One of the things that I find difficult about street photography is being able to fearlessly walk up to strangers and take their picture. Sure, you can smile first, nod, get pre-approval, but you don’t always have time for that. Those times that you have a scene before you that you want to capture and you do have plenty of time to get some kind of approval from your subject(s) is when it can get difficult. But only if you let it!
This week I’m sharing one of those failures of mine. This image represents a failure to capture a good scene in the Pearl District. I found these gentlemen on a street corner, enjoying their cigars and beverages, mostly oblivious to the guy with a camera walking by over and over looking for an angle. Then one of the guys noticed me and I got shy. He didn’t give me a particularly negative vibe, but it wasn’t obviously positive either. So, I hesitated. Then I left and walked down the block a bit for a while. Moments later I was back, and I brazenly snapped a bad photo.
I should have worked the scene some more. I should have gotten approval to make the image I knew was there! Instead, I sheepishly grabbed what I could and got out of there. In the moment I thought perhaps I had a slightly better image than I got, but still it’s the only one I took and it’s not what I had hoped at all.
So, how do you do it? How do you get up the nerve when you’re new to street photography? I can only tell you how I do it, and it very much involves repetition and just “getting over it”. Having had numerous encounters such as this in my past, I discovered that more often than not, a lot more often than not, people don’t mind if you take their picture. I have only once been turned down point blank, and ironically it was a time where I could have taken the picture without asking but chose to ask first and got denied. Aside from that one time, I can’t think of any other where I’ve been turned down when I asked first. That’s not to say I haven’t upset anyone when I didn’t ask! That’s going to happen now and again. So long as you’re polite and respectful of your subject, you can almost always defuse the situation.
The more you put yourself out there, and the more (good) practice you do, the easier it gets. Plain and simple. I have no magic bullet for those of you who are like me and aren’t super outgoing. As I’ve said though, repetition and the courage you build having successfully asked dozens of times makes it all the easier.
Not all images are winners. I don’t mind sharing my failures here either. I try to learn from my failures, and even better I aim to teach from them too.