One of the greatest hurdles any street photographer has to overcome is learning how to approach strangers. In fact, the prospect of talking to new people can be so overwhelming that some photographers avoid it at all costs. While it’s natural to feel anxious approaching someone that you don’t know, gaining the confidence to do so will ultimately make you a more skilled artist.
Strong has learned a thing or two about the best ways of approaching others, thanks to his ‘Streets of London’ Youtube series. Here are a few basic tips that he had to share right off the bat:
- Make it clear that you’re not trying to sell something. Much of the time when people stop you on the street, it’s to sell something (whether it be a physical product or an ideology). Let the person know you just want to take a quick photo.
- Ignore your excuses. Go in with the right attitude. You’ll always be able to come up with a million excuses not to stop somebody on the street. You may even legitimately believe some of the excuses that come to mind. But don’t let them stop you.
- Be aware of your body language and demeanor. Lead the interaction as much as you can. Be concise and to the point, and most importantly, be friendly. Threatening body language can drive away an otherwise willing participant.
It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes you will be rejected. However, it’s important not to take it personally or get embarrassed. The more you ask, the more you’ll become comfortable with putting yourself out there. Don’t let a “no” paralyze you.
Windsor also points out the importance of being genuine, honest, and confident. Like it or not, people will sense it if you’re feeling uncomfortable. If they feel that you’re hiding something, they won’t open up (no matter how many exposures you happen to snap). Be as clear with your intentions as possible. Mention why the person caught your eye. You’ll find that your subject will become infinitely more comfortable in your presence.
There’s no doubt that opening yourself up to strangers can be a terrifying process. However, in life—not just photography—it’s important to push past your fears. When you leave your comfort zone, your possibilities as a photographer dramatically increase.
“It really does get easier…probably to a much greater extent than you imagine. I went from being completely terrified to really, really enjoying it and just having these really nice chats with people.”
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