Street Photography covers a raw state of the streets. Nothing is planned and organized, every photograph tells the truth, and nothing artificial is added to it. Street Photographers' main aim is to keep it real but it is not as simple as it sounds. It is a challenge to get that camera on display, ready to click the shot, in front of strangers.
Despite being passionate about street photography, a majority of photographers come face to face with the fears that accompany it. Unfortunately, many are never able to deal with these fears completely which brings us here to talk about it, to learn from the experiences of those who faced these fears, and to know what you think of it. Street photography can be scary business, however, it is not necessary to overcome all those fears to be a street photographer.
What Is Fear?
To understand fear, we must divide street photography into two subcategories. The first, the non-living and second, the living.
The non-living includes sight, infrastructure, street, vehicle, discarded item, and anything that can't raise questions even if you aim your camera on it for hours.
The second, ie, the living is where the trouble starts. Plants, trees, birds, strays, strangers, kids, adults, elderly, and emotions come under the living. Now, the strays, the birds, the trees say nothing but humans are the only source of fear. Why? Because they respond when they notice, it is the human tendency.
Everyone learned the lesson of staying away from strangers in childhood. Street photographers understand that they are standing on a thin line where they can be easily misunderstood for that stranger whom anyone can find suspicious.
Why Fear Arise?
What if someone gets offended? What if I can’t answer? What if I get hurt? What if they won't understand? Street Photographers face so many what-ifs at least once. When these what-ifs stop you from clicking your perfect shot, that’s the fear taking control of your actions. Everyone who notices a photographer will not stop to inquire but the fear of “what if they might inquire” becomes a concern.
Now, photographers are not superheroes, at times, they may lose track of their surroundings in search of their desired click. Doing their jobs can annoy people. And the thought of such an incident taking place gives rise to the fear.
Fear Comes At A Cost
Fear takes different forms based on your personality, your environment, and your ideas of photography. If you give in to your fears, it leads you to failure. And the more fine photographs you lose because of fear, the more it sneaks in between you and your passion. Your only source of motivation is the shots that inspired you to take up street photography. Those shots were also clicked with the same fears inside, the only difference was that these fears were pushed to a corner, and passion was allowed to take control.
Fear Is A Good Sign
Point to be noted that this fear bothers you when you truly want to click a shot. Fear is an alerting emotion, it warns you beforehand of the consequences of every single photograph you take. Those who have overcome this state might take it as a tiny obstacle, but those who struggle from their fears must know that it is not bad to warn yourself. Fear gives you an opportunity to plan, to learn before you act.
Fear Less Not Fearless
Yes, you read it correctly, don’t let your fears dominate you, but also stay alert for your own safety. It is neither possible nor good to get rid of these fears. It is because of these fears that you are always aware of your surroundings. Even if it is a rare scenario, safety should come first. Hence, it is important to maintain a balance between your fears and your passion.
Ways To Overcome Fears
There’s a whole community of millions of genuine street photographers like you, who are only looking for a shot and nothing more. Still, the fact remains undeniable that only you can rescue yourself on the streets. So, the fear is common, and yet everyone deals with it separately. Now, any of the below-mentioned events rarely take place but the possibility of it happening bothers you. So, let’s talk about these common fears first.
The fear of the safety of equipment/ getting mugged
Let’s be honest, the camera in your hand usually makes you the odd one out. In India, this thought crosses every photographer’s mind once. Photographers are just moving bodies whose soul lies in their lenses. Someone snatching that camera is every photographer’s nightmare. Another scenario when someone smashes your gadget to oppose what you are doing. You know nothing can be done when the harm is already made. So, staying alert from the moment you step out is the first thing that’s to be done.
How to ensure the safety of your gadgets? Carry a backpack with you, so that you have one item in your hands at a time. Keep your phones on silent and turn off the internet if you think it can distract you, especially, when you are going to a less popular corner of the city. Make sure your actions are not flaunting your gadget.
The fear of upsetting the subject
You are not alone if the fear of upsetting anyone is stopping you from giving your best. It is common because you believe photographing strangers is invading their privacy. This guilt feeling makes you anxious and forces you into thinking that you deserve to be treated badly.
How to face it? Face it by knowing the truth that people care lesser than you think. Very rarely anyone will care enough to walk up to you and ask what is it that you are doing. If that happens, be confident, and tell them more about your project. Show them your photographs and offer to share their photographs with them.
The fear of hesitation
You have the frame, you have the subject but the biggest deal is that shutter sound. Without it the photograph only remains in your memories, it will never become a part of your best work. This happens with many photographers, they just can’t get the shot.
How to face it? Remember no one is born perfect and you can start with randomly talking to people and asking for permission to take their picture. Oh yes, they can say no but it will help you in building courage. You can only break the ice between you and the streets by clicking more and more pictures.
The fear of being an introvert
Many introverts think street photography can’t be their field of work, even if they are passionate about it. But is it true? Do you really need to interact while on the streets? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the time, place, and subject.
How to face it? If talking to strangers is not your thing then just prepare yourself for any such encounters beforehand. Think of the answers to the two main questions: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And keep your answers more professional than personal.
The fear of specific places
Many photographers fear shooting in crowded places, some fear shooting in new places, while some fear from specific places, for example, religious places. And the reasons for fearing is different in every case.
How to face it? If crowded places aren’t your thing then try to reach the same place before the peak hours. It will be best if you find yourself a couple of places from where you can get desired shots when it gets congested.
The search for something new takes street photographers specifically to far off places they have never seen before. But if that’s your fear, then just explore the place before you start shooting there as it is important to be comfortable with the streets. You can also go for a walk in the newfound location with your friends and later come back for your work.
If religious places make you anxious, then certainly you are not alone. Every place has a different set of rules, either you are allowed to take photos everywhere or nowhere, either you can not take the photo when in the main area or you are asked to deposit your cameras outside. Sometimes people around might object on photographing even if it is not prohibited.
Look around for the sign to be sure if photography is prohibited inside. Confirm it with any nearby storekeeper to be certain.
The fear of physical attacks/ being yelled at
No one wants to be a center of attention when on the streets. No street photographer wishes for everyone to stare at them. What if someone you photographed overreacts? Moreover, threatens you?
How to face it? Well, first of all always remember to stay calm, even if you know the other one is overreacting. Yes, you are doing no wrong thing but you don’t know where the other person is coming from. It could be that a person’s having a bad day. In such a case, when talking doesn’t work, all you can do is to offer to delete the photograph and let it go.
The fear of cops coming for you
If the situation ever gets worse, the subject or anyone who is suspecting you to be a criminal may just call the cops on you. But aren’t you just minding your own business?
How to face it? The only way to face this fear is by being well aware of the laws of the nation in which you are photographing. In India, understand that you aren’t doing anything wrong. Legally, no one can stop you from clicking photographs in a public place.
Make Peace With Fears
Now that you know both positive and negative aspects of fear, it's time to analyze, to look inside and check if there’s something wrong from your end that’s bringing unwanted attention towards you.
A safe distance and the backsides
Yes, it is usually shared by street photographers that getting closer to your subject is one essential part of capturing a perfect shot. Well, is it? Because this idea of getting close may not work in every community. The reality is a lot different than that. You can click a great picture even if your subject is far from the lens.
In the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a french photographer and a pioneer of Street Photography, "To take a photograph is to align, the head, the eye, and the heart. It's a way of life."
Bresson stayed far from the subject or clicked the subject from behind and never missed what looked like a fine capture. He was still able to get award-winning shots. No wonder the world knows him as the master of candid photography, which is another name for street photography. Another lesson learned from Bresson, ‘if you can’t face the subject, click from behind.’
Many a time, your subject will not even notice you but the people around will note your existence. This happens when you stay in one place, mostly waiting for a subject to pass by. Always try to stay away from the limelight.
The smaller the better
The bigger your gadget, the more eyes stare at you. And you are looking for everything candid. So, keep it simple, a prime lens, a pocket camera or simply your cell phone will work.
Always make sure you have your camera set on your desired settings before you go out. This will save you time and you’ll only click the photos not shift the settings before each photo you take.
Learn to pretend
This is a very important way to save yourself from the majority of troubles. When you won’t react, the other person will ignore it too. So, if your subject or anyone around looks at you, just focus on your camera as if you haven’t got what you are looking for. The lens is the best thing you can hide behind.
A smile goes a long way/ Acknowledge
Try not to make any eye contacts in the first place. However, it is not possible to be invisible, so don’t even make that failed effort, instead acknowledge your subject. If someone approaches you, just smile and what more comforting is a thank you.
Either mix in or play the tourist
Although becoming a part of the crowd, going unnoticed has its own benefits, that’s a difficult case. So, if you can’t become one of the crowd, become the tourist. Pretend as if you are focussing on what’s behind your subject instead of the subject itself. Usually, people don’t stop the tourist and hence you get the advantage.
Stay calm/ Be confident
When you walk down the lane minding your own business, no one says a word. When you stop everywhere and are constantly looking for something, then they raise eyebrows. Humans can sense nervousness, and it points out that you must be doing something wrong. Being nervous when on streets is like getting caught on a crime spot when you did nothing.
Be prepared to answer
As discussed earlier, always be prepared to answer some common questions. Like- where are you from, what are you doing here, is it something you need, and so on…
Try street portraiture
Street Portraits are when you ask random people on the streets to take photographs. It’s not easy but it can be a real savior. Start with those who look like they are out for fun not on business. Then move to simple people. To your surprise, you can end up becoming someone’s best part of the day. And worse is just a no.
Go for large groups
The group of people who are so involved in their selves is one way to start safely. For example, kids playing, gathering at a tea stall, or at a newspaper stall.
Choose the subject wisely
The journey of street photographers takes them on unseen roads, closer to strangers every time they are out. For example, if you are out capturing anyone who is up for anything illegal, let’s say you noticed a guy selling weed in the corner, and there you invite danger. There are two possibilities, either you can talk it out or you are in for risk. So, always choose your subject wisely.
A good day
Often artists turn towards creating a masterpiece to let their emotions flow through their works. Unlike other art forms, street photography is less about photographers’ inner self and more about the outer world. In simple words, don’t go for a stroll just because you are having a bad day, especially if you are new to street photography. On the streets, you may have to face different people and you may end up making your day worse. Only those who can switch modes when shooting the streets should take this risk. Rest wait for a good day and a fresh start.
Learn From The Professionals
Of course, it is easier said than done. And that is why we asked our team of street photographers and videographers to share their personal experiences of the streets.
What was your biggest fear? How did you face it?
Ajay is a part of team Delhi and tells about his biggest fear and the day he faced it, "Mostly I do solo Photography. and I love to explore new places. So 2018 I was on a signature bridge for a story. While walking I went off track and reached a little further and reached an unknown place which was located on the opposite side of the bridge. Some locals of that area tried to snatch my camera but the cops arrived on time. I was rescued but the fear of my camera getting my camera snatched remained. Because I'm coming from the very middle-class background where I have to save before I can afford another camera I know my story is a little bit crazy but I'm up for any risks when it is about Photography."
What is your experience of the streets as a female photographer?
Prachi, a member of the team Mumbai tells, "When I decided to pursue photography as my career, I took to streets even after knowing I too could be a subject of observation to men/people around me. I often become a subject of attention, as there are people in our society who still think photography is only for men. Eventually, I got used to it and started using this attention to my advantage. The fact that there is very little presence of women in street photography, made me take this as a challenge to change this perception and give my best. Since then I have made this clear to myself and want to make it clear to the society as well that's it's not about the gender but about the capabilities."
What challenges do you face as a cinematographer? What bother people the most? Sushank, a member of the videography team explains, "While clicking a photo is a split-second thing, it takes pausing on the subject, and focusing for a few moments to get a video clip. People who are busy with their chores, let's say, vendors, rickshaw pullers rarely notice and object but suppose an elderly couple is walking towards me and I focus my gadget on them then chances are very high that they'll get angry on me for filming them. Now focusing your gadget on anyone can make them uncomfortable and therefore I had several incidents in the beginning when people were quite offended. After that, I changed my method and started to take permission. Now, I tell about my work, my Instagram account and show my previous videos whenever needed. I observed that people are usually concerned if they are being filmed for news or advertising purposes, so I make it clear that these videos are for my personal project and will not be used for any marketing, advertising, and all. I mostly get support, yes with some exceptions but I still manage to get a fine video clip without facing many objections."
Any serious encounter?
Aman, a part of the team Kolkata recalls, "One fine day, I was shooting with one of my friends at Kumortuli, Kolkata. So that time flash photography was in trend and I wanted to try that. We're roaming in the alleys of Kumortuli and I saw a man who's doing some work in front of a shop so I decided to click him with the use of flash. So I hit the flash on his face and he was like what you've done. I said that I've clicked the photo of the shop and he asked me to show the photograph. I remember I've some issues with the date and time in my camera settings, so when I tap the button then some other photograph came first and he said that 'oh you're fooling me, this is not the picture.' I said I know. Then I showed his photograph and suddenly he started yelling at me then I said "I'm sorry" but he was not listening to anything, he was just saying what will happen if I crash your camera and say sorry to you. Then some fellow people's helped me to get out of that situation. It was a really bad experience." Aman was in luck that while one stranger gave him a hard time, the other one came to his rescue.
How do you manage to be good at street portraits?
From team Mumbai, Prathyaksh tells, "By exploring every day on Streets and also by clicking every day. For me, street photography is more than just taking candid photos. Street photography can also be asking strangers permission to photograph them or photographing empty streets. Whatever it is, the common nominator is that you go on the street and take photos of the “street life.” That’s how I see it. No doubt as well that people are very challenging to photograph. They move quickly and are unpredictable. Unpredictable in a sense that everyone can react differently. Every situation is different.
The bottom line is that the only step between you and your passion is the fear that's holding you back. You don’t want to think of that one good shot that you didn’t get because of your fears.
When we talk about the fears related to street photography, we must understand it concerns many photographers and stops them from giving their best. And hence, the more you share your views about it, the more awareness it will raise among the photographers and our society.
Hit the streets wisely and safely after repeating the words of author Roy T. Bennett, “You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
We are glad to have talked about these fears related to street photography and hope it will help you to overcome yours too! Comment below with your views on it!