How to Overcome Hesitation in Street Photography

Tokyo, 2012
Tokyo, 2012

Dear friend,

I think one of the biggest obstacles we have in street photography is hesitation. Hesitating to take a photograph. Hesitating to have the courage to bring up our camera to our eye. By hesitating— we miss the “decisive moment”, and we end up regretting not taking the photo.

How do we overcome hesitation in street photography? Here are some tips I’d give you:

1. Don’t think

Tokyo, 2011
Tokyo, 2011

I think to become a truly great photographer (at least in the streets) is to know how to turn off your brain. When shooting in the streets, I think we should shoot from our gut. We should be led by our sense of smell, our intuition — and learn how to not think so much.

Personally, when I think too much when I’m shooting street photography — I end up over-analyzing a scene, and not taking the photo.

Furthermore, I would recommend not thinking so much about composition while you’re shooting (if you tend to hesitate on the streets). Because that is just another thing you need to worry about, instead of hitting the shutter.

Assignment: Turn off your brain

How do we turn off our brain in the streets?

For an hour, set your camera to the following settings:

  • P mode (program mode)
  • Center-point autofocus
  • ISO 1600

You essentially want to set your camera so you don’t need to think about the settings. You want to “set it and forget it.”

Walk on the streets for an hour, and anytime you see a scene or person that even remotely interests you — just take a photograph of it. Don’t think. Don’t edit while you’re shooting.

For an hour, just keep clicking. Turn off your cell phone, and don’t turn on any music. Walk at a calm pace, and keep a mild smile on your face.

For me, it takes me at least 15 minutes before I enter the “zone” for shooting street photography. And turning off my brain.

2. Don’t worry about making good photos

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

Another big deterrent when I’m shooting street photography is this: I put pressure on myself to make good photos.

However whether or not you make a good photograph is out of your control. You can control how to frame the scene, when to click, and what time of day to shoot. But whether you’ll get a “keeper” or not is mostly out of your control.

Assignment: Take shitty photos

So the net time you’re shooting on the streets, put no pressure on yourself. Don’t put any pressure to make any good photos.

In-fact; do the opposite. Give yourself the assignment to take “shitty” photos.

This way, you’ll overcome any hesitations you might have on the streets.

3. Shoot what you’re afraid of

Istanbul, 2014
Istanbul, 2014

I almost always hesitate before taking a photo of a scene that makes me feel nervous, self-conscious, or afraid.

Assignment: Confront your fears

The assignment: photograph what you’re afraid of.

By confronting our fears, we find out that what we fear isn’t so bad.

So for an entire day, walk around with your camera, and whenever you see something that makes you feel nervous (your heartbeat increases, your palms get sweaty, you feel sweat going down your back) just take the photo. Don’t worry about the framing, the composition, or anything. Just take the photo.

The assignment is to overcome your hesitation. Not to make good photos.

4. Take 1,000 photos

New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015

1-contact-nola-2 1-contact-nola-1

This assignment is to take 1,000 photos in a day. I don’t want you to always take 1,000 photos everyday. But the point is by overshooting in a scene — we will end up hesitating less. And taking more photos.

Assignment: Fill up your memory card

1,000 is just an estimate for how many photos to take in a day. You might want to shoot 500, or even 5,000.

Many of us hesitate to hit the shutter. Learn how to loosen up your trigger finger, and over-shoot and over-compensate.

Then when you’re comfortable hitting the shutter, you can scale back your shooting.

5. Ask for permission

Melbourne, 2016
Melbourne, 2016

The last assignment is to photograph people with permission. The next time you see someone interesting (but you hesitate) — you just need to go up to them and ask for permission to “make” their portrait.

Assignment: Make your subject a part of the experience

I would recommend by approaching a stranger, complimenting them on what you find interesting about them, and ask: “Do you mind if I made your portrait?” Offer to email them the photo afterwards. Better yet, show them the LCD screen after you’ve made a portrait of them, and ask them which they like the best.

Many of us are self-conscious in street photography, because we feel like we’re stealing the soul of the subject. We feel sneaky. We feel dirty.

But if you end up asking a subject to “make” a portrait of them — it sounds more collaborative. You’ll make your subject feel more positive. And these positive energy will help you become a more confident street photographer, and will cause you to hesitate less on the streets.


SF, 2016
SF, 2016

Hesitation is the death of the street photographer. I must have missed thousands of photographs because I let nervousness, fear, and hesitation get the best out of me.

Conquer your fears and hesitations. I hope these assignments will help give you encouragement.

More street photography assignments

Street Notes: A workbook & assignments journal for street photographers

If you want more practical street photography assignments, pick up a copy of “Street Notes” — a workshop in your pocket. There are 15 in-depth street photography assignments and 40 (more) assignments to keep you motivated in the streets.

Conquer your fears

If you ever hesitate in your street photography and want to build your confidence, read all my articles on how to conquer your fears >