The psychology of Street Photography: How to not be a creep

When it comes to taking images of strangers on the streets, many aspiring Street Photographers tend to be afraid of approaching people. This was also a huge problem for me and it still is, because one of the biggest fears of humans is being rejected by other people. It´s like asking a girl you like to go out with you. What if she says no? Well, but what happens if you don´t ever ask her?

Same when it comes to Street Photography. Why are you afraid of asking interesting strangers to make a portrait of them? If they say no – why do you care? You will very likely not see this person again. And if you see him or her again, maybe they changed your mind?

So what happens if you don´t ask? You will say for one, or two times „OK, next time I will overcome my fears and ask“… After one or two hours of not asking you will go home, frustrated and sad.

So, just ask. Here are my Top 7 recommendations for reducing the chance of getting a „No“:


1. Smile. Always smile

Leave your grumpy face at home. Before going out with your camera, stand in front of a mirror and smile for at least 1 minute at yourself in the mirror. Give yourself the most beautiful smile. With this short preparation you should be ready to remember this smile for your photography objects: Smile before asking for permission – smile while asking for permission – smile while shooting and saying „Bye, thanks“ – this will ensure that people will give you the most honest smile – because you give them your most honest smile, too.

Smile!...and you will get a smile back.
Smile!…and you will get a smile back.


2. Take a close look at the people you´re interested in

There are a few types of people where the chance of getting a rejection or where you can get in serious trouble are increased:

  • Drunken people
  • People with mental disorders
  • People who are visibly in a hurry

Avoid these 3 groups of people.


3. Don´t come  too straight head-on

People tend to be scared if somebody walks just head-on to them. Try to approach strangers from the left or the right side, walking not too fast. This is less aggressive and increases your chances to get a „Yes“.


4. Leave your 28-200mm lens at home

The smaller the camera, the bigger the chance of getting a approval. You don´t need a DSLR for street portraits, take a small compact camera or even your Iphone. When photographing with a small camera people won´t think you are a professional photographer earning money with the portraits you take of them.


If you don´t speak the language, let your face and your hands talk for you.
If you don´t speak the language, let your face and your hands talk for you.

5. Talk. If you do not speak the language, talk with your eyes, arms, hands

You need a rapport to the person you want to take a photo of. If you can speak the local language, just compliment and talk to them for at least 10-20 seconds: Say, that you like their hair/clothes, talk about the rain or the hot weather. Don´t stop during he „photo shooting“ – this will help people feeling more confident and getting better images.

If you do not speak the language, just use facial expressions and gesture. Also remember No.1: Always smile!


6. Answer their questions honestly

When somebody asks you how you will use their photo, answer honestly – and if somebody don´t wants to see their photo on the Internet, don´t put it on the Internet.


7. If somebody yells at you, stay calm

If somebody gets aggressive for some reason, for example beacuase you didn´t ask for permission and the person don´t want their picture taken, say sorry. Offer to delete the photo. Always act friendly and deescalating. Stay streetsmart and safe. No photo in the world is worth it getting hurt.


Do you have any other tip how to not act like a creep as a Street Photographer? I´m looking forward to your thoughts!


3 comments Add yours
  1. Great tips Oliver. I think tip number one and 7 are really important. I’d add that you should just stay relaxed. Even if you aren’t smiling at that moment, if you are relaxed and acting naturally (not tense and worried) then you give off an air that relaxes other people as well. Some people will still think you’re some kind of sicko but there you go. The trouble is that you can only really become that comfortable by being a bit uncomfortable. So…Smile!

    1. Thank you Chris! That´s absolutely true, smiling makes Street Photography easier – a lot. With some exceptions – here in Shanghai you are creeping people out if you´re smiling at them because it´s very uncommon to smile at strangers 🙂 So I try to look like a confused tourist instead of smiling…

  2. Technique, plain and simple. Have a try at my method: I have a 1935 screw mount Leica with a 3.5cm f3.5 Summaron lens attached. I have the lens set to the Hyperfocal distance of 15 feet, the length of a Jaguar or Rover 75 car. Aperture is pre-set to the aperture shown on my handheld meter . Shutter speed is set to 500 to avoid blur/camera shake. Film is Ilford XP2 Chromogenic but Kodak Tri-X can also be used. In use, the camera is set and the film wound on. I keep the camera in my coat pocket with my hand on it. Walking along, I see my shot and at 15 feet the camera comes out, up to the eye, click and back into my pocket. I don’t pause, I keep on walking and I move away. No problem at all with people shouting or questioning me. No-one calls the police or security guards because it has all happened so quickly and fluidly that no-one has really noticed me or what has happened. That’s the way to do it. Of course you don’t need to have a screw-mount Leica to do what I do, any small camera will do, but a wider lens than a 50 is suggested for depth of field. A phone camera could be used and the auto exposure would be useful. I have used my method in many, many countries as well as most of the bog cities in Britain and never had any problems. Try it yourself.

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