Communication takes many forms, and is often so much more than the spoken word. Body language is an integral part of human nature and interaction. Such a powerful representation of our state of mind or feeling, it can be both difficult to mask, and also has the power to alter the mood of a situation – an incredibly useful tool.
I’m often asked by fellow photographers how I conquer fear or fight uncertainty when shooting people within a street photography setting. I find this to be an impossible question to answer, as each person interacts and receives responses from others in different ways, however one tip I would offer is to use an incredibly simple piece of kit in any photographers’ arsenal: the smile.
Allow me to explain; whether you’re the type of street photographer who prefers to hide in the shadows, or you feel totally comfortable shooting people up close, the smile is King. Have you ever noticed upon first meeting someone, if you smile at them, they smile back? It sounds simple enough, and merely the polite thing to do, but try a different approach. I was speaking to an acquaintance the other day who said in passing the butcher in his shop who she’d never met, she tipped her hat at him. He mirrored the exact behaviour back to her, they both smiled, and the moment was gone. I have noticed a pattern in these sorts of behaviours since I was a small boy, and have recently discovered the technical term: in psychology neuroscience, this is called a Mirror Neuron. If someone notices you photographing them, smile, give them a nod and usually you will get a nod back, and a smile. They have accepted your action, and are probably more interested than annoyed, and thus, your audience is won. Mirror Neurons suggest that the science of interaction is based more around simulating the feelings and emotions of others, as opposed to thinking of the correct way to respond. A smile from another kicks your own Mirror Neurons into response.
One of the aspects I love most about street photography is the connection and interaction with fellow humans. I personally love people and find them genuinely fascinating. Everyday I’m on the streets I meet new and interesting people, and taking photos of them leaves me feeling warm and fulfilled at the end of the day. Who wouldn’t want that? The world is busier than ever; we all rush around, going from one place to another, not noticing who is around us. I suggest the next time you are shooting on the streets, smile! It’s a fantastic way to bulldoze through barriers and help to allay some of the fears you associate with street photography. Connect with people, try that tip of the hat, that wink. If it gets me the shot, I’m smiling (and doffing my cap).