Fears of Shooting Street Photography

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Good street photography is able to capture fleeting moments in the streets and summarize the entire experience in one photo. Part of it is also accepting that not every photo you shoot will be breathtaking. But before you even think about any of this, you'll need to get rid of your fear of shooting, which many people have. Here are a couple of tips on how to do this.

Editor's Note: Many of the photos in this story are selections from the B&H Flickr Group. Hover over the photos to see who shot them.


Close Your Eyes

When I first started shooting street photography, the people I was trying to photograph looked at me as I was about to press the shutter button. This used to frighten me a bit because I was trying to be the fly on the wall and their eye contact was usually pretty intense. Then I learned a little trick: I closed my eyes. For a little while after that, my procedure was to focus and compose very quickly then close my eyes and shoot the photo.

This didn't last long and eventually I learned to shoot the photo and then give the person a genuine and warm smile afterwards. In most cases, it disarms the person.

Use a Smaller Camera

Smaller cameras like point and shoots, Sony NEX cameras, and Micro Four thirds cameras are often small enough to not look intimidating. When someone has a big DSLR and lens pointed at them, they often think that their images are being taken by a professional. But they don't always act like that if the person is using a point and shoot.

Of course, it also depends on the person: I've had a man look away from me when I used a Leica M9 (but not an M7.)

I recently purchased an Olympus EP-2 and pancake lens for this reason.

Shoot From the Hip

Street Artist and Neopolitan Mastiff

Try this:

- Sling your camera around your body.

- Pre-focus your lens to a certain area; this often works best with a smaller aperture.

- When someone is in range, press the shutter button on your camera while it is still slung down by your waist. You can get some very interesting results this way.

or

- If you camera has a tilting or flip-out LCD screen, you can hold the camera down by your waist and flip the LCD screen out to compose your images.

Put the Camera Down on a Surface and Shoot

When I was using the Leica M7, I was working on a personal project to document the effects of the economic recession on New Yorkers in the streets. The job often required taking candid photos in public in order to capture the people as they were. While in a park in Chinatown, I found a subject that seemed a bit stand-offish but I knew I wanted their photo.

To get the shot, I used my environment wisely:

- I saw that there were some musicians performing a piece in the park, so I sat on a rock close to the subject I was trying to capture.

- I put the camera down on the rock and faced it towards the person I was trying to photograph. I stopped the lens down to F/8 and set the shutter to auto mode and wrapped the strap around my hand with my finger on the shutter release.

- I pretended to be paying attention to the musicians but instead was looking at a reflection of my subject in a glass window.

- While the subject was zoning in and out of consciousness, and was in a position which I felt was opportune for me to capture them, I snapped the photo. After around 30 seconds, I left the area and advanced the film. This way I was able to slyly capture the photo.

Remember Your Rights in Public

If you're in public, you're often allowed to photograph anyone or anything you want. Most of the time, no one can stop you from doing this because you're in public. Keep this in mind if someone gives you any trouble.

What tips can you offer to other potential street photographers? Let us know in the comments below.

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Good advice, thanks.

If you have a remote shutter also, you can keep it in your pocket and just hold your camera at chest or hip level or whatever and most people won't think your taking a picture if your hand isn't on the shutter release.

 This is great. I've always wondered how people did it. Did they just point and shoot? I'd never have the courage to just be able to do that. I'm definately going to try these techniques. Thanks a lot. 

you can actually buy or print out a photography rights book its allways good to know and be able to show your rights   

I sometimes act as if the camera has an error when im looking at the screen, as if im just checking somthing.  so when someone looks at me they dont think im actually photographing at the time.  Its seems to work especially well on public transport which can be very intimate for photographing strangers up close 

 I guess I've never had a fear of street photography because I'm so comfortable with shooting. I'm so into my own world I never give a hoot what others are thinking. LOL

Good Tips ! 

Not everyone wants to be photographed when in public, whether it is illegal or not. Personally it drives me crazy. I tell them to turn it around or the camera is going up there rear end. Works well for me :)

 I use my E-PL1 with Lumix 20mm for street photography. I prefer walking around the city with the camera in my hand (finger on the shutter) and with some practice, you can aim your target quite good. Another good thing to do is to bring a friend, use him/her as a subject or distraction to others so you can get the shot you want.

Good article, I traveled to Southeast Asia last year and did a lot of street shooting with a larger DSLR and found it to be very intimidating. I would not do it again without a small point and shoot! I usually try to pretend I am photographing the local buildings or something, and occasionally manage to get some local people in the shot as well. I also did a lot of shooting from behind people. I definitely have a much deeper respect for street photography now and it's something I plan on trying to hone in the future, having previously stuck mostly to landscape photography. Thanks for the tips!

I have been doing street photography for some time, I use the 'Shoot from the hip method' and it works very well for me. I have gotten some really interesting shots just wandering NYC and shooting on the fly. I usualy use a canon 28mm f2.8 and  either my A2E or my 40D .

Show compassion towards others and your lens will be reward. While shooting from the hip has it's time and place, I don't believe in ******** photographs of people.

Candid photography is more difficult in Paris than in the United States, read my thoughts at http://www.davidphenry.com/Paris/whatisit.htm

Thanks for the great advice.  I have that same problem, if I try to take a photo of someone and suddenly the person look right at me, I freak out and lower the camera from eye view. I used the technique that you mentioned of shooting from the waist with good results.

 Just shoot when the person look at you. This gives good candid portraits. I have written a document about how I do my street photography portraits, what is important and where to start. If you are interested, you will find it here in the INFO section:

http://www.85mm.ch

This was the result of a Magnum workshop. Just ask but be ready for the rejection.

http://vimeo.com/11554406

Small point and shoot (Lumix LX7), shutter priority 1/400, Continuous AF 5 shot per second burst. ISO be damned, that's what Light Room or SilkyPix is for. I also never hold the camera with two hands and never use my index finger to press the shutter release, using my thumb instead. I carry the camera at waist level and at the moment of exposure, I usually look in the opposite direction, over the heads of my subject, never directly at them and never at my camera. I'm usually walking by and the contact is brief, no more than two or three seconds. With this method, a continuous press of the shutter usually nets me 10-15 frames that I can choose from. Having the extra frames for split second candid, especially with zero chance of do overs, is essential. This is because a subject may not cooperate and have his or her eyes closed, or an expression that isn't flattering, etc. One doesn't realize it intuitively, but in street shooting, people's faces change so fast that I've often seen five different expressions or eye positions inside of one recorded second. I also use other pedestrians as blockers to ambush my intended subjects. I position myself a few feet behind and walk with them in trailing formation, all the while using their physical form to conceal my camera as we move towards my target. Then at the last moment, I side slip from behind my blocker and press and hold (with my thumb) the shutter in burst mode. The camera stays at waist height and for all intents, it looks like I was just holding the camera, not using it. I would look like an absent minded or distracted tourist walking by.