Common Street Photography Mistakes & Solutions

Jorge Perez
Jorge Perez

This is a summary of my YouTube Video, you can watch the whole piece linked at the bottom of the blog post.

Internal Reflection and self-exploration can be some of the most difficult things we all have to do from time to time. But It allows us to realize our mistakes, and hopefully learn from them, change directions or paths and try to do better next time.

Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and I've made many regarding my street photography, but the idea is not to attack myself or others out there, but to share some of the things that I've learned, and mistakes that I see others doing as well that can potentially help people out there in their creative journey

This post is not focused on the technical aspects of the craft, we will briefly mention those, but I fundamentally disagree with videos that say your main and only mistake is just composition or just exposure, or shooting raw vs jpeg, etc.

Your creative journey is the total sum of many variables, and that is what I'd like to discuss today. Here are some of the mistakes I made with my street photography and some of the mistakes I see others make as well.

Being Paralyzed By Fear

Fear can be paralyzing. Especially at the very beginning of our creative journey. My first couple of "Street Photographs" are just terrible, I was afraid of interactions and people.

My first couple of photographs were of random objects or wide shots where people can't see me, notice me, confront me, images where you don't know what is the subject is or what's the point or reason for this photograph to exist.

And if you like capturing images like those, that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but for me, I knew right away that these were not the images that I wanted to capture, and I was just afraid.

However, it's not easy to overcome fear. I would walk around and find locations and find moments that I wanted to capture and do nothing, just let them pass. But, going home at the end of a shooting session with no photographs at all or only bad ones truly made me feel worse. So the self-exploration part is really important, for example:

Let's say your photographs are captured only with a 90mm lens, or a 200mm lens. Then self-exploration requires you to ask yourself: why? do you really like it? is it because of the framing? the results? background compression? bokeh? or is it because you're too scared to get close to a subject and you need the safety of a 200mm lens?

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with shooting street photography with telephoto lenses, if that is what you enjoy and that is what makes you happy, then knock yourself out.

The important thing about this example is to ask yourself the tough questions, to be honest, and truthful with your answers, not to me or anybody else out there, but to yourself.

If you only shoot with a 200mm lens because you love it and makes you happy, that's great, I'm happy for you. But if you only shoot with a 200mm lens because you are afraid of interactions, conflict, getting called out, or people in general, then you are doing a disservice to yourself, in other words, you are getting in your own way.

If you already know that you might have some reservations with people and interactions in general, then start with a 50mm lens or 35mm lens equivalent in full frame. It will give you great results and allow some separation between you and your subject.

The 28mm lens will require to get even closer and compose accordingly, so keep that in mind.

After some self-exploration, I realized that I needed to start to think about street photography in a different way. I wanted to improve and get closer and still be respectful to others and respect their personal space. It took years, but I was able to overcome fear and get better results as well.



Invading People's Personal Space

I'm completely against photographers that shove cameras on people's faces and behave as disrespectfully as possible, almost like a game of how far can you take it, and how disrespectful can you be before conflict inevitably occurs.

There are a lot of people encouraging that sort of behaviour, especially here on YouTube, they usually call it "Sneaky techniques" and whatnot, but it all comes down to your values and preferences. Just remember that everyone, yourself included, deserves respect.

And behaving in a childish and immature way and then washing your hands about it under the pretext that "THIS IS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY" is the dumbest thing you can do. It really reflects who you are as a person.

There's a balance to be struck, between being afraid, not taking action, worrying about what people think and just being a disrespectful person that steps on others for fun, and in the name of street photography.

There are ways to get close and personal and take candid street photographs without disrespecting people. And being candid and respectful to others can offer great experiences and teach you a thing or two about relationships.

But sometimes even if you do everything right you might still encounter conflict, someone that asks you to not take photos of them, or even ask you to delete the photo you just took of them.

I mentioned this in my everyday carry video, but I always carry my sample photo book with me and show it to people that ask me why did I take their photo, or ask me to delete it. You can watch the EDC video right here:

More often than not, people feel reassured when I show them my work, they feel relieved that I'm not a psycho or a pervert taking photos of them and suddenly it becomes a positive experience, they compliment my photos or ask me about the places I've been, etc.

And you are completely missing the point if your only intention is to behave as disrespectfully as possible and be that creepy person shoving cameras on people's faces.

You Haven't Mastered The Technical Aspects

This is the most common topic you see in videos and articles about photography, and although I don't necessarily like how they always focus on just one thing, like composition, for example, there's no way around it, the technical aspects are important.

Let's think about this for a moment, in street photography, you don't control the weather, the lighting, the people, your subjects or their actions, you can't conjure great moments out of thin air, the only thing you can control is your settings and your knowledge of the craft.

And mastering the technical aspects allows you to make decisions, take control, and most important of all, capture the moment. That's why we are doing this, to begin with.

I've made a video about the most important aspects of street photography, and you can watch it right here:

But, things like exposure, composition, framing, and focusing, all of these aspects play an important role.

And even after you have mastered the technical aspects or you think you have mastered the technical aspects, you can still fail. Life can still teach you things and give you a reality check that perhaps we're not as good as we think.

Missed the focus on this shot :(

Take this photograph, for example, I love almost everything about it. The composition, the exposure, the colours, the aspect ratio, and even where the subjects are standing. It was captured all in-camera, with no cropping or changing the exposure in post-production. It feels like a shot from a film, which is always what I try to achieve with my images.

But it's extremely obvious that I messed up the focus, my subjects are out of focus. It does not matter if I exposed it correctly or not, if I did a good job framing it or not, If I shot it in RAW or JPEG, none of that matters, the shot is ruined. So even when we think that perhaps we have enough experience and we know what we are doing, life can still teach us a humility lesson.

Pay attention to your exposure method, do you shoot in manual mode or aperture priority? manual focus or back button focusing before every shot? frame the with the optical or electronic viewfinder? it does not matter to me which of those you choose and prefer, just make sure you fully understand whatever it is that you chose, that you can control over it, and you've mastered.

Learn the technical aspects of your craft, master them, practice them over and over again, this is the only thing we have control over. This is the only thing that we can change at will.

Not Observing Life Or Not Paying Attention To The Little Details

This may or may not be important to you, but I personally think that if you want to be able to capture life around you, then you need to be able to observe it, pay attention to the details, and absorb as much as you can.

Shot with the X100F

This became very obvious to me when I moved to Japan, everything was new to me, every street, every avenue, every car, every train, every shop, every smell, every restaurant, absolutely everything.

I realized that I needed to take a step back, and just observe, enjoy, learn, and absorb as much as possible, allowing myself to take the time to explore and practice my craft. Nobody is telling you to not take action and to be a background character in the film of your life.

Shot with the X100F

But sometimes we do need to take that step back, and just observe life, people, moments, and interactions. And this becomes really obvious in places like airports where you can observe a wide range of emotions. Saying goodbye to a loved one, or people welcoming their loved ones with joy in their arms.

I do think we need to be able to observe and identify these great moments and create memories as well.

Not Taking Action Or Not Starting Your Creative Journey

This mistake is incredibly simple but very important. If you want to do street photography then you need to start right now. I've made a video about a book called Make time, and you can watch it right here:

I've read YouTube comments and watched videos of other creators and read about people that say that they would like to do street photography someday, or it's something they've been meaning to do for a while but haven't.

If it's something you are not interested in or you don't want to do, that's fine. there's nothing wrong with that. But thinking that someday, eventually, you'd like to perhaps try street photography, is silly.

It is extremely important to understand that in this case, you are the only person getting in your way, you are the only person preventing yourself from experiencing different things, And I think the most common reason is just fear.

For the full piece in a YouTube video form, you can watch it right here:

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