It was like any other normal day in my world, I was out roaming the streets trying to make compelling photos. I was in the heart of London, immersing myself within the people, whilst trying to avoid any confrontation at the same time. I wasn’t really getting anything of any worth, but my determination enabled me to continue. Then I saw a wonderful shot. A man,over 6ft in height, beard and tattoos, with a look and presence that suggested he knew how to handle himself. And this very same man, as angry as I perceived him to be, was gently kissing his girlfriend on the forehead whilst caressing her hair. It made for a wonderful juxtaposition shot. So, as Street Photographers do, I got in close. I made the frame nice and tight. And then, just as I took the shot, the man made eye contact with me, quickly proceeding to fit his stereotype…
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he blasted at me. I explained that I am a Street Photographer and my motive was to make an artistic image. “Give me your camera, now!”. I took a step back and spoke calmly, offering to delete the image. I showed him that image had been deleted and advised the man I would be leaving. “F*ck off then”. Which I did.
Confrontation,at many levels, is always a possibility when you are shooting street. It can happen to any of us, and it has happened to me on more than one occasion.
How to manage confrontation in Street Photography
Below are 5 strategies that you can use to help manage any form of confrontation that you may encounter when shooting your street work.
1. Always offer to delete the image.
My way of thinking is that if someone would like you to delete the photo you have taken of them, you should just go ahead and delete it. I get it, no law has been broken and you are well within your rights to photograph anything you please in a public setting. However, my opinion is that if someone has gone out of their way to confront you and stop you your tracks, they really do not want you to have an image of them on your SD card. Plus, the likelihood of it being the image that sends you to the top of your craft is slim, so if it is just going get lost in your Insta feed or just sit on your hard drive, you may as well just delete and keep them happy.
2. Never try out anger somebody.
If you encounter an extremely angry bunny, the worst thing you can do is try be more angry than them, in the hope that they will just back down. Remain calm, speak to them rationally and honestly, allowing them to hear that you had no bad intentions. Let them feed of your vibe, rather than you off theirs. They will see you are not wanting to be of any threat to them and soon realise they do not need to use anger as a form of protection for themselves. Remember, all they know is that you are the person putting a camera into their life without any prior explanation, so it is natural some people will turn to anger to protect themselves. Being calm will show who you are and what you do, resulting in them settling and you being able to resolve the altercation in a healthy manner.
3. Sell the picture to them.
That’s right, use your charm and sell the image to them. To be clear, I don’t mean in the exchange of money, but rather, in exchange of their acceptance. Show them what you see, explain that they are part of creating a wonderful piece of art. Flatter them, make them feel like a million dollars. Once you have them on board, politely ask them if they are happy for you to keep the image. If you have done your job correctly, lending from your charm, they should say yes. It is also useful to share your social media handles with them, so they can see it for themselves - amongst all the other great work you do.
4. Bend the truth.
Unless you have put the camera directly into someone’s face, this is a technique that can be very effective. If someone does approach you on the basis that they are unhappy with you taking their picture, tell them you were taking a photo of the building or street behind them. I have often said I am an architectural photographer out on a professional assignment. I joke that people are always thinking I am taking their picture, when really I am just trying to do my job. More often than not they apologise and I quickly move on with a cheeky grin on my face.
Sometimes people are just too aggressive and confrontational, so you have to decide to get yourself out of there! Even in times where you think you could “take them” should it come to blows, physical altercation is never a good thing, especially when all you want to do is practise your art. So, in those times when you think it may kick off, just turn away from the situation and run as if you were running home from school to eat your mum’s favourite dinner (and just hope they are not quick enough to catch you!).
I hope you are able to implement the above suggestions, should you be in the unfortunate predicament where you face confrontation. Honestly, they have worked for me, and have kept me un-bruised! What works for you? I would love to know. Contact me here - Say Hi to Dan.
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Thanks for reading.