Advice for When People Approach You on the Street: Be Calm

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Street photography isn’t the easiest discipline. If you’re a practitioner of the form, some of your friends might ask you if you ever talk to the people you photograph. I’ve asked that of many street photographers, and I’ve had it asked of me. The answer is, almost always, that the street photographer does not talk to the people in the frame. Definitely not before the shot, and not after. Yet, there are occasions when talking is unavoidable, when the person in your frame is more aware of you than you anticipated. While street photography is, in large part, the art of stealth in a public space, you have to be ready for the occasions when the person in your photograph talks to you.

Talking to your subject takes a good deal of confidence, both in yourself as a photographer and in your photography. We can leave the deeper questions to Humans of New York. For now, all you need to think about is explaining who you are, what you’re about, and inevitably, why you’re photographing them.

This isn’t necessarily the time for artistic statements, especially if you’re in a city where people are short on both time and attention. Perhaps you’re working on a project in which the person you photographed fit the bill for the next shot in your series. Give a quick synopsis of what the project’s about, and let them know they’re good for it. Or perhaps you’re just shooting on the street. There’s something about them that made you take their photograph. Tell them what that something is. People often respond well to flattery.

Of course, you may be caught offguard by someone who doesn’t want to be photographed, someone who takes a hostile approach to anyone who aims a lens their way. Be calm in all aspects of your practice, and be particularly calm if someone storms over to you after realizing you’ve photographed them. Keep it brief, and don’t stumble over your words. Simplicity and directness will, more often that not, be enough to defuse any hostilities.

Anything can happen on the street. If you’ve got quick feet and an unassuming manner, you can move from one shot to the next with ease. Just be prepared for when you have to talk.