I took a fantastic course with fellow Sydney street photographer and teacher Richard Lynch on documentary and street photography recently. In the very first session. Richard showed us a series of increasingly confronting images and asked the class "Would you take the shot?".
Richard put forward that it is the photographers imperative to take the shot The point was that as photographers documenting everyday street life, if we ultimately believe that making an image means something and is worth doing, we should have no qualms about making the image.
My response to this is, well, you better know why you are clicking the shutter, if you are "just taking the shot"!
Intent is key in street photography. There is a tendency when beginning street photography to just photograph a person walking down the street and calling it 'street'. Because holding up a camera and photographing a complete and utter stranger takes a lot of courage to do when you are starting out, it feels like an achievement and something that needs to be shared. No doubt it is, but very soon as street photographers, we need to start to be able to show intent in our work. When you know why you are taking the image, and you can verbalise internally or externally what you are trying to achieve, then you are shooting with intent. Making the image then comes naturally and, for me, almost irresistibly.
When I am out shooting I always try to be working on some sort of photographic idea that I am trying to capture. This may be premeditated - determined even before you step out the door or pick up your camera. Or it might be in the split second moment when you see something and raise the camera to the eye. "You look cool. I like your scarf. Nice hat.” Great shadows, the light hitting the face etc are all great things to look for and a great way to start. Short and long term projects with themes and ideas are even better.
I find that if I am able to succinctly explain what I am trying to capture most people are fine and some are even interested in seeing the results. True, I've had subjects glaze over as I explain what I was seeing and what I am trying to shoot, and walk away saying no worries!! Thats OK I got the shot.
You can practice intent even when you don't have a camera and you are not out shooting. I got this tip listening to a podcast by photographer Derek Storey He talks about practicing seeing photographically by clickiing your fingers every time you see a shot as you walk around even without the camera. After a while you just begin to see images on the street and imagining how you would frame them up and where you would need to be to make the best photo.
Doing this helps me to start to articulate my intent when stepping out the door, as I already have a range of scenarios that I have pre-conceived, and I can begin to see the elements start to come together as I roam the streets. In this way I think that I am always able to articulate why I am taking the shot and I feel that this gives me confidence to use the photographers imperitive and just take the shot.
If you like the idea of shooting with intent, give it a try by picking a theme or an idea when you go out the door with your camera. Try and stick to this theme even for a few frames at a time, and see if by doing this it builds your confidence in being out there with the camera and photographing the world as it passes you by.