We all know that strangers act differently when they know they’re being photographed. A lot of people are shy and cover their faces while others give strange looks. But that shouldn’t deter you from photographing strangers. If we only took portrait photos of people we knew, we’d be missing out on a ton of opportunities for great portrait shots.
When it comes to photographing a stranger, I prefer to take it without them knowing; a candid photo. And I find that the best way to catch a candid portrait of them is while they’re doing their thing – while they’re focused on their work and/or distracted, allowing you to snap away without them noticing.
I was recently very lucky to be nearby the scene of a burning van when New York’s Bravest arrived to put it out. At first I was snapping away at the burning van but the real success I got from the roll was the portraits of these brave firemen.
Last November, I went to see the New York City Marathon and brought my cameras with me. I got into the middle of the street, focused my camera to a couple feet in front of me, and waited until a runner came into view. I captured the lovely woman you see in the photo below, while she was focused on running the marathon. Sometimes it also helps to have your camera ready, waiting for a passerby to come into view and then snap.
At the Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown, I was easily able to get these two candid shots of the sushi chef preparing raw salmon and the fishmonger speaking to a customer. As you can see, the sushi chef is intensely focused on slicing!
On Chinese New Year, I followed some lion dance troupes around Chinatown and was able to get this portrait of a taiko drummer concentrating on the lion dancers that he was accompanying.
One of my favorite portraits is this one:
Taken in Cabo, Mexico last August after we caught those fish out at sea.
The reason I love taking candid portraits of strangers doing their thing is that it combines three types of photography: portraiture, candid, and action photography. And when you capture a candid image of a stranger doing what they do, you’re not just taking a photo of someone you don’t know – you’re capturing an honest picture of someone with a bit of their history and background, which I find makes a photograph way more interesting.