Olivier Duong is a Haitian-French-Vietnamese documentary photographer living in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Check out his websites: www.f-stopeight.com (Portfolio+Blog) and www.streetpresets.com (Street Photography Presets for Lightroom and Nik’s SilverEfex)
I was pretty much shy and fearful as a kid , so much so that I couldn’t even look at my own brother in his eyes when I was younger! But that has changed and now I am fearless to shoot in the streets. But it looks like fear is a big issue for many wanting to do street photography, so I put this article together by drawing from personal experience and psychology.
1) Fear Is Normal
The first thing to understand is that fear is normal. You have an alert system designed to react when something dangerous is approaching or forming, and it is called fear. This is why when you are in a shady neighborhood you suddenly want to hit the gas pedal because of fear. This fear is good, it’s here to protect you: if you didn’t run of fear of lions, you would be history! So do not worry because you fear in the first place! It’s perfectly normal.
2) Irrational Fear
Whereas fear is good, and fear of rejection normal, irrational fear is bad and can even literally paralyze you. There is a certain probability that certain things can happen to you, irrational fear makes these seem extremely probable when in reality they are extremely improbable. Let’s take meteorites for example. You CAN die from a meteorite but what are the astronomical odds of this? And irrational fear of being hit by a meteor will most likely lead you to believe that the day you walk out, is the day a meteor will hit you.
In the streets there is an irrational fear of rejection, we believe that every single person will probably do something to us, get mad or do something else. Truth is this will only happen once in a while, most of the time when you are out, absolutely nothing happens. We will get yelled at once in a while, but guess what? It’s statistically bound to happen, just like it’s statistically bound to happen while behind or in front of a counter at a store. You will get yelled or challenged in the streets but so will you be at any kind of work, that’s just life and there is no need to have an irrational fear of it.
3) What Is There To Fear In The Streets?
In order to get into conquering your fear of street photography, we must look at what exactly causes the fear. Is it the streets themselves? No, for I am sure you walk in streets without any problem, so what is it? It has to be people. You do not fear them when you are walking in the streets, and if you were invisible with your camera I am sure there would be no fear … So what is there to fear in the streets? I believe that it is the fear of people, the fear of people’s reaction, and even more specific, their potential rejection. We are afraid of being yelled at or something worse.
From Seshu: One way you can show the grittiness of the street is by converting your color images into black & white, using presets for Lightroom, Nik’s SilverEfex Pro or Adobe Camera Raw. Check out Street Presets [affiliate] by Olivier Duong. Applying these presets to my images takes me back to my first inklings as a street photographer in Tokyo, Japan. I spent a great many days just walking, watching, talking to strangers and photographing them, if they didn’t mind. Will share some of my favorite images soon!
4) Fear Of Rejection Is Normal
Humans are hardwired for relationships: language, art, love, friendship – all revolve around relationships. So rejection actually strikes at the very core once it’s being expressed, hence the fear of rejection. We all want to feel that we belong so we will do anything we can to not feel rejected. That fear is once again, normal! When you are in the streets and fear the reaction of someone, it’s because you are human and can’t help it. This is why some fear the streets, some fear to blog, etc.
5) Change The Channel
I do not think that one cannot fear, it’s a mechanism built-in the system like pain is. So what to do? The answer is simple: Change the channel.
Your mind is like a big, huge TV screen and you are the viewer. You might not have control over what goes on in your mind but you have the remote control to change the channel. And just like a real TV screen, your mind can only be focused on one thing at a time: try to think about pot roast and at the same time the Empire State building to see how you fare. When you are in the streets and any kind of nasty images come into your mind “You’re gonna get yelled at”, “He’s gonna punch you”, etc, etc. These fears are irrational because of the odds of them happening … so what you do is you replace these images/thoughts that come with some other thoughts/images, and since you can only be conscious of things once at a time, you are basically overriding your fear with other things.
6) Occupy Your Mind
Here’s some other things to tune your mind to when you don’t like what’s on in the theater of your mind:
– GPS: Think about a destination point and only think about it, your mind will be occupied on arriving to the destination and will not bug you with fearful thoughts while going there (camera in hand, shooting, of course)
– Camera: Make your mind only focus on things like composition, ISO, Aperture, Depth of Field, Camera shake, etc, and the mind will be too preoccupied for anything else.
– Future: While in the streets, think about how you will be later in your room with all the great pictures you will take. Your mind will be so focused on the prize that it will forget about the present. This is also great if you focus on an incentive (“If I get 5 good shots, I will get a new Video Game or ice Cream, etc”). Incentives work very well!
– Fear: Shift your mind from fearing the streets to fearing NOT getting any good shots!
– Music: Put your headphones on and listen to some music while chanting the lyrics in your head.
7) What’s Really At Stake
Fearing the streets will cost you, it will cost you a lot. If you do not take a picture, your vision will never be made concrete and you will lose that opportunity forever. You will increasingly be miserable the more you do not shoot in the streets because you will let lots of good photographs slip through your hands … with no one to blame but yourself. Your vision should trump many things like cameras and fear. Fear is not worth loosing a photograph. If you do let your fear win, what you will be left with is regret. Regret for not having taken that picture when the time came. If you care about your vision and photography, the stakes are high!
8) It Gets Better
All I can say is it only gets better. You are a bit hyper at first, but once you get in the streets and occupy your mind and then get a knock-out photograph, you will not stop! Fear in street photography can be beaten once you realize that YOU have the remote control to change the channel. Street photography is waiting for you, don’t let your fear get in the way of your vision, it’s much too precious. Stay focused and keep on shooting.
Are you looking for some gritty black & white presets for Lightroom, Nik’s SilverEfex Pro or Adobe Camera Raw? Check out Street Presets [affiliate] by Olivier Duong.