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Analysing the Body Language of Street Photographers

Analysing the Body Language of Street Photographers

As a street photographer, body language plays an essential role in capturing the perfect shot. Whether you’re shooting candidly or up close and personal, your body language can make or break your photo.

Body language conveys emotion and can often be the difference between a good photo and a great one. When you make simple changes to your body language the people in the street, our subjects will hardly know you’re there and if you’re quick as well they not even know you’ve taken their photo. If you’re a Bruce Gilden type of shooter this may not be the article for you, some of us mere mortals need to train our nerves of steel but also be able to not draw the relevant attention to our subjects before we take that shot we so desperately want to get.

As humans we have unwritten codes deeply engrained into our genetics, these can feel out and detect anything that we may find dangerous or offensive, this can be registered by something as tiny as the way we catch someones eye. When first starting out, our own body language is something we are not so conscious of just yet however all the people around us they can read us all the time. This is something I wish I had known about and been able to control a lot sooner, the amount of photos I know full well that I missed due to my aura or signals that I was sending out being completely wrong must be in it’s thousands.

Small details such as the way you walk, move, hold your camera, make eye contact or even are looking around on the street are all visible and signs to the people around us. I learnt that making yourself seen is the most important, yet finding that balance between seen and not considered a threat or cause of annoyance can be very hard. If you are too dominant on the streets this will draw attention to you, if you make yourself too small also this is noticeable.

How to make yourself seem less visible I hear you ask? Well, walk with your camera in plain view, you’re not a spy from the Cold War you’re just cruising the streets looking for things to photograph, keep your head up and look at things, as obvious as this is but looking the part of something is a great way to minimise your visibility, blending in to plain sight. Remember, being on the street taking photos is meant to be fun, a smile goes a very long way, it is unthreatening, soft and unless overly sarcastic it will be received in the eyes of the beholder as such. 

Discomfort and body language are normally controlled by how the brain is feeling in that moment, this is where the mentality and body language cross over. Brain feeling nervous – body shows nerves, brain feeling happy and confident = body shows exactly that. We normally have nerves when we feel we’re doing something wrong, or have a bad motive for something. Yet  all we are doing is scouring the world looking for beautiful things, moments or interesting people to photograph. We do not need to feel guilt or even allow our brains to think we are doing something wrong as the second we do the body will follow suit and show it.

There are people who have gone to great lengths to learn what works best for them, I myself tried adorning a jacket of a well known touristic company I found in a second hand shop. Whilst this helped to calm the general publics view of myself I was approached by people working for that company and asked what I was doing, which inevitably was something I knew I shouldn’t be doing. Without the public seeing these jackets all around the area my cover would not work, in an area where they didn’t operate I would stick out like a sore thumb, again rendering this pointless. Although I quite enjoyed this little experiment I knew that the change had to come from within, my level of comfort and confidence with myself being something I knew I had to change. About this time I was reading interviews with professional photographers who spoke of knowing that you are doing nothing wrong, and as long as your intentions are good you should keep confidence in that. 

Amateur hour! Looking like an amateur also can go a long way with subjects, people have a fragment of sympathy for people they look at and think they don’t know what they’re doing. Use this to your advantage, look through your viewfinder, flip it to show the top, look at the lens and my personal favourite, put it next to your ear and shake it as if you’re listening for some broken part. These minuscule acts of perceived stupidity can help you become even less considered as some form of threat, used alongside other little techniques that help you to get closer to your subject can really improve the photos you get. It doesn’t matter what level of photography you are at, occasionally looking like a bit of a prat to get a good photo is entirely worth it and encourage everyone to embrace the oddness.

Mentality is key, tell yourself you are a photographer, you deserve to be there, you have a right to be there. As long as you have good intentions you need to keep that positive reinforcement in your head and this should be reflected in your body language. You’ve got to the point of being able to use a camera well and know all the relevant settings for what you want to achieve, why not improve something else completely for free and that which can open many more doors to your development as a street photographer.