How To Approach Strangers On the Street To Take Their Photos

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I have recently become enthralled with the idea of approaching people on the street and asking to take their photo; it has built my confidence both as a photographer and as a person, I have met some amazing people and have taken many photos of which give me a great sense of pride.

Street Photography

The problem is, approaching people can be nerve racking, and if you’re an introvert like me this can be a large hurdle to overcome, and even if you’re an extrovert you will still have to learn to deal with rejection, for you will receive some. But, you can do it, and you can get some great shots. In this article I’ll explore both how to approach strangers and deal with rejection, and hopefully help you produce some pretty interesting portraits.

Be Prepared
People are busy and generally don’t have much time to spare so have your camera ready to go, don’t stand there in front of the subject messing with dial for ages, a little is ok, but anything more than a few seconds and you risk the chance of annoying the subject, these are real people with real places to be. The other thing to keep in mind is that people will want to see what you do with their photos so bring along some cards with your website or contact details. You can pick them up pretty cheap online and it will give you a more professional edge and you won’t be fumbling around with a pen and paper.

Street Photography

The key to being prepared is speed, the less time you are worrying about your settings or wondering where the nearest pen is the more time you can spend on composing the shot and engaging with the person as most people who agree to have their photo taken will be interested in your project.

Finding People to Photograph
This can be the hardest part of the whole project. I suggest going to town centres in the middle of a weekday or in the mornings of the weekends and avoid those busy times in the middle of the weekend when people will be rushing about and likely think you’re trying to sell them something. Look for people on their lunch breaks, people leisurely walking around town or those who are working on the local market stands, these people are the most likely to be positive about your approach for they aren’t in any rush. And if someone looks busy leave them alone and come back later or just let the photo go, you’ll find another great portrait somewhere else.

Street Photography

The Shoot
This is when, if you’re an introvert, you’ll notice your heart starting to beat faster and your nerves kick in. Don’t worry about that, take a deep breath, do a mental check that your camera is ready to go and have your contact details at the ready and just start by saying ‘Hi’. A simple greeting, or even a smile, can go a long way and it breaks the ice, and the rest is pretty simple, let the person know what you are doing and then ask if you can take their photograph, be direct and try not to mince your words. I still do at times, but try your best not to.

Most the time you’ll get a ‘what’s it for?’ response to which I let them know it’ll go in my portfolio of which I am building. Also let them know what you’ll do with the photograph, i.e. put it on your website, or your Facebook. This way it lets them know exactly your purpose for the photograph and will give them confidence in your abilities as a photographer.

Street Photography

At this point you’ll normally get your response and if it’s positive you’ll need to ready your camera and give the subject some direction as they’ll likely have no idea what you want them to do. After you have the photo you’ll probably start chatting to the person, talking about their life or yours and this really is the most exciting part of the process. I love meeting people and even though I’m quite an introvert I thrive off this sort of engagement and hopefully you will too. At this point, tell them about your website again and offer them a card, most people will be happy to take one and it is a great way to spread the word about your photography project. Thank them for their time and move onto finding your next photograph.

Rejection
If, on the other hand, you get a negative response, thank the person, wish them a nice day and carry on with finding your next photograph. Most people will be quite happy to have been asked for their photograph even if they don’t want one taken and hopefully you’ll leave a positive impression on them.

The harder part of rejection is with yourself, if you have had a number of negative responses in a row you may start to doubt your approach and become a bit disheartened. Well, I am here to say that you will suffer from rejection and you have to just shake it off, it isn’t easy at first and it can just make you want to give up the project, but persevere and those positives will soon outweigh any amount of negatives, both literally and mentally.

Secret Tip
Here is my secret tip, after you have managed to get a few great photos keep them on your camera and show them to your next subject when explaining your idea and they’ll then know exactly the photograph you are after, it’ll both give them direction and confidence in what you do and will lead to an overall better photograph.

Conclusion
After reading this article I hope you have a little more confidence in yourself and can feel inspired by the fact that even I, a self-confessed introvert, can approach complete strangers on the street and ask to take their photo. Engagement really is an exciting part of photography and I have met some really awesome people because of it.

About the Author
Will Barnes is a 24 year old UK based photographer with a keen interest in portraiture work. His work spans from those he meets in the streets to those in their workplace, and he manages to capture both the detail and the character of his subjects. Check out Will’s work on his website and Facebook.

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  • Comments
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  1. Brianna Asaro Photography

    Thanks for this post!! This is something I struggle with – even when I do weddings. It’s always awkward. But I’ve definitely gotten more used to it as time goes on. Thanks for the secret tip – what an excellent idea!

    • Reply
  2. Elaine Gilbert

    Thanks for the ideas about approaching people. I have had a tough time doing it because it was always a risky thing for me, but I love people pictures. Love your work!

    • Reply
  3. Tahseen

    Great Work… Weldone

    • Reply
  4. suzi smith

    It’s something I’ve never dared do as yet…!

    • Reply
  5. annie

    Thanks for this article! I really have this problem and my photo project was taking picturs of strangers. That was last summer/autumn…Maybe rejection had a bigger power over me because my project ended. It’s true, it was a great feeling when people accepted to be photographed, but when they hear about facebook or personal website..they just run away. I don’t know..maybe in my country people are scared of these kind of things and this makes my project even harder. Basically everybody thinks here that a photographer will always do a bad thing with a picture and they don’t care if you have a website or not…This is why I had to end everything and this made me extremely sad because I like taking pictures of people on the streets. Maybe,..one day..I will have the courage to do it all over again! :(

    • Reply
  6. Sharon

    I spent about an hour today with my boyfriend in a busy part of Kuala Lumpur trying to figure out how to pluck up enough courage to ask people for permission to take their photos! Your tips are very helpful, I’ll try to use them the next time when we go for a photo walk. Problem is, we Asians aren’t as open to this idea! Hopefully we’ll be able to get some positive responses. Thanks for this post.

    • Reply
  7. fanjoandco

    Excellent article about a very interesting part in photography. Thank you !

    • Reply

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