I was terrified when I first began to shoot street photography. The thought of photographing a stranger was overwhelming. I am an introvert by nature, so to go out in public with a camera alone was hard. Then to point my camera at someone I didn’t know? How would I do that?
Luckily, I did overcome my fear and have come to love street photography. Here I share four things that allow me to feel comfortable photographing strangers.
1. Know your gear so you can catch the moment quickly.
The first step in street photography, and in photographing a stranger, is to really know your gear. This means that you should not only be able to change your settings quickly, but also to see the image before putting the camera to your eye. Many times, I steal an image by quickly lifting the camera, or shooting from my hip. I am quick, and I can compose the image in my head before looking through the viewfinder. Moments happen quickly on the street, and sometimes you only have one chance to get the image.
2. Stay safe by knowing your subjects.
Safety always comes first. Being street smart is my top priority. See a stranger in a dark alley where your life could be threatened? Walk away. Remember that your safety is more important than a photo. Once you’re ready to head out, here are a few subjects to start photographing:
Street performers are an easy subject to photograph because they want to be seen and heard. Generally, they will allow you to photograph them without asking permission, however they are the perfect subjects for you to practice talking to strangers. Ask them for permission! They will almost always say yes. Another reason why street performers make good subjects is that they will allow you to take more than one frame. Take one wide shot showing the environment, then a closer image of the subject, and then focus on details and creative angles. Don’t forget to bring some extra money with you so you can give them a tip when you’re done photographing them. You can even offer to send them an image.
People Walking Dogs
People love their dogs. If you compliment their dog, chances are they will allow you to photograph him or her. Take down their email address and send them a copy of the image. Start by photographing the dog itself, then many times the dog owner is more than happy to step into the frame, too. After all, who wouldn’t love a good portrait with man’s best friend?
People with tattoos, colorful hair, bold outfits, and lots of accessories generally want to be seen and noticed. They also make for easy subjects and will usually agree to be photographed. They might even pose for you!
3. Know where to find friendly strangers.
You can have an easier time photographing strangers in certain places. If your camera has a silent function, it could be useful to turn that on so you won’t be heard when doing your street photography.
Street Fairs and Flea Markets
Generally, flea markets and street fairs are very busy with people and you will disappear into the crowd. Here you’ll want to be quick and steal your image if you’re not asking for permission.
Cityscapes with People
Another way to photograph a stranger without asking permission is to find a cityscape or landscape scene that captures your attention and wait for the perfect subject to walk in. Patience and anticipation are key here as you’ll be all set up and ready to take the photo. You likely will have only one chance, so be prepared!
4. Gain confidence by going with a friend.
Sometimes shooting with a friend helps. It builds your confidence and it’s easier to approach a stranger when someone is with you. Remember that if you’re relaxed and not nervous, people will respond accordingly.
There will be people who will say no when you ask them to be part of your street photography. That is OK. Move on to the next subject. Carry business cards to help people know that you are legitimate. It’s also a way to give them your email address for requesting a copy of the portrait you’ve taken. Remember to always be respectful and thank people for their time.
Because I am walking everywhere and carrying my gear, I tend to travel light. I almost always wear sneakers on days where I am out shooting. Comfortable shoes are a must!
Main Camera: Sony a7R II
Main Lens: Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
Creative Lens: Lensbaby Edge 50 (on occasion)
Camera Bag: Artisan & Artist
Accessories: at least two extra batteries, extra memory cards
Extra Things: money for tips, business cards, umbrella on rainy days, sunglasses on sunny days
I always keep a camera in my purse for when I’m out running errands. For that I travel even lighter with a Sony RX1R II.
All photos by Denise Laurinaitis