Fears of Photographing Strangers

Many of my students are concerned about how to overcome fears of photographing strangers? In which it turns to be their main problem. And instead of developing their skills or improving their artistic vision, they focus on their fears. Eventually it becomes a mission.

Fears are normal. We are human beings and they are part of our nature. When you approach a stranger and take their picture, it may bother them, but it will bother you too. As we are worried to disturb others. We should keep a distance of respect and value. Breaking this distance annoys both parties. Imagine that everyone in the community has their own private circle (personal space) around 2 meters in diameter. We always wanna keep it clear for our protection and comfort.

Keep in mind that in order to impose with your camera you need to be calm and smooth like a dancer. Show that you’re coming with peace and love. Be polite and nice. Don’t provoke others with fast movements. No need to be a blunt. Be confident, not arrogant. Don’t trigger their alerts by showing up scared. Avoid any tension. Just be a dancer.

Some photographers in order to overcome their fears they fall into sticking themselves into it and constantly they get trapped in their fears. Your mission is not go on the streets with a camera to confront strangers or to point your camera at passers. Your mission is to take good pictures. Don’t turn your passion to a complex. Channel your fears into real practice to conquer them. Be practical! Think about what you want to photograph? Why you want to photograph it? And how you want your subjects to look like? This where to start.

Think about the place, time and what’s going on? The place is your main factor. Pick it carefully. Where to go? Why? Wait and think about how to place your subject in the frame and how to arrange you composition to have a good overall scene. Then decide the time, when to take the picture? What’s around your subject? What is in the foreground and background? Do you need to wait for something to come in the background to balance your composition? Or it will outweigh it? What’s going in the scene? What’s the story? What’s happening? It is your message to the viewer.

When all the aspects; the place, time and the subject line up parallel for the right moment, take the picture. Using this way of practice will help out controlling your fears indirectly by channeling them into an efficient approach. Look at the outcome and assess your improvement. Best of luck!

Sunny 16 Rule

The sunny 16 rule is a method of estimating correct exposures during the daytime without a light meter by setting the shutter speed to the same value of the ISO then setting the aperture according to the table below. For example; In a sunny day with 100 ISO set shutter speed to 1/100s and aperture to f/16. If the ISO is 400, then shutter speed should be 1/400s and so on.

Aperture (F-Stop)
Lighting Condition
Shadow Details
Snow or sand
Dark with sharp edges
Slightly overcast
Soft around edges
Barely visible
Heavy overcast
No shadow
Shade or sunset
No shadow

Elements of Composition


The relationship between the lines, shapes and forms produces an aesthetically pleasing visual presentation that attracts the reader to the picture. Static subjects gain strength when an attractive graphic composition is used to capture the attention of the viewer.

Graphic Elements

  1. Lines
  2. Shapes
  3. Textures
  4. Mass
  5. Form
  6. Color
  7. Space
  8. Light

Graphic Principles

  • Contrast
  • Unity
  • Balance
  • Variety
  • Pattern
  • Movement

Quality of Light

The use of natural and/or artificial light enhances the subject and contributes to the storytelling capabilities of the image. Photographers prefer to make outdoor pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon to take advantage of the setting or rising sun’s shadow, highlights and warm light.

Rule of Thirds

Many photographs can be divided into visual thirds by drawing imaginary lines dividing the image into equal thirds both horizontally and vertically. The subject and Important elements of the composition are placed where the lines intersect. This visual rule has been used in painting for hundreds of years. Following the rule precludes placing objects in the center of the picture.

Sense of Place

A sense of place is an important element especially in documentary photography, as readers gain context and understanding when a sense of place is established.


Dominant foregrounds and informational backgrounds provide context to pictures. Photographs with a strong point of entry supported by story telling information in other layers of the image is a classic photo-journalistic approach.


Juxtaposition is an effective and powerful storytelling device. It is the photographic presentation of opposing or contrasting elements which often convey a sense of irony. 


Photographers seek unique perspective for their pictures to give their viewers a different look or angle, something they cannot see under normal circumstances.

Point of Entry

The point of entry is the spot in a picture that immediately catches the eye, drawing the viewer into the content of the photograph.


Human beings display a wide range of emotions when they win, lose, are sad or joyful. Photographers capture these emotions in their attempt to tell the stories of their subjects.


Photographs can communicate a feeling or a state of mind.


Impact provokes an immediate, powerful and emotional response from the viewer.


Surprise – images that show viewers the unexpected. A good place for the often overlooked part of life, humor!


With every press of the shutter, the photographer chooses the exact moment to record an essential truth about a person or event.

The French photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson told the Washington  Post in 1957, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Flash Photography

Flash is an extremely bright light of exceptionally short duration. It is important to note that there are only three main kinds of flash although there are many different makes and sizes.

Manual Flash

A manual flash will give out a fixed amount of light each time it is fired. You calculate the correct exposure by first estimating the distance between the flash and the subject. Looking this distance up on the back of the flashgun will give you the correct F-stop which you have to set on your camera lens.

Automatic Flash

An automatic flash is usually more expensive than the manual flash as it has the advantage of having a Thyristor that reads the amount of light reflected from the subject and cuts off its power when the exposure becomes sufficient based on the given aperture and ISO that were previously set by the user.

Dedicated Flash

Dedicated flashguns are designed to work according to the information provided through the electrical contact in the mounting bracket between the camera and the gun. In which the TTL (through the lens) metering system is used to make the exposure reading, instead of the Thrystor.

Sacred Numbers

Many people ask how could numbers affect composition? It is strange.

Yeah, the numbers 3, 4 and 7 are considered the best. If used properly they can raise the picture content from trivial to the superlative. The numbers alone are not sufficient, but they can be great help composing a picture.

There is nothing special about numbers 1 and 2 as far as composition goes. Two is in fact one of the least interesting numbers in existence, even if it does appear in the list describing the golden mean. One has greater tension, while three, four and seven are considered to be mysterious and magical, and therefore more interesting in photo composition.

A combination of three shapes is one of the easiest and most interesting to arrange into a good composition. That’s about as much as the eye can take in at one glance. Three elements pf the same type often comprise living image groups. The triangle is eternally balanced geometric form.

Photo-assignment Suggestions by Henri Cartier-Bresson

From the Images of Man Audiovisual Series, The Decisive Moment: Henri Cartier-Bresson 1973

The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. It’s a question mark you put on somebody. Trying to say, “Who is it? What does it amount to? What is the significance of that face?” The difference between a portrait and a snapshot is that in the portrait, the person has agreed to be photographed.
I like to take pictures of people in their environment, the animal in it habitat. it is fascinating coming into people’s homes, looking at them. But you have to be like a cat. Not disturb. On tiptoes, always on tiptoes. It’s like a biologist and his microscope. When you study the thing, it doesn’t react the same way as when it is not being studied. And you have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt, which is not an easy thing.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was one of the most influential, well-known, and beloved figures in the history of photography. His inventive work in the early 1930’s helped define more than photography and photojournalism, particularly through the idea of “The Decisive Moment”. He was also was one of the founders of the Magnum Photos Agency. Cartier-Bresson covered many of the biggest events of the twentieth century, including World War II, China during the revolution, the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death, and the United States in the postwar boom.

The Quality of Light

The use of natural or artificial light enhances the subject and contributes to the storytelling capabilities of the image. Photographers prefer to make outdoor pictures early in the morning or late in afternoon to take advantage of the setting or rising sun’s shadows, highlights and warm light.

Light coming from a compact point such as light bulb or the sun is said to have a very hard quality, The shadows created by this type of light are dark and have well-defined edges.

Light coming from a large source such as sunlight that has been diffused by clouds or a light that has been reflected off a large bright surface is said to have a very soft quality. The shadows are less dark (detail can be seen in them) and the edges are not clearly defined.

The smaller the light source, the harder the light appears. The larger the light source, the softer the light appears.

Types of Pictures


An informational photograph is a visual record of a person, place or event. Although informational pictures lack depth and storytelling qualities, they can provide important information. Sometimes photographers are limited to taking informational pictures because of lack of access or position to make a better picture.


Documentary photographers often have to take posed pictures of their subjects for their publications and websites. Although this may not be their first choice, it may be only alternative if the event or action is no longer taking place. Creative environmental portraits are legitimate means of illustrating stories. It should be clear to the reader that the portraits are posed. 

Active (Action)

A documentary photographer or photojournalist’s job is to be on the scene covering real people involved in real events in real time. This results in active photographs, which are always preferable to pictures taken after the fact. Being there brings the honesty and insight of documentary photojournalism to publications.

Capturing events as they happen allows photographers to produce images that show readers their community and the world in a way that informs, inspires and makes them happy, sad or concerned.

Photo Assignment

Shoot three pictures show the three types and send to info@mohmann.com with “Photo Assignment: Types of Pictures – (Your Name)” in the subject line.

Documentary Photography

As documentary photographers develop their abilities they begin to think in the visual language. They advance from basic informational pictures to more sophisticated visual reporting pictures. That’s why they prefer to make active pictures of real events in real time but they often encounter situations where their opinions are limited to informational or passive pictures.

The amount of information in a picture builds a relationship between the viewer and the picture.  Not only by perceiving the message or the meaning behind it but also it extends to every single detail in the frame. And as the viewer has this connection with the picture, the photographer builds a strong relationship through the viewfinder, as to transmit to the viewers. In which creating a small bounded world that a viewer can move their attention through and explore.