Portraits of Strangers: To Ask Or Not To Ask, That Is The Question


It’s not always easy to take a photo of a stranger. It needs courage and politeness. Or sometimes it just needs pure cheek. This is how I got the shots and why I took them in the first place. Six strangers and a few dogs, here are a few of my favourite stranger portraits, taken on a variety of film cameras.

I saw this chap in Lisbon. He was posing underneath the hanging fronds on a tree in one of the city’s lovely gardens. I quickly realised that he was fooling around and using the fronds as a wig for his very bald head. LC-A+ in my hand, without asking, I lined up the shot and pressed the shutter. He saw me doing this but, fortunately for me, just laughed. He said something in Portuguese but sadly I didn’t understand him so I just laughed with him. I wonder where he is now…

Strictly speaking, a photo not of a stranger but of a stranger’s dog. The dog looked so great I really wanted a photo of him. Dogs are often a great way of starting a conversation with strangers, they’re usually very proud of their pets. I asked the owner if I could take a portrait of the lovely/ugly dog and he happily said yes. They nearly always do.

This strange chap was in town with his child’s pram full of horns, whistles and hooters. To be honest, he was easy to take a portrait of as he was there to be the centre of attention anyway. So in this case, I just walked up to him, framed the shot and let him pose away!

Dogs again—can you spot the theme? To be honest, when I saw these two guys I knew that I really wanted a portrait of them, not the dogs. One bald, the other with sunglasses, a cowboy hat and a big moustache, I just had to capture them on film. I walked up to them and politely asked if I could take a photo of them with the dogs. I commented on how magnificent the dogs were, all the while thinking how bizarre the men looked! They were happy to oblige and as the man in the hat talked at length about the wonders of digital photography, I captured this odd couple on good old film.

So if you ever see a stranger you’d like to take a portrait of, don’t be afraid to ask. Smile, be polite, lie a little if you need to (i.e. “I really love your hat,” etc.) and don’t pester them if they say no. There are plenty of people out there, you’ll get your shots eventually.

written by panchoballard on 2012-03-09 #lifestyle #black-and-white #analogue-photography #strangers-portraits-street-people


  1. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    ask, explain, make friendship!

  2. has
    has ·

    What camera did you use to take the last photo? my guess is a holga or a diana :). Really nice photos to!! :)

  3. fizzynothing
    fizzynothing ·

    Great article and I loved the photos. Thanks for sharing.

  4. panchoballard
    panchoballard ·

    Thank you. The cameras, in order, were: LC-A+, Kiev 6C, Brownie 44a, Kiev 6C and Holga 120GN. The Holga is my favourite camera, I just love it.

  5. fiveorsixgirls
    fiveorsixgirls ·

    what kind of film? (and i don't suggest lying, i think you can always find something nice to say=)

  6. mrmostarr
    mrmostarr ·

    take the photo and... ruuuun :D

  7. lokified
    lokified ·

    I find the larger or odder-looking the camera, the easier it is to get a photo. Something like a Holga or the Belair catches people's eye already, so it's easy to say "Can I grab a picture?"

    I think though, that the key is to be quick, I saw a photographer I didn't know ask a stranger if she could photograph his dog. She then crouched down and for a minute plus fiddled with exposure, focus, etc. He was squirming, and clearly wanting to leave. I swore not to be That Photographer. :D

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