How She Faced Her Street Photography Fears

Let’s get real about street photography, shall we? If most of us see a well composed street photo, at first glance, we probably would think something along the lines of “cool” and continue on about our day.

Now, if you looked at that photo and imagined yourself trying to photograph it, you might start thinking something along the lines of “OMGEEE! THIS IS SO AMAZING! THIS PHOTOGRAPHER IS THE BOMB!” 

Because y’all, shooting the streets is some scary business when you really start thinking about it.

When I started, it was initially walking around the small town I live in. Even though I had my camera, I didn’t take many photos, just walked and looked. The first couple times, I told myself I was working on my compositional eye. 

Eventually though, I knew I was lying to myself. 

I wasn’t “getting ready” to try street photography, I was scared.

Like, cue the jaws music while I’m swimming in open water with a sinking boat in the distance, scared.

In no particular order, here were my 3 fears in street photography:

  1. I would get punched.
  2. I would get arrested.
  3. People would think I’m a freak.

Pin this image for when ya need a little pep talk in shooting the streets:

how to get over street photography fears

One weekend, I had rented a 70-200 to shoot an event (for those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s a lens the size of my leg). I decided I was also going to use it for my inaugural street photography outing. 

Please know, being discrete is a goal, so you can imagine I stuck out like a sore thumb. Regardless, I took my gear to a farmer’s market in a nearby city and upon arrival, went to a bar and slammed a mimosa for a little liquid courage. It didn’t work. 

I got a few decent photos, but roughly 90% I shot from the hip, so the majority were out of focus images of other people’s waistlines. Quality.

After that, I purchased a smaller, more sensible mirrorless DSLR. I kept going out, shooting from the hip, terrified beyond belief, and getting crap photos.  Finally, I annoyed the hell out of myself. I was wasting all of this time (which I have very little of to begin with) and not getting any remotely good photos.

So, I asked my husband if he would bail me out of jail, he said yes.

I asked him if he thought people would think I’m a freak, he said yes. 

And then, I asked if we could go to Chicago. Sweetly, he said yes.

I shot for almost 7 hours that day and came home with almost 1,000 images. I didn’t shoot from the hip once. The day was a dream.

I didn’t get punched and I didn’t go to jail. 

I’m pretty sure people thought I was a freak though, because I over heard a group of guys laughing saying, “I think that girl just took a photo of me!” I started laughing as I walked away. I realized, it didn’t matter what people thought of me as long I got the shot.

The point of me telling you this whole story is, it’s normal to be scared when trying something new, and street photography is no different. Hell, I was terrified of going to the city when I started this journey and now I don’t think twice about taking a train into Chicago to shoot solo for a day.

When it comes to fear and photography, unfortunately, I don’t have a magical solution. Mimosas don’t work (but they are delish!) and shooting from the hip is discreet, but rarely results in a good shot.

You just have to do it. Just shoot. Put the camera up to your face and take the photo.

I’ve read some people will ask subjects permission to calm their fears or use a longer focal length to keep some distance, but for me, just taking the shot and moving on is the best practice.

Street Photography Chicago






















Once I finally put my big girl pants on and started shooting, I totally fell in love.

I think the biggest reason I’m so drawn to the streets is the fact there’s no pressure. Nobody is paying me, nobody needs to like these photos. I don’t have to present a gallery to a paying client and keep my fingers crossed I’m delivering everything they hoped for.

If I get on a train tomorrow, spend a day shooting a city and come home to a memory card full of corrupted files, I’ll feel disappointed, but there won’t be any real consequences. If I see an interesting character, but miss the shot, it’s a bummer, but not an end-all.

I could talk about street photography for 5 more pages, but I’ll stop with one final story:  

I was at a cross walk in Chicago last week and a woman noticed my camera. “What are you shooting?” she asked. 

“I don’t know,” I started, “I didn’t expect the rain, so for now I’m shooting the umbrellas of the city.” 

“I hope you got one of mine!” She said excitedly. 

I told her I did and we chatted a little bit about my new love of street photography. She looked at me intensely before saying, “The things in life we feel like we have to try are the ones that turn into the best things of all. You’ve just changed your life.”

I hope she’s right.

We’d love to hear about YOUR attempt at street photography — or better yet see your work. Share your experiences or link to your work below!

Writing + photography contributed by Ashley Manley. 

Follow her at the following links:

Facebook | Website

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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  • I love this SO much! I love street photography, but am too scared to do it. Tonight, I’m shooting my first public event for our city, and I’m so nervous! I’m scared people with kids will get mad at me for shooting their kids, especially. (I know I’ve gotten squidgy when I saw a photographer shooting my kids on a playground. I later found out he was a city photographer and they were updating their site. But it was so creepy to me!)
    Anyway, I love this article, well-timed!

  • Love this! I would love to go and do it but I worry about people confronting me over taking their photo, what is the law with this? And same as Amanda above, I worry if I take a photo of a child, I know I wouldn’t like it if someone done the same of my children, or of me as well

  • Thank you so much for sharing this insightful and inspiring article. My photographer friend and I met in our state capital for a bit of shooting and walking and chatting. It certainly empowered me to be photographing together (I would have felt extremely self-conscious otherwise). The morning we spent completely opened my eyes to light and beauty and vision wherever we might be, particularly in town/city areas. Below is a link for the blog post I did from our morning. Hope you enjoy and thanks again, Liz

  • I totally identify with this feeling! I think I’m still struggling with it but now that my friends and family know I’ve taken an interest in photography they are more welcoming of the camera meaning I feel more comfortable having it out in social settings. I’ve noticed because of this I am getting more comfortable having it out and around strangers as well.

  • OMG I loved reading this, I am an aspiring photographer trying to expand my skill and learn more about it and shoot better photos, I have done the occasion wedding but this story was inspiring because I think I too have a bit of street photography fear. Looking forward to reading more.

  • I was on Pinterest looking up photojournalism and I saw how she faced her street photography photo. I said to myself this is right up my alley. I’m so happy I’m not alone out there with the same problem. I have taken some street photography but not enough to feel comfortable. It’s such an issue I’m trying to conquer. I fight with myself every time I do it lol. Just like you I worry people will get offended if I took their photo or think I’m freak. Which I shouldn’t care if that’s what they think. I’m truly just doing what I love. Sometimes people may not get it or understand that. I need to spread my wings. I don’t know you but I’m proud of you because it takes guts to be a true photographer. I’m so glad you wrote this article. It helped a lot. Thank you!