7 Tips For Shooting Strangers – Street & Outdoor Photography

Content creation these days has been made ever so easy with mobile and smart devices. Every day, at every turn, people are pointing their camera phones at interesting and not so interesting subjects and just clicking away. The more optimistic smartphone shooter believes her next shot will go viral and make her an instant star.

Shooting Strangers can be injurious to your health

And so, either deliberately or inadvertently, we take pictures of people who probably don’t want to be photographed. In more extreme cases, we actually shoot videos of strangers because we think they’re interesting and therefore worthy of filming and eventually sharing.

But are there limitations? Are people’s rights being infringed? Are we crossing the line of privacy in many cases?

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy shooting strangers

There’s an extra kick to taking an action or candid shot of someone who isn’t aware. Of course, the more daring will go up close and personal, and shoot, damning the consequences. I may have tried this approach in my younger days, but at this stage, I want to avoid physical confrontations of any kind. Especially the ones which involve people’s images.

You quite seriously run the risk of being accused of “jazz”. It is not inconceivable that the “victim” accuses you of wanting to use her image to make money. Or to retard her destiny and promote yours instead. We are in the 3rd World, and there’s no pretending otherwise.

Now depending on which part of Lagos you find yourself, this sort of accusation can quite easily lead to your receiving the beating of your life; if you’re lucky. You may get a tyre around your neck if you meet an especially hostile crowd.

So, what then are the guidelines to shooting strangers, or even simply shooting in public, around a city like Lagos?

  1. follow written (and unwritten) instructions.

    A private party is exactly that – private. As is private property. And if you’ve been told not to shoot, don’t. It really is that simple.

  2. never mind all the talk about liberties and the world being a global village.

    You’re an African, living in one of the most politically charged countries on earth – Nigeria. Do not shoot politicians or big men. More importantly, do not shoot them when policemen or soldiers, or even bodyguards are around. In fact, try not to shoot at all when any force man is around. For some reason, law enforcement agents in Nigeria believe that any form of public photography is a crime against the state. And, they feel well within their rights to take the offensive camera away from the perpetrator and smash it. You may be right in the end, and may even get an apology. But all that will come after a bust lip and a broken camera. No, there will be no compensation – you should have known better.

  3. buy a long lens.

    If you have a DSLR and want to shoot candid photos in public, invest in a zoom lens, something with a top end of about 300mm. Or if you want to buy a bridge camera, look for one with at least a 30x optical zoom range. This way, you can shoot from a safe distance, and if caught, get a head start on your pursuer.

  4. Try not to shoot beautiful women standing or walking with their men.

    It never goes well when caught. If you must shoot beautiful women, shoot them when they’re alone. If caught, you can always talk your way out of the situation. The lady in the featured image was shot at 90mm from across the room. I’m not sure she realised what was going on. And if she did, she certainly didn’t show it. More importantly, she was alone.

  5. Avoid shooting children in public.

    This is probably the most dangerous category of subjects to try to shoot in public. You will either be branded a pedophile or a ritualist. At best, a kidnapper. And in a society already so angry and braying for blood at the slightest provocation, you can get into very serious trouble, shooting young children in public. So don’t.

  6. Get a media tag.

    Make it believable. Or, get a student ID card, preferably something which suggests you’re from the Mass Comm department of a university or college, or School of Media or School of Photography. This way, you have a seemingly legit reason for being on the streets brandishing a camera and pointing it at total strangers. You immediately transform from being a stalker or a foreign spy to being a budding artist simply trying to complete his assignment. Or you’re a trainee photojournalist working on extra footage for a project.

  7. try to keep fit.

    If in spite of all the warnings you still insist on shooting outdoors, then the last piece of advice is crucial –   your being fast and stealthy will serve you well in this ill-advised endeavour. A fit street photographer should easily outrun a Nigerian policeman on the beat. Also, practice being courteous and friendly. A genial approach will get you out of sticky situations. Yes, even with the dreaded policemen and soldiers.

Good luck.

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