One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard in my life was simply this: "Own it."
Two words. That's all. Both of which, when put together in that order changed how I began to see things in my own life and started to shape my attitude. That unlikely piece of advice came from an even less likely person and place. I was listening to an episode of my favorite comedy pod cast when Joe Stapleton, the co-host of "Two Jacks in the Hole" (unfortunately now a now retired pod cast, but the archives are still up and probably one of the best hidden gems ever on the Internet) uttered those words. I don't remember the exact words or context, but it was something along the lines of when people do silly mistakes in life and get all sheepish or embarrassed further making the situation awkward and embarrassing for those around them. Joe simply stated that no matter what happens in life, simply "own it."
You wore different colored socks to work? Own it. You farted in the elevator? Own it. Have a speech or presentation to give? Own. It.
Many of you in the group know that I'm a teacher as I tend to mention frequently. What you may not know is that a I teach a special kind of kid. I work with emotionally and behaviorally challenged at risk youth. Conduct disorders, gang bangers, sex offenders, oppositional defiant, etc... My classroom is a very tough environment where I am challenged and frequently disobeyed throughout the day.
I own my classroom.
My students talk over me. My voice booms over there's with a very sharp and curt "Excuse me, I'm talking." Six foot gang banger stands to challenge me to my face about the consequence I'm going to give him for not following my instructions. "Go sit down." with very direct eye contact and meaning.
If I don't own my classroom and my lessons each day, it will be me who gets owned and I will become ineffective as an educator and each day will be hell. Trust me, I've watched others try and pacify, give chances, cringe and bend to whatever the teenager is threatening to act aggressively over and within months they're fired or burned out an quit. Every student of mine knows there place because very early on I establish myself as their daddy.
Own it applies to street photography very strongly. Many photogs who start shooting street photography do so with a shyness and a safeness due to the fear of confrontation or even embarrassment they feel of attempting to take photos of strangers in public. The comforting feeling of that safety causes a delusion that you're taking good shots and you may even talk yourself into believing you're taking dramatic shots or socially relevant shots documenting things like street performers or the homeless. The reassurances of your friends who don't know any better reinforce the feeling that you're a good photographer. All you're doing those is going for the easy shot (http://www.blackandwhitestreet.com/node/4118
So the mindset you need to get into when you're out on the street with your camera is "own it." You're a street photographer. You're there for the sole purpose of taking street photos. Trust me, if you have the air of confidence around you it will be apparent to others that, you are indeed a photographer, a professional, and you know what you're doing. Most people will be flattered and not question what you're doing because they will have the sense they're going to appear in the local paper. On the flip side, if you're sitting in your car or on the sidewalk with a 200mm zoom lens and act uncomfortable and unsure of yourself you're only going to look like a creeper. Worse here in the U.S. possibly a pervert or a terrorist.
The next time you're out on the street to shoot, own it. Own the fact you're a photographer. Own the fact that you're taking pictures of people in public. If someone asks you about, own up to it. That's an opportunity to share your craft and hopefully you have a business card on you to share your portfolio. Plus there's the added benefit of looking like credible professional. (Five bucks at Vista print gets you 200 business cards for a first order. I always keep a handful on me.) Don't have a business card? Own it and think on your feet if you feel being a street photographer is not gonna fly. Who's to say you're not a photography student and your professor put you on this dumb assignment to get you out of your comfort zone; or sorry, you were actually looking at the people or building behind them. Whatever the excuse is, own it.