Street photography pulled me towards itself when I was learning photography as a beginner. As I started understanding camera settings, light, exposure, composition, manual modes and felt that I can take good pictures, streets offered me the verities that I was looking for. I wanted to do fashion or wedding photography, but documenting streets is so engaging that it didn’t let me leave the genre.
Well, I won’t say I’m a shy person, but I’m not the one who used to start small talks or break the ice in group conversations. I don’t want to label myself introvert. But I have traits of the person whom one labels as “introvert”. I was too shy for street photography? Yes.
So, if I could hit streets with camera, ask strangers to pose (or stay candid), and engage with them in small talks – you can certainly do it.
My first experience with street photography
Old Delhi is a famous place for street photography, globally. Local people, raw life, hustle, and shops are unique. It was first place in my bucket list.
I hired a guide, thinking if I could not ask people for photos, probably the guide could help – he was local and the person referring him told he has good rapport locally. I had told him that I’m not interested in monuments and historical places; I want to make photographs of locals and their street life.
On one side, I had set an aggressive target of making 100 quality pictures and, on the other hand, I thought I’ll ask the guide to pose, thinking that at least he’ll oblige for phots in various set-up.
Ironically, I live in the suburb of Delhi and I speak the same language, so hiring a guide seemed like a luxury for street photography… But then I invested this small amount for my photography learning. Moreover, I didn’t know whether I’m shy enough to ask people to stay in my frame.
Here’s what I experienced, then I’ll share my notes
I had viewed hundreds of Old Delhi pictures. Especially, the pictures where locals were featured by other street photographers. I watched YouTube videos of the Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk, Red Fort area, and Jama Masjid. I developed this process for any new location and I’ll share in detail soon from my notes.
The guide was familiar with the location so navigation was easy. The places and the streets where I wanted him to take me, he swiftly took me to those spots. The area is spread over 5-6 km so we parked our vehicles walked the whole time. It took nearly 4 hours for me to get tired and shoot satisfactory number of photos. Oh, yes! My camera battery also got drained. And, the most important lesson learnt was to carry extra battery and memory cards if you plan to go for longer hours.
I had read and had the understanding that I can take pictures of people in public places, so had the confidence that no one will object why I’m taking pictures in the streets.
Secondly, I pretended that I’m a stranger in the city with my body language, dress, and a DSLR in my hand made me an authentic tourist.
Thirdly, I didn’t bother people walking in the streets. I took pictures of those who were relatively relaxed – shopkeepers, food vendors, and people generally relaxing.
Lastly, I asked my guide to engage few people in discussion so that I get to capture their candid photos.
I learnt on the go. Adapted myself to the situation. Acted on merit.
I looked most of the photos in my camera LCD and I knew I’ve got dozens of good photos even if I didn’t get one hundred photos, I had targeted. I thought if I was so passionate in those 3-4 hrs, no other street photographer would take more than this.
I said thanks to my guide, paid him in cash, exchanged our contact details, and I promised him to send more referrals.
So, here’s my two cents for people who label themselves too shy or introvert for street photography: you may be shy in taking initiatives with people, but you’re a fast learner and you know if the job needs to talk to people, you can do it. You’ll not let those bull*hit labels “introvert” and “shy” come in the way to explore something you’re passionate about.
Alright, sharing now the key items from my notes and the lessons I learnt from my first street photography experience:
Watch videos of the street, location, or the city. A good research about the location, it’s culture, and people helps you hit the ground running. Look for local shopkeepers, people who visit the place, and whether people are generally friendly or not. Many vloggers or photographers would have created videos, see what they’ve to say about the location and its people. I even look for the location tags on Instagram and recent and top pictures based on the location or landmark tags.
Take your gear out. Even if you’ve to just stand in the street, keep the camera in your hand. You’ll see many people gazing at you as if you’re a tourist. Those staring people may look intimidating if you’re not used to such stares at public places. Take this challenge for 5-10 minutes and move on to the next step.
Scan the street. Don’t just start shooting like a hunter. Scan the street. Observe the direction of light, shadows, structures, people, hustle etc. Even if you’ve seen the street in videos or crossed the street in your car many times, walking in the street is the real experience.
Embrace rejections. Rejections are not personal. People don’t want to get featured or not ok for street portraits because:
(i) They prefer their privacy even in the public space
(ii) They’re too busy
(iii) They’re generally rude and have behavior issues
(iv) They had a rough day in-progress, or
(v) They’re also shy
It never happens that they don’t like you. Because they don’t know you yet, right! So, don’t take rejections personally. If ten people said no for photo, ask the eleventh guy.
Approach sincerely. If you’re a sincere street photographer, it will show up. Stay clear in your mind what you want to do with these photos. Because the biggest questions you’ll be asked, again-and-again
1. Why do you want to take my picture
2. What will you do with the picture
You’ve range of options to answer:
1. You need it for editorial purpose
2. You’re documenting the city’s lifestyle
3. You’re working on an academic or personal project
4. You’re making own portfolio
Think hard about your purpose, verbalize it before your hit the street, and rehearse it so well that it looks an impromptu honest answer.
Don’t include people in your shots. Street life can be captured even without people in the frame, right? Urban landscapes, structures (of roads, buildings, shops), street objects, vehicles, and street animals don’t require people come in the frame. if you’re apprehensive about making people part of the street, you still have a lot to capture and document about the city.
Shoot from the hip. I personally don’t like this technique. I tried shooting couple of pictures, keeping my camera near my waist after guessing a composition. I didn’t get good pictures. Plus, the fear because of which I shot from the hip, didn’t result in honest photos.
Shoot people from behind. If you get intimidated by the gaze of a person when you pull camera to your eyes, press shutter after people cross you or you’re not in the view of people. The motion and their actions will still make a good photograph. Henri Cartier-Bresson applied this technique with a great success.
Chat. Don’t shoot. This technique will help you open-up with strangers. For example, if you’re buying water, ask few more questions with the shopkeeper. For example, what are the places to visit in the locality, what souvenirs you can buy in the city, what are the best places to buy them, are the people generally friendly in the city etc. Since you obliged the shopkeeper by buying a product and they know you’re stranger in the city, the person would gladly oblige with quick answers. After this friendly banter, can you ask him to pose for a portrait now?
You’re never too shy for street photography – let the label not stop you from pursuing our passion.