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While you may be at ease shooting candid street photography, you may not feel quite as comfortable doing street portraits… Making a portrait of a stranger, is a very different approach which requires an interaction with your subject.
If you are a very social person who talks to strangers anywhere you go, like I do, taking the next step should not be too much of an issue. If, on the other hand, the thought of approaching a stranger terrifies you, keep reading.
Make it a goal to talk with strangers everyday for a few days. They can be waiting in line at the coffee shop with you or on the subway. Make small talk about the weather, comment on the new coffee flavor, just about anything that comes to mind as long as it’s not weird. You may find it terrifying at first but I can assure you that it will become easier everyday and you will soon look forward to your next encounter. Granted, there is a big leap between approaching a stranger to comment on their cool hat ,or funky sun glasses, and asking them to make a portrait.
Yet, if you are shy, the first step will help you get to the second.
Another way to ease into it is by photographing street performers. They are there to be seen and they are easy subjects. Purists will tell you that they don’t count because they are too easy. As far as I know there is no authority or rules for street portraiture or street photography in general, so go ahead! Photograph a street performer and remember to leave a tip.
Having another person at your side will embolden you, and you will find it easier to approach a stranger if you’re not alone. The friend doesn’t even have to be a photographer.
Just like with candid street photography, the closer the better! Also, a smaller camera will be less intimidating for your subject.
Introduce yourself and tell them why you want to make a portrait of them. You’re not doing anything wrong, so don’t take the shot and run! If they ask you why you want to take their picture, simply explain that you are photographing strangers for a personal project and you found them quite interesting. Most people will be flattered.
You asked for their permission to take the picture, so now it’s your responsibility to do a good job. The background may be distracting, or they may be squinting from the sun in their eyes. Ask them to move or even cross the street if the light is better. Take two or three shots until you are satisfied with the result. Make sure you thank them for their time before you part ways.
Ask for their name, maybe you’ll even engage them in a conversation and find out some interesting things about their lives. Show them the picture on the back of the camera. Share email addresses and send them the best picture if they ask.
Those portraits are useless if they stay on your hard drive. Share them on a blog or social media network. The more you share, the better you will feel about your project and the more you’ll want to go out and shoot.
If you’ve never done this, why not make it a photographic goal for 2014? Good luck!
Please share your experience with the dPS community. How did you start interacting with strangers to photograph them? Do you find it as addictive as candid street photography?