(No street photographers were harmed during the writing of this article)
Street Photography is fun and exiting. But like everything there is a darkside to it, are you making these street photography safety mistakes?
Let me start first by saying that there IS a good chance that you will be (even more) fearful of the streets, don't be. This article is not to make you fear the streets but to be prepared. It's like seatbelts, you wish to never use them but you are glad they are there when you need them. With that out of the way, let's get into the mistakes you might be making.
You are not watching where you are going
This is the most basic advice but trust me it must be said We all know we must not cross when the crossing light is red but the problem is that once you get into the flow of the images, you tend to forget about the rules of the road and might be tempted to cross without looking.
If you are not careful, you'll follow the crowd jaywalking, putting yourself in danger without knowing. Be extremely attentive when it comes to crossing the streets, I find that many times I was about to cross without looking because an image was waiting for me on the other side.
You're going into shady areas
As simple as it is, avoid going certain areas. If you go somewhere and your gut tells you to scram the other way, do so. Your camera might be a vehicle of self expression but to others it's their next meal and they will try to take it from you.
So watch out. If you are visiting a new contry make your research first into the areas you are going (like B.D Colen who was advised to stay in the car). Not that something MUSt happen to you if you go shady places…..I had some folks I know who went to film to Haiti. They told me they went to Cite Soleil. I asked them if they were crazy……because it's one of the most dangerous places in the country. I get chills just passing by the entrance!!!! (Ignorance is bliss I guess….)
You don't need to be a genius to figure out if a place is shady or not. Trust your intuition, if your gut tells you you are in shady place, chances are, you are!
You're hanging out in tourist traps
The opposite of going to shady areas is to hang out in tourist traps. Granted it looks more secure than the shady streets but it's like blood to a shark. What I mean is it attracts pick pockets because it's where veryone pulls out their shiny toys!
Have a handstrap and hold your camera (a neckstrap is fine but don't recommend it because if the camera is too heavy it will mess you up).Put your bag in front of you and you should be fine. When someone asks you to take a picture of you in front of a monument or somethhing, careful. There's a scam out there where they have accomplices that would run into them and snatch your camera while they are taking your picture. They would act innocent and you would lose your camera.
Your camera brings too much attention
Some cameras bring more attention than others. I only have small cameras partly because people dismiss me! There's some cameras that will fetch way more if the are stolen, if you have such cameras (they either have a red dot or are black, large and have a huge lens), it might be wise to have a second and cheaper body for certain outings.
This of course depends on where you are, some places have higher theft rate than others. If your gear is REALLY expensive, you might want to buy a cheap phone with GPS and leave it in your camera bag to track it.
You are oblivious of what's happening
You might be a nice guy or gal with a camera, but for others who are doing something illegal you might be the police. Be aware of what you are pointing your camera at. If two characters are in a dark street corner, I wouldn't point my camera at them. Imagine they are dealing, how do you think they will view you?
I had an instance where I was at a corner shooting because there was a nice light. One guy came up to me and asked me what I was doing. The reason was because he was selling fake bags (I believe that can lead to prison). I wasn't even aware they were there! The thing is people do not know how wide your lens is so even if they are far and they are doing something they shouldn't….they might suspect you of photographing them. So don't point your camera at anything that seems shady.
You are ignorant of who you are pointing your camera at
There's all kinds of people in the streets, most of them are ok to make portraits of. But there is a group you should probably avoid making pictures of, and that's drug addicts. Drugs make you high and happy, but they also make you paranoid, REALLY paranoid. What you want might be a caring portrait, but what a junky thinks you are is maybe an alien who came to abduct him with a camera looking device. Ok, maybe not that paranoid but you will probably be misunderstood by drug addicts.
But besides that, there's some people whom you should probably avoid in general. They may have a nasty character or are just itching to lash out at someone so be attentive and try to read their energy and body language. It's always good to have some business cards at hand to show people that you are not in fact a plain weirdo but a photographer working.
At the end of the day, street photography is only as dangerous as the streets themselves. Street Photography itself is not, but it's good to follow your good judgment and simply avoid certain areas or people. While some of the tips can be applied to everyone like don't flaunt your jewelry or something, the photographer must be aware that people do not know how wide their camera is, and if someone is doing something shady, they might become suspicious.
Again, the point of the article is safety, not fear. These are things to know just in case they present themselves. What about you, how do you stay safe while doing street photography. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.
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