How to Overcome Guilt in Street Photography

Prepare for the worst case scenario

Japanese suit with hand on face. Tokyo.

Also realize in street photography, sooner or later you’re going to piss someone off or offend someone. It’s like driving a car, it’s not a matter if you will ever get into an accident or not, it is a matter of when you will get into an accident.

Man with hand in light. Istanbul, 2014

Thus the practical advice is this:

Prepare how you are going to respond to an angry subject when one day you do piss someone off.

For myself, when I get people who confront me in an angry or aggressive manner, I will generally just apologize and just keep walking on. At this point I don’t feel any guilt for photographing a stranger without their permission, because I know I’m not doing anything wrong. Yet, I still apologize, because it makes others feel better. And I just walk on and keep moving, because if you stand still and apologize too much, some people will use this opportunity to try to bully you, threaten to call the cops, or try to force you to delete the photo. But realize, it is your legal right to photograph anything and anyone in a public space. And if people put a hand or finger on you, they’re breaking the law, and you can technically sue them.

Jazz hands. Hollywood, 2011

That means often it is good for you to stand up for yourself. Be nice, and say something like, “I’m sorry that I offended you and upset you. But I don’t delete photos.” That’s it. No need to overly apologize. And if they threaten to call the cops, stand your ground and let the cops come. You’re not doing anything wrong. I’ve had the cops called on me a few times, and when the cops come, they tell the subject that I’m in the legal right to photograph them, and they tell us just to move along.

Man with hand on face. Prague, 2017. Shot on Leica M240

Never let anyone bully you in the streets, especially considering the fact that you’re an artist. You’re capturing and documenting beauty in the streets. You’re doing a goodthing by shooting street photography. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty for shooting street photography, and certainly don’t feel guilty yourself.

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