A controlled plunge: How I trained myself to take photographs in public

Note: This post is a follow-up to “Street photography: Facing my fears

I started hitting the city centre early on weekend mornings, leaving the house at 7AM and returning around 10AM. This was a great time to practice taking photographs in public spaces. 

Until about 9 AM, the streets are empty, save for those mournfully treading their way to work (now these people really don’t care what you’re doing – they want to avoid eye contact even more than you). This provides space to warm up, get settled and enter in a flow. A few architectural shots, empty streets lit by the golden hour, and maybe the odd street cleaner or morning runner eased me into photographing in public spaces. 

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Three practice shots taken on my early morning sessions, March-April // 2021.

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From around 9 AM, more people start to appear, but only gradually. This isn’t like turning up to shoot in the middle of the day on a bustling street. I was here first, I’ve been here hours – now, these strangers are entering my territory. I found this sense of reversal incredibly useful, and it quickly reaffirmed in me that, in fact, no one owns the street and that I belonged there just as much as anyone else. 

After a few 7 AM starts, I found myself looking forward to the morning hoards. I started to eke out a little more time – I didn’t want to leave the scene just as the city was coming alive. And then one week it just happened – I found myself photographing openly at 11AM. Now, this isn’t to say that I was getting close. But I was visible, and I knew that I was visible. I really didn’t care – I was having a great time. 

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In time – and time is what it takes, there’s no getting away from that – I’ve found myself getting closer, openly composing and photographing away. But I’m not going to lie and say that this is my default state on the street. It does vary – some days I’m just not in the right mood, feeling either apathetic, inward or low on self-esteem. But the days when I’m hyped up and excited for what I’m doing are more and more frequent, and my newfound (and hard-earned confidence) allows me to take better advantage of this energy. 

For me, the next stage is owning my space during night photography. I’ve shot at night in a busy bar district of London with success. However, shooting in my hometown is a different matter entirely. Here the streets feel less a space owned by everyone. Instead, it feels dominated by the drunk, the hostile or, worst of all, the drunk hostile. At the moment, I feel that night photography is undoubtedly a form of street photography that is more comfortable to undertake in cosmopolitan cities. But I’m determined not to let that stop me. I’m going to plug away at it and find what works.

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London pub at night. August // 2021.

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Thanks for reading. I’ll post an update on my night street photography in the future.

Published by William Lobley

Writer and street photographer

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