Street Photography Tips: Photographing Strangers

Human elements play a pivotal role in street photography. Sometimes natural and un-posed photos of people busy with their daily life on the street get the job done. Other times, portraits give you the best results. So, how do you go about approaching people to take their photos? Many photographers find this to be a daunting task. Photographer Josh Katz shares some tips to help you get comfortable with photographing strangers on the street:

Phase I: The Passive Method

This method involves taking photographs of subjects who are not aware that they’re being photographed. This method actually helps you break into the zone of taking photos of people in the street. And as you don’t have to deal with people, this step isn’t intimidating at all.

subject unaware about photo being taken

To take photos of people without them noticing you, follow any of these steps:

  • Use a telephoto lens to take photos. The farther you are away from the subjects, the less likely it is that you’ll be noticed.
  • Follow your subject from behind. But be sure to maintain a good distance from your subject. While this technique will teach you how to take photos quickly while walking, the results may not be flattering.
  • Instead of singling your subjects out, try taking wide street scenes with multiple people in the frame. This way, people will happen to be in your shot. You can try this out in busy intersections and crowded areas. In such areas, you will have people moving in and out of your frame, giving you some variation.

Phase II: Staying in Your Camera

This is another method that allows you to take photos of strangers without them noticing. Our general tendency is to review the image immediately once we take it. So, if you photograph a stranger in the street while they’re walking toward you, and you take their image and review it, they’ll know that you took their photo. But, instead of reviewing the photo, if you continue shooting (or pretend to do so), they will think that you’re trying to photograph something else.

staying in your camera

“I personally don’t recommend this because I like to engage with my subjects and get to know them. However, if you’re still working up the confidence, this is a great place to start. Do this a couple of times, and then move on to actually engage with your subjects.”

Phase III: Taking Portraits of Strangers

“This is a really awesome way to get comfortable taking photos of people you haven’t met yet because you have their permission to do so.”

Take the challenge and build up the confidence to go up to people and ask them for permission to photograph them. But, keep in mind that not everyone will say yes. Be ready to get rejected, too. And the good part is that there’s nothing to lose if someone says no. The key is not to lose heart and keep on trying.

portrait of stranger in street

Katz has the following tips on where and how to take interesting portraits of strangers:

  • Look out for music festivals. People dress up in an interesting way for festivals and would probably love to take their photos taken.
  • Instead of directly asking people if you can take their photo, let them know what you find interesting in them. It could be their clothing, how they’re sitting, or even their hairstyle. Start with a compliment, and then ask if you can take their photo. Connecting with your subject will get you better results.
  • Always have your camera ready to take photos. Not everyone will have the patience to wait for you to get the settings right. Be prepared.
  • Start by photographing the people the way they feel comfortable. Then, if you feel that they are comfortable with you, try posing them and photographing them at different spots for greater variety.

street portait of stranger

“Take it as it goes, have an open mind, and have some good conversation while you’re at it.”

Phase IV: Going Up and Taking a Candid Photo

Walking up to people and taking their photo without permission is probably the most intimidating approach. If you’re using this method to take a street photo, you really need to be quick and precise.

Some people may not mind, some may express anger, and some may even like it and want to see what you captured. Be prepared for the reactions though. If people do notice, then you can go ahead and tell them what you liked about them that made you take their photo. This will ease the tension for you as well as for the stranger.

stranger photo with grumpy look

“Be friendly, be respectful, and that’ll earn you a much better experience on the street.”

Do you prefer street photography from within your comfort zone, or are you willing to go beyond for some excitement? Your answer to this question will help you determine which of the above methods you start off with.

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One response to “Street Photography Tips: Photographing Strangers”

  1. Captain Jack says:

    The ball headed guy is amazing!! I so want to photograph him! He has that hard look. If he said he was an actor, I would believe him 100%. He seems to be a hella nice guy as he shook your hand and then patted your back. We are our worst critics. People say they are not photogenic and I see that they are. The bearded guy, looks like a science professor from the 19th century. Amazing works, thanks for the video!

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