How to Approach Strangers for Street Photography Photos

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, getting the courage to photograph people can be tough to come by. There’s just something very personal to having someone take your photo, especially if it’s at an unexpected moment on the street. A reader recently asked me some questions about the best ways to approach strangers to take their photos, and I gave my two cents. Read on, and please comment if you have any other ideas or opinions.

Reader question:

Hi Suzi, I love your work. Thank you for your freelancer series as well, can’t wait for the next iteration!

How do you deal with permissions for private individuals with some of your street and event photography? I’m in Australia and I think we have some slightly different privacy laws but I am interested about how you deal with this.

Also, I know I need to build up my courage and attempt to ask people if I can take their photos before just snapping away, as a courtesy, but I’m never really sure what to say. Do you offer people a copy of the photo as a sweetener?
Gem

My two cents:

Hi Gem,
This is an excellent question, and yes, I am sure the rules are slightly different depending on where in the world you are. I recommend doing a Google search about photography permissions in your area to see what others have to say on that topic. Here in the United States, it is my understanding that as long as individuals are in public areas, we may take their pictures without their explicit consent or permission. However, we cannot sell these images without a signed model release form. I may shoot candid shots of people in public places without asking, for the sake of capturing them in natural poses, but if I want a posed photo, I will always ask their permission first. Also, if there are minors or children who may end up in your photo, it is strongly recommended that you ask their parents or guardians first before snapping away.

I also agree that it takes quite a bit of courage to approach people for their photos, and photographers have all sorts of ways to build up courage. This is one of those scenarios where for most people, practice makes perfect. My advice is to just give it a try! The next time you see someone you want to photograph, don’t think twice about it–just approach the person and ask for their photo. If they want to know why, tell them it’s because you like the shirt they are wearing, or that they have a beautiful smile. Be honest about what it is that drew you to that person, as it is usually a compliment, and many people will respond positively to this. Also, be prepared to explain what you will do with the photo–a personal project is always a good, logical answer. If you feel it appropriate, you can also offer a free photo as a sweetener, but it isn’t always necessary. Just feel out the situation and follow your gut instinct!

Also, be prepared for rejection, and try not to take it personally. I speak from experience when I say that MOST people don’t like having their photos taken, and I’m sure most other photographers will agree with me. There are many times when I’m on assignment to take a portrait, and the photo subject immediately starts off by saying, “I hate having my picture taken.” Realize that taking a photo of someone is in many ways capturing their essence and taking a part of them, and not everyone will be ok with this. Simply do your best to be friendly and approachable, and shrug it off and move on to the next person if you get a rejection.

I hope this helps! Feel free to ask any other questions you may have.

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Got a question about photography or the freelancing lifestyle? Feel free to ask away by either commenting on this article or shooting me a message. I read every email that comes my way and answer every question.

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By | 2016-12-21T17:57:40+00:00 September 16th, 2014|3 Comments

About the Author:

Suzi Pratt is an event and food photographer based in Seattle. She is also a web designer and blogger who aims to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, or her web design portfolio.
  • Paul

    Suzi, great article! I love taking photos of strangers and have found that it has boosted my confidence level when working with people. I started photographing strangers after reading an article on the subject at Flickr. The group is called 100 Strangers. After reading the article I thought I would give it a try. The goal of the 100 Strangers group is for you to build confidence working with strangers while improving your portrait photography skills. The scary part of this however, is to talk to the subject first AND to get their permission to photograph them. I say scary because, for me, talking to new people is not something I’m comfortable with at all. After my first encounter with a stranger, I was hooked! It is something that I am now always on the lookout for. I have discovered that the key to getting their permission is all on the approach. I always introduce myself and explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I then proceed by complimenting whatever it is that drew me towards them in the first place, either by complimenting their outfit, their smile, etc. As I take their photos I ask them a few questions about themselves to get a feel of who they are. Sometimes it can be a real eye opener to hear other people’s stories or perspective of things. I have never been rejected and I contribute that to what I just mentioned. I’ve even had people tell me that they hate having their photographs taken but that they wouldn’t mind it this time. If you search for the 100 Strangers Project on Flickr, you will see many great photographs of portraits that often include even stories on how the whole encounter happened or even stories about the individuals themselves.

    • Wow, Paul, what a great story! I haven’t heard about the 100 Strangers Project, but I’ll definitely check it out. I love the premise of it though because it’s a great way to encourage people to start talking to each other again, especially among strangers. This kind of interaction feels lost in our tech-centric world and I think it’s positive not only for taking more insightful photos, but also learning more about the people who live in this world.

      Thanks for the followup, and I’m heading over to Flickr right now!

      Keep up the photography 🙂

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