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Street Portraits - How to Approach & Photograph Strangers


Keywords: street, photography, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips

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Street Portrait 1

First off, I'm not blessed with some high-degree of confidence that allows me to walk up to anybody, anytime, anywhere and ask them if I can take their picture. Chances are, neither are you. But it hasn't stopped me from taking some wonderful street portraits, and it shouldn't stop you either.

I'd like to be able to tell you that after you've done this a few times it get's easier. It doesn't. The first time I asked a stranger if I could take their picture, I was shaking and nervous as all get out. Same thing the 10th time. Same thing the 100th time.

What I can tell you is that once you've done this a few times, you'll start to develop a rhythm in how you approach a subject, and at some point, while the nervousness will still be there, you'll be better able to work through it and come away with much better shots.


(5 Votes )
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Originally written on December 10, 2012

Last updated on August 25, 2016

User User


George Zullich (Sawfish) on November 15, 2013

I get in thier face and shoot, if they voice any derision I pretend to be a deaf mute and present my card (pointing to some flickr street photos). Any more questions and I deck them...

User on February 27, 2013

I have always really enjoyed looking at other people's street photography. I would love to do some of it myself. But my two concerns are as you have mentioned getting comfortable to ask someone to take their photo and mostly the legal side of using thier photos. What is the legal side of it in US. That bothers me more than anything else.

User on January 3, 2013

In the City environment, even a super-wide lens also good to be use, I like it. see:

User on December 31, 2012

In forty years of my street photography, I almost never ask a permission to shot. In former Soviet Union people usually did not fear to be shot, rarely their reaction was negative. Now, In my New York, The City Low permit street photography on public space without a consensus. Of course, conflicts are unavoidable because of cultural and ethic differences in such Mega City as New York. I agree that our intent must positive, honest and moral.

Ankur Vashishtha (Ankur0403) on December 24, 2012

Very helpful article, Thank YOu !

User on December 17, 2012

Thanks for this detailed description of your interaction with people- it's great and something I will put right to use (after working out the equivalent in Japanese, as I am in Japan). I take a lot of shots, but your approach is much more professional than what I have done until now, and I think will get better results- again, thanks. I'm using a D90 with a 35mm 1.8 DX- I thought about the 50mm, but there are so many tight spaces here, I would often have to stand in the next room to get more than a small group.

User on December 17, 2012

One tactic that I use is the same as what I do in shops in developing countries- or yard-sales, for that matter- I never initially focus on the item/subject I'm most interested in, then, after showing interest elsewhere, I casually turn my attention to what I am actually aiming to 'capture'. Another tactic I've been successful with, is to have the person or persons take my photo (like any tourist might), and then with an 'oh, by the way' I ask to shot them.

Barbara Obrai (Barbo) on December 13, 2012

Thank you for all the useful information. Can you recommend a simple model release form format.

vivien lougheed (Xelahu) on December 12, 2012

I work mostly in developing countries and paying for a shot or two is normal. It seldom costs more than a dollar and at the price of mail, that is much cheaper than a copy of the photo. And usually the people can use the money more than a picture. That is not to say I never send copies but that is the norm for me.

Blaine P Biedermann (blainepaul) on December 11, 2012

Do you ever get people who want to be compensated for the privilege of consent, especially when you get the release out? For example, "What's in it for me?" or "How much will you pay me?". The response would be, "I'll give you a copy of the portrait."

Robert Dein (Bob Dein) on December 10, 2012

Rhythm, heck..., it's addicting!

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