Photography 101: How To Break The Fear Of Shooting In Public

Photography is a splendid vice. So many things in this world are just begging to be the subject of your camera. Yet, some of those shots require you to shoot in public places. This can be quite nerve racking for quite a few new photographers. How does one break free from this fear? Breaking this fear maybe easier than you think.

Size matters
This might come across as trivial at first. The size of your camera can help immensely. What do you do though? First up would be to grab the biggest lens you have. This might not be the proper lens for the job, but it will be the lens to help you conquer your fear. Put the lens hood on for that extra bit of size as well.

The reason this helps is due to how people perceive you when you have a monstrous camera. The reason a big camera helps is people tend to take you from the tourist category and put you into the professional category. You may not be a professional, but it is amazing how people see big camera and instantly think pro.

Second is the camera itself. Those of you lucky enough to have multiple camera bodies should consider using the largest camera you have. This helps to increase the size and perception you will receive on the street. Remember, we are breaking a fear here, so it might be bulky but it will help you get over your fear.

Last are accessories. These all add weight, and they may not help you with your photos at all, but they all add to the overall appearance. Tack on a flash. Add on that big battery pack you have. Lens hoods are light and easy on the back.

All these items take the perception of you and your camera out of the tourist category. This simple idea of looking like a professional helps you as well. You want to be able to walk around anywhere and shoot. When your camera looks professional, you just might feel like a professional. You are now essentially dressed for the part.

Walk around
It is now time to walk around with this oversized camera. You don’t even need to have the camera on for this part. What you do need to do is remind yourself you are a professional photographer. It does not matter what your skill is. Getting your mind okay with shooting in public starts with how you perceive yourself.

You should also be noticing how people regard you. As you walk around with this camera, you will notice some people don’t even notice you. Other people will look and then go about their business. The point here is most people do not really care. You are just some person walking around with a camera. Someone might even stop you to talk about your trade.

Don’t be afraid to walk around a few times. You need to feel comfortable in public with a camera at your side. Clicking the shutter button is much easier once you can easily walk around with camera gear.

Shoot everything
You have finally got to a point where you can walk around comfortably in public. It is now time to start shooting photos. It will not matter what you shoot here. What you are aiming for is a comfort level. You can shoot the sidewalk if that is what you are most comfortable pointing the camera at. The key is to get used to pulling the camera up to your eye and clicking that shutter button.

This is also the point you should start dropping some weight on the camera. You’re not looking for award winning photos, but getting your gear closer to the actual size you will use for shooting is important. You can always start big and remove one item at a time. Your goal should be shooting with no reservation with a camera that is representative of your final gear layout.

Ignore people
Ignoring people is hard to do. They stare and gawk. They point and laugh. Even worse, they are judging you. Maybe that is what you think, but it is hardly the case.

One thing to keep in mind is that most people see you and forget you a few minutes later. What does it matter what they are thinking about you anyway. Unless you really know the person you see, chances are you won’t see them again.

Yes, this point goes against the previous point of walking around. You have already taken the time to notice how people perceive you while you were walking around. Now you are getting ready to shoot photos. It is time to start ignoring Joe Jim Bob across the street and focus on that magnificent shot you just happened to walk up on.

Photos equal money
If you are looking to sell your photos, every shot could be money in your pocket. Remind yourself of this as you walk around seeing shots, but not taking them. This one idea was particularly helpful for me.

You should also keep in mind that money shots only happen once. You may see a shot and think you can catch it again. You will be surprised at how often this is not the case. If you have the chance to catch a perfect shot, you take it.

Set it and forget it
Shooting in manual mode can be trying at times. You are constantly changing your shutter or aperture settings. One easy way to break free from your fear of shooting in public is to set your camera controls and forget them

This does mean you will end up with over and under exposed photos. Again, this is okay. You are working on breaking free from the chains that are holding you back. Shoot in auto mode if you really want to try to save every photo. The key is to take pictures and not be fidgeting with camera settings.

Leave the bag at home
The last tip I have is to leave the camera bag in the car or at home. A camera bag is big, bulky, and adds on unnecessary weight. You are already lugging around a giant camera. Unless you really need the camera bag, leave it behind.

These are just a few of the tips that helped me break free from my fear of shooting photos in public. Use what works for you and set yourself free from your fear. Once you are free, you will see photo opportunities just about everywhere you go. Get out there and get shooting!

This is where you would expect me to tell you about my life, how awesome I am, or why I am so superior to other people in this line of business. I would enjoy telling you how I have wrestled grizzly bears 10 feet tall. Maybe you would like hearing how I have taken on Velociraptors in my days as a young man. Even better is the story how I have traveled to the furthest reaches of space to stop catastrophic alien invasions. The problem will be that you might not believe my awesome stories.

I will keep these awesome stories for the campfire though. I’m just a man, taking pictures, trying to make a living. I ditched my education in computers in favor of pursuing my passion for photography. I enjoy a good cold beer on a warm day. I have a fondness of the outdoors.. I have enjoyed years capturing life’s unscripted moments. Hopefully, I can enjoy many more years of slacking off without fear of those grizzlies taking me out before my time.

My Philosophy is to capture those non-scripted moments. To capture the little details that this world really has to offer. From weddings to insects, I enjoy capturing the life, the details, and the moments that come and go in a flash.

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  1. So true about the size of the camera. The bigger piece of gear I take with me, the more people bend to its whim. Absolute best mind control is taking a 4×5 or larger into public.

  2. I blogged about this sort of topic when I was just starting out.

    I suggested many of the same types of things. Definitely making yourself feel like a pro to start with was a great jumping off point for me. A tip I always like to share is to pretend in your head that you have been commisioned to get the shot of whatever it is that you want to shoot.

    If you had actually been commisioned and were going to get paid for that shot, you’d probably have to swallow your fear and do it anyway. Getting into that mindset is a great place to be!

    Here’s my blog post is you fancy a read :

    • Hey Chris,

      Great post! I like the idea of thinking about being commissioned when you go out in public. I like that idea way more than thinking of money shots. Thinking of being commissioned works on so many levels as well. Gives you direction when you’re honing your craft, breaks fears, and so much more.

      As a side note, I had a friend recommend ditching the camera bag and tripod, as well as making my camera bigger. I still leave my camera bag in the car, but found I really enjoy shooting with my 70-300mm lens. Some good came from lugging all that camera gear around 🙂

      Thanks for sharing the link!


  3. There is only one way to get over the fear,
    just get out there and shoot.

    just be there, and act like you belong there. most people don’t care about what camera you have, its all in the body language, and when you are comfortable being there, no one will question why you have a camera.

    it’d be better just to start with the equipment that would be beneficial to the shooting style ( compact body, small prime, or whatever). I’d say trying to get comfortable in public while hauling that big lens and camera that is not suitable for candid, street work would be a step backwards. Heck, go out and buy a disposable camera and start there if you current setup is not ideal for street/candid work. no one will take you seriously, and they will ignore you. =)

  4. Good to read this because it just reminds you that you aren’t the only person nervous to shoot out in public and others have been there. That fact alone is very soothing!

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