Many of us struggle taking photographs of strangers and even those street photographers backed with years of experience, still get shaken up once in a while when he realizes he is about to approach a stranger and snap a photo of them.
I, too, struggle and missed a lot of shots because I got scared.
So what about street portraits? How do you do it? Let's talk about.
~For the purpose of this article, I'll only be covering street portraits where the stranger, aka, the subject is asked to be photographed by the photographer and not the candid form of street portraits that is a more traditional way of street photography.-
Ask now, worry later
Most of us, if not all, hates being rejected. Especially in street photography, getting a sharp stare, a solid NO! or a wave shooing you away isn't the best feeling. But, I hate to break it to you but, this is what you signed up for. This is what we all signed up for and in the world of street photography, being rejected is all part of it.
The truth is, at least based on my experience, the percentage of getting rejected is so small versus people actually acknowledging you after asking if you could make a portrait of them. And that's why I don't worry at all. I probably got rejected less than 10 times but that's over 5 years of shooting street photography and asking for permission. And nothing bad has happened to me. In fact, the worst thing you can get from asking is a NO! So just ask away and worry later. when you let your fear take over before you could ask, you'll miss the most important part of street photography- having that photo taken.
Find your subject
One way, clue or technique, whatever you wanna call it, is I find my subject. I look for people that dress too noticeable. As if asking you already to take a photo. Why? People dressed in such a way they literally catch your eyes loves attention. It's like peacocking in a sense.
It's also easier to strike a conversation with these people because you can easily spot something to complement in the way they dress. In my photo example, obviously, it's his pins and buttons.
So how did I asked him? I just smiled, said "nice pins!" He smiled, I raised my camera and asked if I can photograph him. He smiled and fixed himself ready.
Here's another example of what subject you can probably ask for a photograph. People with their pets. People who walk with their pets out in public knows that at some point strangers will approach them to try and pet their dogs or cats, and it's a great exercise for us street photographers to take advantage of that opening.
Read the body language
When a stranger sees you with a camera, they already know you are there to photograph. The moment you make your presence felt, observe first. How do they react with your camera around your neck? Look for signs of them being comfortable while you are in close proximity. Are they stiff and gives a negative vibe? Or are they relaxed and welcoming? If the latter, the chance of taking their portraits are higher. They know you're gonna take their photo anyways and you can already tell they're at ease with you. And if they got to say no, they'll likely to do it politely. And you should politely accept that too.
In my photo example, I struck a conversation first, ordered 2 hot cocos for me and my wife. We talked for a little more until I raised my camera my camera and then I noticed her posture started to change. As if projecting to my camera. That moment I knew, without even asking, that she allowed me to photograph her.
People who smile are appreciated more and likely to get positive reactions. So when you ask, always smile and project a bright mood. No one will gladly give you what you want when you show a bad attitude.
I've also read somewhere that a person who smiles to another usually gets smiles in return, and people who ask politely usually gets the favor done.
Never ask them to pose
Three final point before I let you off the hook. I make it a rule that If I'm going to ask to take someone's portrait, I won't ask them to pose or be directed by me. I'll ask if I could photograph them and let them do whatever they want. The last thing I want to photograph is them with a fake facade that I dictated them to be. Second, take as much photo as you can, taking even the in-between moments, without taking too much of your subject's time. And lastly, always thank them for giving you their time.
So there you have it, try it and let me know how it went! See you on the streets!