Building your confidence as a street photographer is challenging for many people. Fears and uncertainties can hinder you from realising your creative potential when you’re out in public with your camera. I know this from many years of experience.
In this article, I’ll share with you some of the techniques I use to help me be positive when I am taking photos in the street. There is no easy fix for lacking confidence in street photography. But it’s not so difficult that any photographer can’t learn how. You need to be committed and determined to be successful.
Be Committed and Determined to Succeed
I had great motivation to become comfortable photographing in any situation I found myself. I wanted to keep my job. I’d been employed as a photography assistant in a daily newspaper. Every now and then I was sent out on assignment. Coming back without a publishable photo was not an option if I wanted to keep my job.
I had to learn to be confident in my approach and my camera skills. It was great motivation and fabulous training. Being thrown in the deep end! As a young man, I was painfully shy. I was happier taking photos in private and not interacting with people. Working in the newspaper compelled me to be determined to succeed.
For anyone wanting to improve their street photography, determination and commitment are imperative. It is challenging, but it’s possible for you to beat the fear and uncertainty and find great enjoyment in street photography. Put your heart and soul into it, practice often, and enjoy the challenge of this experience.
Don’t give up easily. You often have to get outside you comfort zone to grow creatively. Don’t aim to remain comfortable when you are out with your camera.
Know Your Camera Gear Well
Being prepared and comfortable using your camera is an important part of being confident as a street photographer. The better you know your gear, the less you will need to think about it. When you know your gear so well you don’t have to pay much attention to the settings, you will be able to concentrate more on other aspects of street photography.
Be familiar with what settings you need to use to get sharp, well-exposed photos. If you’re not sure of these, practice and experiment first in a comfortable environment. Don’t head out to a busy location to do street photography if you cannot be sure if your camera settings are good.
Find a quiet location, preferably with similar lighting to where you want to take street photos. Experiment with different exposure settings. How fast will your shutter speed need to be? Do you want to use a slow speed and include motion blur with moving subjects? What aperture do you need to set to get enough of your photo in focus? Once you have made these choices, you can set your ISO so your photos will be well exposed.
There are lots of aspects to knowing how to use your camera so well you don’t have to think so much about it. Practice and more practice will lead you to use your camera automatically, even when having it set to manual mode. Repeated practice until you have it mastered will help you more than anything.
Set Some Street Photography Goals
What do you want to achieve in taking street photos? Part of building your confidence as a street photographer is knowing what you want. It’s easy to be determined when you set yourself some goals. How you choose what you want to achieve will depend a lot on your experience level.
You might be content with spending the first month getting your exposures consistent when using manual mode. Concentrating on getting more of your images in sharp focus might be another goal you aim for.
Other photographers more familiar with camera settings could commit to capturing ten street portraits in a month, or a week. Refining a particular technique is another type of challenge you may want to tackle.
Take some time to think about setting goals. Make a list. Let your ideas develop. Think about what you would be most excited to master. Then give yourself a time frame to work in.
Be Patient and Scrutinise
Out in the street, watch what’s going on. When you find a location you want to take pictures at, take some time to observe. Slow down.
Very few great photographs are taken on the spur of the moment. Most happen because photographers are patient, prepared, and observant. Having sharp reflexes is a bonus, but they will not be of much use to you if you are poorly prepared.
Photographers build the ability to respond quickly over time. You must start by being patient. Watch what is going on in front of you. Look for patterns of movement. Who is doing interesting things repetitively? When is the peak moment in the activity you are observing? If you’re not in the best place to capture it, find a different point of view.
Watching activity in the street will also help you identify the best places to take photos from. Finding a good spot to base yourself helps you be more comfortable. When you are out of the way of people and have an interesting background, it’s often a good idea to remain in one place. Observe the world as it passes you by can capture photos when the most interesting circumstances arrive.
Returning to the same street location many times, you will build familiarity. You’ll learn the pace of life and recognise the repetitive actions that occur. You can also get to know the people who frequent the area.
I’ve taught photography workshops at the same locations over a number of years. People as used to seeing me there with other photographers. Now I converse with many of them. I know who enjoys being photographed and who prefers not to be.
Smile and Be Yourself
Smile at people. You never know how much it may brighten their day. Don’t worry about the people whole might not return your smile. Leave them to themselves. Anyone who does smile back at you is more likely to let you photograph them.
Be obvious about what you are doing. No one likes to feel like you are intruding on them, but if your camera is clearly visible, this communicates something to people. Most people indicate one way or another if they want their picture taken.
Keep a positive attitude. Don’t let negative thoughts discourage you when someone doesn’t appreciate what you are doing. Just be polite to them and carry on. Much of being successful is about your state of mind and your manner.
Learn to look for the people who are more likely to want to be photographed. Some people love it, others are not so enthusiastic. Pick out the positive people and you will find more success.
Being a confident street photographer is more about having a positive attitude than about the camera and lens you use. Knowing your gear well certainly helps, but it’s just a start.
Set yourself some street photography goals and be patient. Practice and learn the pace of life in the locations you frequent with your camera. Repetitive actions build better reflexes.
Don’t be in a rush. Slow down and enjoy yourself. Pick a good spot to photograph from and then take your time. Let the photos find you. And don’t forget to smile.
Photographing People – A Guide For Shy Photographers
If you enjoyed this article by Kevin Landwer-Johan, and would like to improve your people photography skills, then you may well be interested in his latest book, Photographing People – A Guide For Shy Photographers, which is now available from Amazon.
The book, divided into four sections, is designed to guide you through the adventure of learning to photograph people. Each section demonstrates and teaches how you can overcome the fear of not wanting to impose. You will learn how to manage your camera well. You will also learn how to manage your thoughts effectively to deal with the unnecessary fear that inhibits shy photographers from photographing people.
Kevin is a self-taught photographer with a depth of experience he loves to share with others.
Kevin started in photography working at a daily newspaper in his native New Zealand in the late 1980s. He worked for many years as a newspaper photographer before starting his own freelance business where he engaged in commercial, editorial, wedding, and portrait photography.
In 2002 Kevin moved to northern Thailand. Here he worked as a photographer and video producer. Most of his work focused on providing photos and videos to help support the work of various non-profit organisations working among the rural poor communities.
Since 2014 Kevin and his wife have taught travel photography workshops. These are now based at their rural home, where they offer bed and breakfast accommodation. Kevin has also branched into online teaching and photography writing.