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Tips > How to Photograph Strangers

(Street Photography)

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When teaching at a workshop, two photographers discussed their styles of photographing people.

Charles Gatewood, whose work includes a series on Wall Street and an ongoing series on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, told a story of being chased down the street by a Hell's Angel member.

Getting the photograph is paramount for Gatewood.

He is at one end of the how-to-photograph-strangers spectrum.

Bruce Davidson, whose work includes East 100th Street and Subway, is at the other end of the spectrum.

Davidson always asks for permission.

He said that after a bit, his subjects go back to where they were before he asked.

Davidson also brings along examples of the current project, and offers to send the person a print.

Where are you on the spectrum?

Here are some tips to help you to find out.

Getting Started

1) Photograph where there are other people taking photographs, such as a tourist location, parade, and the like.

2) Be there first.

Then, the strangers are coming into "your" area.

3) Ask permission before taking a photograph, especially the parents or guardians of children.

Have a reason in mind before you ask, such as, "It's for my photography class."

4) Flattery is helpful.

A student, Hector, went out with a friend of his to photograph.

He noticed how readily people said yes, because the friend remarked about something about the subject.

Hector started doing the same and got many excellent photographs.

5) Don't photograph children

Fear

1) The best way to get over fear of photographing strangers is do it.

Go with someone else, to a safe location, and to ask people for their permission.

2) When you're scared to ask someone if you can photograph them, that person may read your dread as your being threatening.

So, pretend not to be afraid.

Soon, photographing strangers becomes easier.

3) A few people will say no.

Practice ahead of time what you'll say, and how you'll act.

Plan on continuing to ask others afterwards.

Don't stop and go home.

Hunger

If you're shooting willy-nilly, directionless, you're not hungry for the photograph.

If you are working on a project, the empty portfolio pages in your mind's eye will make you hungrier.

Your desire to have the photograph in your portfolio will be stronger than any apprehension about asking the person.

And, you can show people a portfolio of small prints of your efforts so far.

Sex & Age

Women and older people are deemed less threatening than a man.

If you're a man, go out to photograph with a woman or a dog.

You'll be considered less threatening.

Groups of photographers are also less threatening because people assume the group members are students or tourists.

Equipment

1) If you use a small camera, people may be more willing to be photographed.

2) Use a camera that's quiet.

Digital SLR cameras have noisy shutters and mirrors.

3) Cheating!

Paul Strand, Helen Levitt, and other street photographers used a mirror lens adapter called an angle scope.

They're facing one way, and the lens is facing sideways.

You can do the same with a LCD screen that tilts.

Walker Evans photographed on the NYC subways with his camera inside his coat.

A student did the same with her fur coat in a NYC department store.

Styles

You can be yourself, or you can take on a personality.

Some photographers become bumbling or mildly eccentric in appearance and behavior.

Others become irritated when someone (the subject) gets in the way of their photograph of the building or whatever.

Techniques

1) Smile.

2) Don't look through your camera—shoot from the hip.

3) Use a wide focal length.

The camera will not be directly pointing at the subject.

4) You can use telephoto focal lengths, but the results lack vitality.

In order to make a good photograph, you have to be there.

With a telephoto focal length, you're not there.

Use them for wildlife and sports, not people.

4) People are used to having one photograph taken of them at a time.

So, if the first snap goes over wheel, ask the person if you can take more.

Manners

1) Give the person a business card.

For example, Moo offers mini-cards with a photograph on one side, and text on the other side.

2) Offer to send the person a print.

Ask for a business address, or an e-mail address.

You can have them fill out the envelope.

When traveling in other countries, have a card that states "Please Print Clearly" in the local language.

3) When traveling, learn about the local attitude toward being photographed by a stranger.

Legalities

See the publications of Bert Krages, information about model releases, and more, in the Legal section.

More

Advice

iN-PUBLiC

Street Photographer Websites

Boogie

Philip-Lorca diCorcia:

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia No direct link

Philip-Lorca diCorcia Interview

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia Review

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Hardcore Street Photography Flickr

Simon Hoegsberg Portraits of pedestrians taken at Marble Arch, London

William Klein:

William Klein

William Klein

William Klein

Helen Levitt:

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt Interview

Helen Levitt

Jeff Mermelstein:

Jeff Mermelstein

Jeff Mermelstein

Jeff Mermelstein Interview

Angelo Rizzuto Article

no rules street photography or here

Stranger-A-Day

Gary Winogrand (1928-1984):

Garry Winogrand

Man in the Crowd: The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand

Review of Winogrand, Figments from the Real World - Philip Greenspun

Fraenkel Gallery No direct link

Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand Article

Street Photography for the Purist - Chris Weeks

Street Photography Mailing List

Ways of Working Michael David Murphy

Videos

Jeff Mermelstein

Joel Meyerowitz