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The 5 Problems Every Street Photographer Encounters (and How to Fix Them)

by Drew Evans
photo & video

street photographer

If you’re interested in street photography, make sure to RSVP for Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers with VII Photo’s, Ashley Gilbertson.

Every genre of photography can present problems or uneasiness when you first start off. Some of those problems simply go away, but not all. When it comes to street photography, things can be a little harder to cope with and understand. But what are these problems? Here’s a good list of obstacles you might run into, and a few ways to get around them.

People get weird.

One goal of a lot of street photographers is to find the best candid shots of life. Whether capturing a scene on the street or close-up shots full of emotion on people’s faces, candid images are the most important shots to get. When your subject knows that you’re taking pictures of them, however, they behave differently. Naturally, people begin to act… well, unnatural, whether that means posing, looking at the camera, or fully avoiding the shot altogether. So how can you avoid that weirdness? For one, just act normally — and don’t draw attention to yourself. Hiding or making people feel uncomfortable can subconsciously change the way they react. Or, head off any possible weirdness by going up to your potential subject and asking them if you can take their picture. Says Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton, “I’ve learned this: Less than two percent of people in this world will yell at a person who politely asks for a photograph. I’ve now stopped over 10,000 people on the streets of New York. I’ve had pleasant interactions with over 9,800 of those people.”

You get some bad material.

If a subject does approach you, it’s most likely because they’ll want to see what you’re doing. In some cases, they may not like it and want you to delete any photos you’ve taken of them. That’s okay – as unfortunate as that may sound, you will have other subjects and places to shoot. The last thing you want is to offend someone or get into any arguments. Like DigitalRev TV says, street photography is about “understanding human beings.” Be honest with them, tell them what you’re doing and why you chose them. Sometimes, people are taken aback as to why a person with a camera is taking images of them. A simple explanation might just be enough to help them understand that you’re harmless. If not? Just delete it.

Your gear fails you.

As for gear, well, there is no right or wrong. However, most street photographers will tell you to get a wide-angle lens. Having a wide-angle prime lens, usually between 20mm and 35mm, will force you to think more about composition and getting close to your subject. You want to capture the environment along with your subject, and wide-angle lenses puts that front-and-center. But no amount of gear can save you from missing the perfect shot due to technical error, which will probably happen at some point. The of the most important tip is to remember is to always have your camera on you, on, and equipped with a full battery. Inevitably, at some point, you’ll go to take the perfect candid photo, only to find you weren’t actually prepared. Places you might not think much of can prove opportunistic, even if it’s just one keeper shot.

You focus on the people, first. 

You might, at some point, see a really captivating subject — only to realize after the fact that some distracting element or otherwise unattractive background object has completely ruined the shot. Instead, find a spot you like, and wait for people to cross your path. While in Marrakech, Zack Arias says that he does exactly that – he focuses on framing his shot, then worries about human subjects later. He finds that eventually, people will walk through your frame, and it’s up to you which subjects to capture. By pre-focusing and pre-framing your shot, it’s much easier to find exactly what works for you.

You worry too much about what people think.

Okay, I admit this sounds somewhat mean-spirited. But in reality, it’s not. As a street photographer, you’re forced to break some social norms by getting up-close and personal with your subjects, standing and photographing strangers, and not asking permission. But as Digital Photography School points out, there will be plenty of times where most people just won’t notice. Forcing yourself to get out and shoot no matter what will inherently make you more focused on your photography, rather than what strangers are thinking of you as you work.

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Drew Evans

Drew is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He spends too much time playing music, binging on Netflix, and watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.