Chris J Wilson

Krakow Street photographer

Be Invisible Is Terrible Advice To A Beginner Street Photographer

When I started in Street I heard a common piece of advice that I should be invisible when I was on the street. After all street photos should be “candid”, unposed and natural, so of course you need to be invisible on the street. Well honestly, I think that advice set me back on my street photography for a long time and I think beginners shouldn’t try to be invisible on the street at first and why I think “be invisible” is terrible advice to a beginner street photographer.

Trying to be invisible made me more scarred

When I made “being invisible” my main aim in street photography, it made me more scarred of interactions and taking pictures on the street. I spent so much effort trying to not be notice and it ended up playing on my pre-existing fears of being noticed and people reacting badly on the street.

Trying to be invisible made me more cautious

Building on that, trying not to be noticed made me more cautious and decided against taking certain pictures because there was no way I wouldn;t be noticed. As soon as I removed that issue from my mind and it became neither good nor bad if I was noticed, I became a lot more confident and less cautious.

Trying to be invisible made me less natural and more obvious

The way I acted when trying to be invisible made me look really creepy. By trying to be invisible I might start to move towards someone, realise they had seen me and then suddenly turn the other way or get a deer in the headlights look. By being more okay with being seen, I became more relaxed and that, ironically, made me stick out less and blend in more.

By focusing less on being invisible and be more happy with interactions, I became more invisibleClick To Tweet

Trying to be invisible made me handle being noticed worse

When I sought to be invisible, I had three reactions to being noticed.
1. Deer in the headlights(internal voice screaming “ARGHHHH”)
2. Quick abort and turn direction
3. A panicked snap followed by one of the previous two.
As soon as I started having a chat when I was noticed or after I was noticed, it became much more okay to get noticed. In fact, I changed my mindset to occasionally making sure I was noticed so that I could form a connection with someone on the street. Perhaps it would be a chance to practice my Polish, or find out about their backstory.
It’s great to have both an image when someone doesn’t see you and one when they do see you as it gives you options.

Focusing on invisibility made street photography more stressful and less enjoyable to me

A little bit of stress and challenge can be great fun, it’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone (although as defined, it will be uncomfortable). But too much and it can spoil something good. When I had to be invisible, I felt so much stress on the street to not be noticed so that it would be a “real” street photo, it made me enjoy it much less.

Independence day Krakow 11/11/2015

Being invisible made me rely on longer focal lengths

One trick people often use to “be invisible” is to use longer focal lengths so that they can stand further away. While it can really help to add more distance and not be noticed, It doesn’t heal any of the other issues that Focusing on being invisible leads to, it also makes you look REALLY creepy if you are standing in a dark corner “sniping” people and [while there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, it is a good rule] longer focal lengths compress your image leading to a lack of depth and context to your images.

Invisibility can come later

Invisibility on the street is something worth pursing but it is a skill that needs to be learnt. When you start out, you are going to be so awkward that you don’t need to focus on anything extra which will make you more awkward. Instead focus on getting used to being on the street, get used to interacting with people, get comfortable having your camera out and snapping picture of people. Get used to defusing confrontations and defeat your fear of being noticed.
The more natural you get, the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to blend in and become invisible. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you don’t need to be an expert in a day. Slow and steady improves a lot.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English as a Foreign Language teacher in Krakow, Poland in my spare time I love taking photos. This is my blog.

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