I take nearly all of my photographs in public places, and just like any other time we are out in public, we try always to be polite and not draw attention to ourselves more than necessary, and we always make sure not to get in other people’s way. Today, I’m answering all of your most commonly asked questions about taking photographs in public, and how to politely take photos in public. I hope this helps you be more confident, prepared, and respectful when taking photographs in public.
Q: I want to take more photos of myself, my loved ones, and the things I see when I’m out in public, but I’m worried people will stare at me. What do you do to get over this fear?
A: People stare, and it’s rude of them, but it’s just part of drawing attention to yourself in public, however little attention that may be. Before I started blogging, I was very shy about taking photos in public because I’d been bullied for doing so in the past. Still, my love of photography eventually outweighed the concerns I had about what anyone else thought. As long as you’re respectful of those around you, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Learn to ignore the staring, and don’t let strangers you’ll never see again stop you from pursuing your passions.
Q: How can I take photos in public and still be polite about it? I don’t want to be someone obnoxiously taking photos or doing TikTok dances that ends up on some blogger shaming story, but being in public is unavoidable. How do you do it?
A: When I take pictures, I first and foremost make sure that photography is permitted wherever I am, and I am always sure not to block any pathways, walkways, stairways, or doors. I don’t use a tripod often, but when I do, I make sure not to set it up anywhere where it could get in someone’s way. I never use a flash where it could disturb others, and in quiet places like churches, restaurants, or museums, I try to time my photos for when there’s more noise than normal from the people around me. I wait until no one is around, or I try to get “the shot” as quickly as possible in as few tries as possible so as not to disturb those around me with the sound of my camera’s shutter.
Q: Whenever I take my camera out to practice photography around town, someone inevitably walks up and tries to either correct my photography techniques (it’s always men who do this), or they start asking questions about what I’m doing, who I am, etc. which I find rude. Does this ever happen to you, and what do you do about it if it does happen?
A: This happens to me sometimes, and as you stated, it’s always older men who approach me when my husband isn’t around. When a stranger offers me unsolicited advice about something I’m doing, I will thank them for confirming what I’m already doing and try to end the conversation. If they’re really pushy about it, like this one older guy was at the NAIAS where I’d been hired to photograph the event during the preview day, I thank the person for their unwelcomed opinion and walk away. You could also tell them you’re busy and don’t have time to talk, and if you ever feel unsafe, don’t hesitate to get help by going into a nearby store or calling the authorities.
Q: I want to start taking photos of people anonymously for my street fashion blog. Do you have any advice on how to go about photographing more people? Should I ask them or take their photos since it’s legal to photograph people in public? I’m unsure what would be easiest for me, especially since hardly anyone sees it, and they’d likely never know.
A: I would personally be very unhappy and creeped out if I found out someone was photographing me without my consent, and even more so if they were using the photos for their own business. It may be legal to photograph people in public without their knowledge, but just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. If you want to photograph someone’s outfit, you should always ask their permission and have them sign a model release form (you can find general use forms with a quick Google search). Who knows, you might make some new friends if you politely ask to photograph their amazing outfits! Be sure to have business cards ready to give them so they can see your finished work, and swap social media handles so you can tag them and they can support your work. Maybe they’ll even give you and your blog a shoutout if they like what you write about them.
To politely take photos in public, always either exclude people from your photos or get their explicit permission before photographing them.
Above: Annie Fairfax at New York Fashion Week in New York City
Q: How do you get so many photos of popular public spaces without anyone in them?
A: To take photos without anyone in them, I do one of four things. The first way I do this is to get early access to some places before they open, which I have only ever been able to do with the places I have worked with, like Walt Disney World or AIRE Ancient Baths, so it’s not an option for everyone unless you establish a relationship with let’s say a museum curator or restaurant owner who likes you work and will let you photograph their space before they open. If you can’t get access to something before it opens, you can photograph the space without anyone getting in the shot.
The second way I do this is through being patient. Sometimes I have to wait a long time for people to pass by and get out of the frame for me to take a shot of something without other people in the way. This can take a while, but patience really can pay off. This is what I typically do if I’m visiting somewhere on my own time. Even very crowded spots like Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan, had large enough gaps between the crowds that I could get shots of the torii gates without anyone in the frame.
The third option you have is to ask people to move or wait just a moment while capturing a shot. I don’t often do this because people have the right to be in public places and take up space there just as much as I do. The most recent time I can remember doing this was when we were at Mealt Falls on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and there was almost no one else around, but these three people were having a full-blown selfie session that was going on 15 minutes, with no signs of slowing down. I approached them, asked if I could take a few shots for them, which they happily took me up on once they saw my camera, and then I asked if they wouldn’t mind stepping aside while I grabbed a few photos of the waterfall once I was done taking their photos. They said they didn’t mind at all, and they went through the photos I took of them on their phones while I took the photos I needed of the waterfall as quickly as possible. It was a win-win for everyone, and I finally got my chance to photograph the waterfall. I was glad I asked because they went back to filming themselves in front of it and didn’t budge for another 20 minutes or so.
Finally, if all else fails, learn to use Photoshop, Lightroom, or cell phone retouching apps like FaceTune to remove people from your photographs in post-production. This is a bit tedious and isn’t what I prefer to do, but sometimes it’s your only option, and once you learn how to do it, it’s a great skill for any photographer to have. Sometimes you can’t help but have people in the background of your shots, so unless you have their permission, in order to politely take photos in public, you should edit them out of your photos.
If you enjoy taking photos in public and have any other tips for taking photos politely in public, or other suggestions for taking pictures politely in public spaces, let me know in the comments below!
Have questions for me? Email them to me at email@example.com, and I’ll answer them in an upcoming Q&A series!
Follow me on Instagram @AnnieFairfax for more travel & photography content.