How You Can Build Your Confidence In Street Photography

By @TheMarkDalton

There is nothing quite like the buzz of street photography, really that is where my heart is when it comes to shooting new photos. However for many people, there is an overriding factor that can hold them back: fear. 

I started my first journey in street photography a few years ago in London. I selected Borough Market as my location and really there is no place better. Busy, vibrant, lots of people both local and tourists – there are plenty of great shots to be had here.

It was a lot of fun, those shots are some of my favourites that I have taken to date but it was tough. It was hard to get started and I could feel myself anxious at the start.

The feeling of fear

It is normal, it happens to many people starting out in street photography. With the gear we carry, the thought of getting close to strangers and snapping a photo of them is not an easy thing to do.

Someone could get angry, they could get offended and they could take that out on us. It is an anxiety inducing thought, the idea of someone getting in your face and all you wanted to do is take a photo.  However, if you want it and you want to get those shots then this feeling of fear is something you need to overcome. The only way of doing that? Get out there and start taking photos.

In reality, the chance of you being confronted is pretty slim, sure it can happen but it is still pretty slim all the same. People tend to fall into one of several categories.

They simply don’t notice you taking a photo as they are too embroiled in day to day life. They notice you but they just don’t give a shit, I have taken so many shots of people right as they look into the lens and they really don’t care at all, they just carry on. Finally you have the people who are actually happy to be the subject of a photograph.

But what if I do get confronted?

For starters, don’t be a douche. If you do happen to find yourself in a tense encounter following a photo, start by apologising. You were not aware of how upset it would make them and you are sorry for that, basically what they want to hear to try and diffuse the situation.

Tell them you will delete the photo immediately, show them this action being carried out on the camera through the LCD display. More often than not this seems to do the trick for me but it has only ever been an issue I have encountered once in like 7 years. Even when I faced this, the situation was far from volatile and the guy was really understanding and polite.

As well as that, use your common sense to avoid getting into unnecessary altercations. If you see a subject in the street who is clearly having a bad day and is in no good mood at all then don’t go shoving a camera in their face. Also, this is obvious but I can’t believe I still have to point it out, don’t use kids as subjects without permission from the adult in charge. Just don’t.

Some of my top tips

To help you build confidence in street photography and also help you get the shots you want without feeling too self conscious, here are some tips that I personally do myself when I am out shooting.

Let them come to you

Pick a spot and let the people come to you, if you are moving around constantly you can feel really self conscious very fast. It can be hard to catch good moments when you are constantly on the move so pick a spot and let the people come to you instead. Find somewhere with a lot of foot traffic and a good background where you can literally sit down and let the subjects come to you. This also means people will be less likely to notice you as the simply pass by.

Start by staying away from a zoom lens

I love zoom lenses, really love them. You can get up close and personal from a distance. Personally, I use a zoom lens for much of my street photography but when you are starting out you should use something smaller. If you are low on confidence a zoom lens can be your worst enemy, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Zoom lenses are big, they are so noticeable on the camera and attract attention, start shooting with a small lens and work your way up.

Shoot from the hip

Not literally from the hip but don’t use the viewfinder as much. Shooting from the hip is basically shooting without looking through the viewfinder, it makes sense too. When people see you with a big camera and they see it pointing in their vicinity with the photographer looking through the viewfinder they can start to tense up. They know the camera is on them and that moment is being recorded.

I generally shoot from the hip with the camera around chest height and use the live view on the LCD screen. This allows you to snap away, get those candid everyday shots quickly and easily. When people see you looking at the LCD screen they assume you are reviewing some photos or are tweaking some settings.

Look confident

Even if you don’t feel it, look confident. Even if you are an amateur – try give off the air of a pro. If you look confident, if you look busy and look as if you are hard at work then most people will just ignore you and carry on. When you look scared and nervous, people pick up on it because you look like you have no idea what the hell you are doing and that is when people start asking questions.

Pick your subject wisely

Touched on this earlier on, for obvious reasons – no shots of children (this doesn’t need to be explained either). If you see someone upset and clearly having a bad day then don’t go shoving a camera in their face. If you see someone who you suspect may be confrontational before you take a photo then don’t take it at all. If someone stops and asks what you are doing, don’t try hide from it. Smile, tell them and show them, give them you card and offer to send the photo to them.

Try this!

This is not mandatory but it does work for some people. When you are in public you don’t have to inform people you are taking photos of them before or after you shoot however not only is it polite to do so after the shot, especially if they notice you take the shot, but it can help people with their confidence.

Take a candid shot of someone, approach them, show them and offer to send it to them. Boom, fear gone just like that.

Enjoy it

Work you way up in phases, build your confidence in shooting those streets and enjoy it. Street photography is incredible fun, it is my favourite form and if you are interested then don’t let anything put you off.



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