The best way to approach and interact with a stranger

Updated on September 5, 2017 in Photography
6 on August 26, 2017

Hi everyone,

I was wondering, how do you start a conversation with a stranger when you want to take a photograph of them (with their permission). Sometimes I see a person I really want to photograph (and take my time for it) but I never know how to start the conversation. How do you start? What is the best way to set someone at ease? How many photo’s do you take? What are your experiences? 

 
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1 on August 28, 2017

I have no experience at all. Because it’s not my style. 
But I think you should keep it simple.

Hi, I like your ….. can I take some pictures of you? 
As soon as they say yes take them to a nice background and shoot as much as possible.
Break the ice by just having a positive attitude and just try to be funny.  
Let them do gestures, play with their hair, adjust the color or maybe use what interested you in the first place.Tell a joke or make a funny comment and they will laugh, to capture this as well. 
I think to shoot moments which they do not expect. These pictures tend to be more interesting than posed photos
 
Like I said, I have no experience but I think the main thing here is to keep it as simple as possible and just having a positive attitude. 

Hope this helps. 

 

on August 29, 2017

Thanks, Steef! It’s not my style either, but I just want to try it. Sometimes I get clumpsy/awkward when someone notices me when I’m shooting. Asking people for their permission would be an exercise to get less awkward with strangers. I’m just beginning with street and I want to get more confident. 

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0 on August 30, 2017

I am also just beginning with street photography,  and I am normally on the shy side,  so I get what you’re saying, NIKH.  However, this summer,  I really learned that asking to take somebody’s photo can be such a positive experience. 

 I  ask  myself what makes me want to take a photo of a particular person.  What do I like so much? The first words out of my mouth is a sincere compliment or enthusiastic explanation based on absolute honesty. 

To the woman with the beautifully painted artificial leg: “Oh, my god, that leg is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that! Would you mind if I take your picture? ” 

To the couple on the bench: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you guys are a just so beautiful and look so much in love, would you mind if I snap a few photos?”  

To the teenagers downtown passing and smoking a vape: “Hey guys, I know this is going to sound weird, but the vape plumes you are making look amazing with the light behind you like that. Do you mind if I try to take a few pictures capturing that on film?”  

This is all working VERY well for me. I’m still nervous doing it, but I’ve had  very good reactions from strangers and some really fantastic conversations, so I am not as nervous as before.

Also, when people ask me if I’m a photographer,  I say, sort of- I’m studying photography.  If they ask where, I say online.   This is all very true- I think even accomplished photographers would consider themselves students of photography.  But people really seem to open up to somebody who describes himself as a student.   I think it’s very nonthreatening to people.  I am 47 years old with a football player build in so I realize anything that makes me seem less threatening is a bonus! 

Street Photographer, Thomas Leugard,  talks about dressing like a tourist, wearing a silly hat, etc –  anything to make him NOT look like a professional photographer.  While his intent is to  blend in and take pictures without permission,  I think wearing an enormous gear bag, carrying a flash in one hand and an expensive “big lens” camera in the other is intimidating if you want to ask permission. I have a “Hogwarts Academy” t-shirt, and you would not believe the number of people who compliment me on it while I am taking their picture- it’s a great ice-breaker. 

These are some of the things that I have learned and have really helped me this summer. I am eager to hear other tips. I’m not adverse to taking candid photos without permission, but I think there is a special connection can happen with a stranger when you ask permission or take a street portrait. At any rate, I hope you can find some of this helpful.

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0 on August 30, 2017

Sometimes the easiest is just to compliment them or ask them, “What is your life story?”

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0 on September 3, 2017

Ok, thanks for the tips. I’ll keep them in mind when I go out shooting. Let’s hope I’ll get over my awkwardness.

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0 on September 5, 2017

Not everybody can be Bruce Gilden (thank goodness), but I like his approach: WNYC Street Shots: Bruce Gilden

In my experience, if you live in a town big enough to have a daily newspaper, an arts weekly, or a monthly magazine, people are fairly accustomed to the notion that they’ll encounter photographers in public. In fact, the problem I run into far more often than negative reactions is people trying to stay out of my shots because they think I’m shooting a building or a storefront (not them).

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