Some may argue that posed portraits of people on the streets is not “street photography” per-se. However regardless of all these definitions, I still feel that there is merit in taking portraits of people you might encounter on the street who have fascinating stories to share. There have been many occasions in which I have randomly started talking to people and wanted to simply take their portrait as it interests me as a photographer. However one problem that many people have is that they feel “awkward” doing so. Therefore I will teach you guys some practical tips how to take street portraits without being awkward.
1. Use a preface
Asking to take somebody’s portrait is a bit uncommon in western culture, although not everybody is totally opposed to it. To break the ice in asking a person for their portrait, using a preface is always a great way to make the other person feel relaxed.
My favorite preface to use when asking random people on the street to take their portrait is “I know this might seem weird, but would you mind if I took a photo of you?” In saying “I know this might seem weird,” you are acknowledging to the other person that what you are doing is against “the norm”, but it reassures the other person that you have no malicious intent. When asked this, most people shrug their shoulders and say, “Sure I guess so–why not?” Granted that you will get some people who say “no,” but I would say I find much more people who say yes.
2. Explain what you are trying to do
When you ask people to take their portrait, some people are curious why you are taking their portrait. Now this is a question you have to ask yourself. Why are you taking portraits of random people on the street? Are you trying to remember the faces of interesting people you meet? Are you trying to create a photo-essay of people you meet on the street? Are you trying to capture the diversity of your city? Whatever your purpose–prepare it beforehand so you can eloquently explain to your subjects why you are taking their photos. This way you will come off as much more professional and much less threatening.
3. Have a business card on hand
Having a business card on hand is a great idea not only for street photographers, but for all photographers. If people question your intent, you can show them your professionally polished business card–which will give you more credibility. Not only that, but some people like having their photos sent to them. This way you can have your subjects contact you and you can send them their portraits. It’s a win-win solution.
Recently I have found out about a site called moocards.com, which print business cards in different sizes and also have customizable backs. This way you can print some of your best street photographs on the back of these business cards and share them. I would definitely check it out.
What tips do you have on taking street portraits? How do you make your subjects feel comfortable without feeling awkward? Leave a comment below!