One of the biggest killers of capturing that ‘decisive’ moment is hesitation. We all hesitate on the street – whether it is we are scared or nervous about how someone would react, or how a scene would show up on a frame.
What usually causes me to hesitate, especially when I was just starting out, was how someone would react. I saw a scene I really wanted to photograph, but because of my fear, I let it go. However, because I missed the shot, I then would regret not taking that shot for a while after, sometimes the rest of the day sadly. Oh that torture!
Over the years, I have slowly developed a mindset and some techniques that I practice while out on the streets to try to minimise that hesitation and the much dreaded regret that dawns upon you after. I will outline a few of them here, and I really hope that they will help you with your street photography journey.
1. Try not to think about the people around you
Photographing people on the streets is hard enough, but photographing people in front of other people? That could be very nerve-wracking. It is totally normal as good members of society to think about how others might perceive us. I have found that it makes the process a lot easier to think that I am the only person around – don’t worry about the others around you. In fact, they have so much on their minds already that they don’t even see you. And if they give you weird looks, never worry, you’re the one with the great photo!
2. If you’re unsure of a shot, or scared of how someone will react, press that shutter
I am sure that all great street photographs that have been taken required some degree of risk. I found that with more courage in the streets, the images you will get will be more special. If you see a character (e.g. with a hat, briefcase, umbrella, moustache that we all love etc.) – sometimes directly looking your way or walking towards you, put that viewfinder to your face and click that shutter. Try not to hesitate, and try not to be scared, I promise you that the regret of not taking the shot will far outweigh the fear (albeit sometimes full-blown) of someone’s reaction. Trust me that 99% of the time, you will be okay. Some people may get curious, and what you can do in that circumstance is simply explain politely what you are doing, and most people will actually be very glad that you decided to pick them.
3. Learn to take rejection/negative reactions with a smile
Following on from the above point, if someone reacts negatively, a great smile would always do the trick. Most people just worry that you are trying to do harm with a camera, but once they see that smile, and your kind approach, they will understand, and even pose for you! When you get questioned or rejected, it can be disheartening, but don’t let it ruin the day – better shots are ahead!
4. Work on anticipating the scene quickly and in advance
When you can anticipate a scene with your desired subject quickly, you would have more time to react and get that shot without being bogged down by hesitation and uncertainty. A very useful tip for anticipating a scene is to scan ahead – instead of narrowing your vision to a metre in front of you, scan ahead 10 metres. That way, you can see a subject that you’d like to photograph approaching from a while away, and have the time to think about how you want to frame the shot. The more preparation and time you have, the less hesitation you will experience.
I hope you will find the above tips helpful. As what I tell my students in street photography workshops, the most important thing is to have that 5 seconds of courage – you’ll be amazed at the results!
As with all techniques, practical experience is crucial. If you would like to learn and practice more, my next workshop will be held in Melbourne on 29 September. To make a booking, please click here. I would love for you to join me.