For those of us who have done street photography, we all know and have all experienced how terrifying it could be. I have been there, and even now, after a couple of years, I can still be fearful when it comes to pressing the shutter on my camera in front of a total stranger. Being shy and diffident is the most natural thing, I have missed shots because of my fear and hesitation. For me, my mind and body freezes and shuts down for a few seconds, and then what follows is intense regret. Overtime, I have managed to ease the fear and anxiety through changing my mindset.
Fear in street photography usually comes in two forms:
1. We are fearful of our subjects’ reactions
2. We are fearful of how others around us will perceive us
What is paramount to overcoming and conquering both of these fears is our mindset. Your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings will influence how you act. It really depends on how you view the world. I believe in the rule of reciprocity, that is - be warm and kind to the world, and it will be the same to you.
As normal human beings, we will never dispel all our fear and anxiety when it comes to photographing strangers. What we can do, is try to lower the level of uneasiness and discomfort within us, and to manage and harness that fear, and to transform it into both inspiration and energy. Visually, this is akin to dispersing the emotions you feel within you outwards, instead of confining it within yourself.
Although street photography focuses on reacting to what is happening around you, overcoming the fear is about responding to your surroundings and your thoughts and emotions. Recognise and take control of your thoughts before they take control of you. Deliberately challenge your mind and your thoughts. It is a fact that most people on the streets will not hurt you. From my own personal experiences, no one has ever threatened to hurt me. Some have been really curious and interested in what I was doing, and many have smiled at me when they realise I took a photo of them. Some will be flattered that you picked them! The biggest and the most effective weapon or tool in putting yourself and others at ease is your smile. There is nothing better at fostering amiable relations and connections with strangers than your smile. It is contagious!
If you are worried about how others around you will perceive you, try to think about this: what are your goals when it comes to street photography? You are a storyteller, a documentary artist, someone whose passion and intent is to record our world as it is at this very moment. It is very important work, and we should be proud of it. With time, the significance of our work will increase and it will matter to more and more people. You are not trying to hurt anyone. Even if you think people are judging you, they will forget you in less than 5 minutes, trust me on that, most people are lost in their own thoughts, and they don’t even notice you.
Remember, your mindset influences you feel and therefore affects how you act. If you feel overwhelmingly anxious, you will appear more furtive and suspicious. It is best not trying to be excessively secretive, the more open and honest you are, the more likely other people will receive you with friendliness and warmth.
It takes a tremendous amount of audacity and courage to do street photography, so congratulations on picking up the camera and venturing out! Although fear is one of our human emotions that make us vulnerable, it is also our emotions that enable us to capture the most human moments. Take little steps at a time, and commend yourself on the progress that you make, no matter how small they may seem.
Most importantly, don’t be so hard on yourself, feeling fear is a strength, not a weakness. If you can turn it into your friend, instead of your enemy, it can empower you to take even bolder and memorable shots.
Be resilient, be resolute, be you!