How to Ask Strangers for Portraits

When you’re out on the streets or traveling to new places, it’s the local people who are the true representatives of the local culture. If you want to capture the mood and feel of a place, photograph the local people. But that’s easier said than done. Approaching strangers on the streets for their portraits is a challenge. In this video, photographers Sean Tucker and Gabriella Motola talk about how to approach strangers to take their portraits:

Motola started photographing strangers on the street in Broadway Market outside her friend’s father’s gallery. She’s set herself up in the corner and ask anyone passing by if she could take their picture.

“I was trying to get the changing face of the community. New builds were completing so new faces were coming in.”

Be Clear With Your Intention

When photographing anyone, you should first be clear with your intention. Why do you want to photograph that person? For Motola, it was her act of honoring and paying attention to people. You might want to photograph because you find something really interesting about them—maybe the way they look or dress.

interesting dress up of a man

Let Go of Secondary Thoughts

Once you know you want to photograph somebody, let go of secondary thoughts. Don’t stress over the consequences or the thought of being denied. These feelings are natural. The key is to let these thoughts pass.

Build up the courage to walk up to your potential subject. Then, ask them if you can take a portrait. Some will question your motives, some will deny, and others will be happy to have their picture taken.  In any case, don’t indulge in negative feelings.

taking portraits of strangers

Engage With Your Subjects

When photographing people, engaging with them helps you break the ice. This makes both you and the subject feel comfortable. Compliment them. If something they’re wearing fascinates you, let them know. In the process, if you come across something you have in common with them, talk about that, too. This will help you connect and make the photography process a breeze.

portrait of a stranger

“I’ve been putting the camera down more, and not photographing the whole time. And then, I’m really quick with putting the camera back up and taking a picture when I feel something rather than when I see something or think something.”

Limit Your Gear

“My choice of cameras has kind of come about through my need to feel comfortable with people. And I don’t want a lot of gear between me and them.”

When you’re photographing someone you don’t know, it’s extremely important that they feel comfortable in front of the camera. Otherwise, the image won’t communicate the true message. Imagine somebody you don’t know comes up to you and points a huge camera with a big fat lens at your face. You’d be caught off-guard, right? Carry minimal gear. This way, the subject won’t be scared off. The camera should not get in the way of you and the person. It should help you get the job done with ease.

Even a professional feels the pressure when it comes to photographing strangers out in the street. The key is to let go of any fear and try to make a connection. Once you feel the connection, you should be able to get some great portraits. Good luck!

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One response to “How to Ask Strangers for Portraits”

  1. Rob says:

    Brilliant video, have learned a lot from your approach, I need to relax more and chat with strangers :o)

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