All successful street photographers have one thread in common: fearlessness. Their lack of fear ensures that they don’t hesitate and in that moment of weakness fail to capture the decisive moment. If you think twice, the moment will be gone—lost forever. In many cases there is no time to waste, and hesitation, fed by fear, causes this. However, along side fearlessness, there are some other vital dos and don’ts that need to be applied by street photographers to ensure that they get the shots they want.
- Be courageous! — As a photographer you have the right to be out and about with your camera. It is no big deal—do not lose sight of this.
- Smile! — This will in most cases break down any barriers and put the subject at ease.
- Know your rights
- Talk to your subjects if necessary — Explain why you took the picture if the reaction appears to be hostile. In most cases the subject will be interested in hearing what you have to say. Humans are curious, and the majority of the time, they just want to know more. Street photography can be an alien subject to many, so educating your subjects can help them understand where you’re coming from and why you’re capturing these kinds of candid moments. Of course, in some situations people simply won’t be interested, so respect that and move onto the next moment. Don’t dwell on any negative reactions or let them hinder you.
- Respect your subjects — If someone objects to being photographed, respect their decision.
- Stay calm — Your aim is to capture the “decisive moment.” If you’re agitated, worried or nervous, this could have a negative effect.
- Be bold! — It’s okay to take reasonable risks to get the shot you want. If you see the potential for a great moment, chase it!
- Take unnecesary risks — It’s not worth putting your well being at risk and take pictures of something that could cause you physical harm.
- Argue or be rude — This will make the situation worse. Calmly walk away if necessary.
- Invade someone’s personal space — Being obtrusive and sticking your camera into someone’s face isn’t just rude, but it can be intimidating, too. You don’t want to annoy people, and all you will do is capture someone provoked by your camera, and that’s not representative of street photography.
- Break the law — Remember, in most parts of the world you have the right to be in the public domain with your camera. I can’t emphasise this enough. If you are traveling, exercise caution, and adapt to the local customs and culture. Know what is acceptable and what is not.
Other sound words of advice
The street photographer is inquisitive, observant, and has the courage to shoot scenes of strangers, even while among strangers. As with most skills, practise makes perfect. If you’re scared initially, go out accompanied by a friend or someone else. Try wearing headphones—people are less likely to approach you if you appear to be listening to music.
Whatever the case, over time you will start to shoot without hesitation—timeliness is everything, so eliminate the fear. It is all part of the challenge and excitement. With the right attitude you will find street photography an enjoyable and exciting adventure!
Whether you shoot with a digital SLR, a Holga or the camera on your phone, today’s cameras let you seize the moment and shoot whenever and wherever you like. This makes them perfect for street photography, the genre choice of some of the greatest photographers of all time, with names like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Weegee and Robert Frank turning gritty reality into iconic images. In The New Street Photographer’s Manifesto, Tanya Nagar will open your eyes to the photographic potential of our urban world, offering the tricks and techniques that put you in the right place, at the right time, and let you create amazing photos.
The New Street Photographer’s Manifesto by Tanya Nagar
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