How to Harness Your Fear to Become a More Confident Street Photographer

Street photography is one of the most difficult forms of photography out there. Not only do you have to rapidly compose, frame, and approach strangers— but you have to do so with the risk of “injury.” They might injure you verbally (threaten to break your camera, give you a dirty look and call you a creep, or curse at you) or they might injure you physically (try to grab your camera, hit you, shove you, etc).

Of course these fears are legitimate fears. After all, we are in a society in which taking a photograph of a stranger (without their permission) is totally taboo. Most people are suspicious— they wonder what we’re going to do with the photo— whether we are going to upload it to Facebook, Instagram, or any sort of social media (to somehow “steal” their identity or make them look bad).

I personally have a lot of fears when it comes to street photography. I don’t like upsetting people, I don’t like getting my camera broken, and I don’t like confrontation.

But why am I a street photographer then— as these fears “come with the territory”?

I feel that my urge to capture moments of everyday life overwhelms this inner fear that I have. I feel that with street photography, I have a greater purpose. I’m not just trying to make pretty photos to get lots of likes/favorites on social media— I’m trying to say something about society. I’m trying to present my view of the world with others— in the hope that my images will inspire, challenge, or encourage people to appreciate everyday life more.

Are our fears warranted?

Provincetown, 2014

One of the questions I think to myself is this: “What do I really have to be scared of in street photography?”

Honestly— if I think about it rationally, not much. In my 8+ years of shooting street photography, I have gotten into more car accidents than having gotten into physical altercations. The worst that has happened to me was that I had an 60+ Chinese guy karate-chop me in the back of the neck (while he was riding on a bicycle) when I took a photograph of him in Chinatown in Toronto at night (with a flash). I probably deserved that.

The other case was when I was in Downtown LA, and one of the guys there tried to grab my camera from me. But I ended up talking him down, calmed him down, and walked away and apologized.

Oh yeah— another case was when I was in Tokyo and I photographed a worker at close-range with a flash (who looked a bit mentally unstable), who ended up running after me, kicked me in the butt (fortunately he hit my camera bag and not my butt), which caused my flash to go flying and broke. I apologized and just walked away (being a bit shaken up).

But those were the 3 “freak accidents” I had when it comes to street photography. 99.9% of the situations rarely get that bad— and if they do, they are mostly verbal (people threatening to call the cops on you, yelling at you, or just politely asking you what you are doing).

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