How to Overcome Shyness and Photograph Strangers

The joy of street photography is being in a position to take spontaneous shots of people as they go about their daily lives. But for some, pointing their camera at strangers can be challenging or even frightening…

Old man feeding birds by the waterfront

The joy of street photography is being in a position to take spontaneous shots of people as they go about their daily lives. But for some, pointing their camera at strangers can be challenging or even frightening, so much in fact, that many street photographers never get past the stage of shooting people from a distance. I certainly struggle with this and as a result tend to shooting inanimate objects. However, I am stretching myself by choosing busy areas so I still have an element of anonymity and able to catch subjects unawares. But it’s okay to be shy and apparently after speaking to others, most every photographer experiences shyness at some level, particularly in more intimate environments. But it’s a shyness that once overcome, can lead to some of the best shots you’ll ever take. More than that, you’ll probably make new friends. Some people love a camera, for others it makes them uneasy. Most don’t want a camera pointed at them, particularly when they don’t know where the photo will end up and will feel it is an invasion of their privacy, particularly across different cultures. Some may view a photograph as stealing a piece of the soul and in some cultures you may not photograph a man’s wife without his or her express permission. But things change if you’re not perceived as a threat. Here’s an interesting post on photographing different cultures. Remember the popular Humans of New York photoblog, where photographer Brandon Stanton features photos and stories from the streets of NYC. People open up to him and speak of very personal things about their lives once they realise there is a genuine interest and not just a snapshot. Even if you don’t plan to create a photoblog, photographing strangers is a skill that comes in handy. Here are some tips that will help you improve.

Try Getting Closer to Your Subjects

Lenses — with a small lens you’ll need to be up close so instead, use one of the many zoom lenses that allow you to maintain a comfortable distance from the subject. Each time you’re out on the street, try to get closer and closer to people. Make it a goal to ask at least one person for a portrait. Then increase this to two, three, four, and so on. Some will refuse you politely, others will just say no. But with each time you ask, you will feel less and less shy about taking candid photos and portraits.

Understand that People Don’t Necessarily Mind Being Photographed

People don’t like when a photographer intrudes into their lives. But when a photographer approaches them with a positive attitude, it’s almost like a compliment. This is especially the case with people who put time and effort into their look. Okay, some people just don’t like being photographed, but you won’t know until you ask.

A Positive Attitude Matters

If you just cut someone’s path and ask for a photo, they may refuse you outright because they perceive your appearance as an intrusion or hostile much like a paparazzi. Don’t make your photo seem like a demand. Rather, take the photo from a comfortable distance. Else, approach the person you want to photograph slowly, and start a conversation. Explain why you want to photograph them and how the photo will be used. Most importantly, offer to send it to them and make light of the situation. It’s all fun after all. I hope you’ve enjoyed my digital photography tips. Put them into action next time you go out with your camera and you’ll see that photographing strangers will get easier, not just on the street, but in many different contexts. I’ve taken my own advice and getting better at it every day.

I personally love Suzanne Stein’s photography — it’s edgy. Check her out on instagram www.instagram.com/suzanne_stein/ and see her in progress below as part of the Fujifilm X Series.

TOP TIP: Smaller cameras are less intrusive than large bodies and lenses.

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