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On Shooting Street Portraits

2012-03-20 11

Here’s a tipster In which our hero divulges the secrets to his superpowers, or tips for shooting street portraits.

Recently I’ve decided to dabble in taking street portraits. I’ve been shooting street photography (or candid photographs of strangers in the outdoors… sometimes it’s not so much a street as a path through a park or garden) for almost a year and have been getting the itch to try something new.

Now, there’s two ways you can go about taking a street portrait:

1. Just take the shot without asking and walk on. Some find this rude, others will smile and laugh to themselves, even others will speak loudly using various profanities concerning you and “who do you think you are” etcetera (ask me how I know they do this last one!).
2. Politely ask if you can take the person’s picture.

(1) Didn’t ask. (2) Asked.

I should now confess that I used to be a terrible introvert. Some days when I’m feeling particularly down it creeps back out. On those days, my wife forbids me from going to shoot pictures as I get terribly grumpy. Those days aside, however, I’m perfectly fine just snapping shots of unsuspecting passersby or walking up to a complete stranger and asking if it’s ok to take their picture.

The trick was to just do it. After a while, I gained a certain level of confidence and I no longer cared what the person would think of this wild-eyed, wild haired maniac waving an antique camera in their face and asking to take their picture. Nor did I fear what they’d say. The truth is, the worst thing they can say is: “No.” And when someone says “no,” it’s good to just leave it at that and move on (this I don’t know from experience, it just seems logical).

Now, if you’re one of those alpha people who isn’t afraid of anything then this doesn’t apply to you. However, if you’re a bit shy and aren’t comfortable with approaching strangers try this: When I first started taking street photographs I did a Mug Shot Project. I started at work and asked co-workers if I could take a picture of them. At the end of the roll, I was eventually comfortable enough to ask strangers to pose for me. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: start within your comfort zone.

Another tip on making it easier to approach people and shoot either of the afore mentioned ways I picked up from Garry Winogrand. I read an interview of him some time ago on a webpage I can’t remember just now (but I pinky swear this pertained to him). When Winogrand would go up to people and take their picture he would smile. He’d smile the whole time: as he approached, while shooting, and as he proceeded on to his next shot he’d nod and smile. It creates a connection with the subject letting them know you appreciate their contribution to your art as well as puts them at ease while you invade their personal space. Also, I like to add a quiet “thank you” as I proceed. Because, well, my parents raised me to be polite.

Should you ask and the subject acquiesce, take your time. Make it right and make it count. Maybe bracket a shot or two (if your gear allows for it). Because there’s nothing worse than finding out you wasted your own time and someone else’s.

Who you take pictures of is entirely up to you. Typically, I find myself snapping shots of people who look “interesting.” Offhand, I couldn’t tell you what makes them interesting to me. Sometimes, it’s their facial features. Sometimes it’s what they’re wearing. Sometimes it’s a lucious, majestic beard. Something will just strike my fancy and I’ll have to take their picture.

Here are some “interesting” people:

Credits: rrohe

So whether you’re shooting under the radar or you’re introducing yourself to strangers, I hope you find that interesting something that draws you to them. Feel free to post your street portraits below, I’d love to see them!

written by rrohe on 2012-03-20 #gear #tutorials #quickie-tipster #art #tipster #lomography #street-portrait #smile #interesting #strangers


  1. mikeydavies
    mikeydavies ·

    great article

  2. ginny
    ginny ·

    Great article! When I was in NYC last October I decided to shoot some workers having lunch, I didn't ask but it's quite funny because you can tell by their faces on the second picture that they'd noticed me... Here's the first one:… And here's the other one:…

  3. rrohe
    rrohe ·

    Thanks for the likes and the comments. @ginny really enjoyed your photos! Thanks for your interest.

  4. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    Those are some great shots with some interesting characters.

  5. dicklaa
    dicklaa ·

    @rrohe Good stuff. What set-up were you using for these photos if you don't mind me asking?

  6. rrohe
    rrohe ·

    @dicklaa Mamiya/Sekor 500dtl w/ Chinon 28mm lens. Film is either Lomo xpro 200 (color) or Fomapan 100 (bw) developed in caffenol. Thanks for your interest :)

  7. carlota_nonnumquam
    carlota_nonnumquam ·

    Great article! I love street photography and I really want to get into it but I'm always afraid I will get yelled at if I take photos of people and they notice. I've been trying to work up the courage to start asking people if I can photograph them!

  8. mafiosa
    mafiosa ·

    Great portraits!

  9. amellemseit
    amellemseit ·

    Also, try googling "ebook" and "street photography" and read both books

  10. jwlb
    jwlb ·

    Nice article! I did not have the guts yet to take portraits on the streets! Maybe I will try it when the sun is shining this spring;)

    You can find a few picture I took by clicking on the following link :)

  11. tbraun6464
    tbraun6464 ·

    This is one of the more amazing and fun activities to do with a camera! Thank you... Great article.

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