Photographing people on the street
Photographing strangers on the street can be a difficult taks for many photographers. It requires some level of curate and getting out of your comfort zone. Many photographers have a traumatic experience from it and just give up, or they try to shoot unnoticed and that results in not engaging photographs, photos where you can smell the fear of the photographer.
In this article I will do an attempt to help you deal with this fears, both from technical and psychological ways.
When it comes to photographing people on the street there are two ways of doing it. One is intrusive and the other one a non intrusive.
The non intrusive street photography approach
Non-intrusive photography involves capturing images of people in public spaces without drawing too much attention to yourself or disrupting their activities. Photographers using non-intrusive techniques may opt for longer lenses to capture candid shots of people without getting too close, or they may use a wide lens to include people as part of the scene, with the subjects unaware that they are being photographed.
In most cases, non-intrusive people photography results in the photographed subject being unaware of the photographer, providing a calm sense of observation from a distance in the photograph.
Overall, non-intrusive photography is often considered a more respectful and ethical approach to photographing people in public spaces. On the other hand, intrusive photography can be more appropriate in certain contexts, such as portrait photography or documentary photography, with explicit consent from the subject.
I hold a different opinion on this matter. The use of a telephoto lens makes the person completely unaware of your actions. It’s almost like you are spying on them, similar to a safari, but instead of zebras, you are photographing people. While it may help you avoid uncomfortable situations and potential confrontations, I don’t necessarily see it as more ethical.
Tips on how to photograph people non intrusively and without being noticed
- Use Silent Mode: Disable all the sounds that the camera makes.
- Shoot from the Hip: Bringing the camera to your eye immediately attracts attention. Most modern cameras have articulated screens; use them to shoot from lower angles that are less noticeable. Compose your image and look the other way while taking photos of your subject.
- Use a Telephoto Lens and Shoot from a Distance: Adopt the safari approach.
- Use a Wide Lens (e.g., 35mm or 28mm): Capture a broader view without getting too close and arousing suspicion in your subject.
- Shoot When Your Subject Is Occupied with Something: When your subject’s attention is focused on something else, they are less likely to notice you.
- Use a Smaller Camera: Small cameras are popular among street photographers because they don’t draw attention and are generally less noticeable on the street.
- Use Zone Focusing: Pre-focus your camera to a specific distance so you don’t need to adjust the focus when taking a shot. This technique allows you to react faster and capture the shot in a split second without the need for refocusing. Read my article about different focusing methods used in street photography.
- Be Patient and Observe: Sometimes, the best candid moments occur when you wait quietly and patiently for the scene to unfold naturally.
5 Examples of non intrusive people photography.
Intrusive street photography
On the other hand, intrusive photography involves getting close to people and actively engaging with them in order to capture the shot. It usually entails using a shorter focal length, and the photographed subject is aware of the photographer’s presence. This approach creates a more assertive feeling, a sense of participation rather than mere observation. Personally, I find intrusive photography significantly more impactful, and it is my preferred method of photography.
When you approach with a short focal distance lens, you are typically 1-2 meters away from the photographed subject, and you have no place to hide yourself. If you are noticed and the person doesn’t want to be photographed, they will let you know, so your conscience remains clear, and you are not doing anything wrong. Of course, if you intrude by pushing the camera in someone’s face and disturbing them, you might encounter confrontation, but in my experience, this happens very rarely
how to photograph people intrusively and get away with it.
- Have the Right Attitude: Your most important skill to refine is your own attitude and body language, be soft spoken and genuinely nice.
- Fear is Your Biggest Enemy: You should not appear scared; people can sense fear.
- Behave as if You Belong: Your behavior should convey that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Have your camera on full display and approach your subjects with confidence, as if you are a news reporter. You are less likely to encounter objections if you exude confidence.
- Blend In: Avoid wearing shiny jewelry or branded outfits. Your appearance should be as simple as possible; when people look at you, they should see you as “one of us.”
- Stand Out: When traveling to other countries, the opposite is true. Put on a distinctive hat and look like a typical tourist. People tend to be friendly to tourists. For example, as an Israeli, when I shoot in Jerusalem, I wear hiking pants, hiking shoes, a hat, and carry a daypack. It helps me blend in as a tourist, and this often allows me to access places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
- Learn the Rhythm: Every place has its rhythm; a busy market will have a different rhythm than a lazy beachfront. So, you need to learn to move the way the people in the location you’re shooting move.
- Stand in a Quiet Place: In a busy area, you can often take a step back and let the flow of people pass around you. You can take your photos from there, and no one will approach you.
- Know Your Crowd: Observe how people in the destination you are visiting respond to photography.
- Choose Less-Visited Places: It’s a well-known fact that people in places frequented by photographers are less likely to respond positively to photography. Opt for less popular locations. This doesn’t mean you need to stay away completely; it’s just that the percentage of people who might not appreciate being bothered by photographers will be higher.
- Learn to Say “I’m Sorry”: Sometimes, when you encounter objections, say “I’m sorry” as many times as needed.
- Learn to Smile: A smile can take you a long way in street photography; don’t underestimate its power.
- Don’t Argue: Your ego or who is right is not important. What matters is that you are in a good mood to photograph, and people around you forget you as soon as possible. So, if someone tells you that you are not allowed to photograph on the street, arguing will only escalate the situation, even if you are legally allowed. Heating up the atmosphere will only bring harm. Just say sorry, smile, and delete the photo if asked to.
- Ask for permission – Sometimes, you can simply ask for permission, and it may be granted to you.
5 Examples of intrusive people photography.
Photographing strangers is always a challenge , especially if you are beginner photographer ? To do so I learned how to be invisible while shooting outside. What is your approach ? How do you prefer to photograph people on the streets?