One-Minute Masterclass Advice from Steve McCurry: “Don’t Forget To Say Hello”

One of my favorite quotes by Alfred Eisenstaedt is “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter”. When we are out shooting street photography, it is often difficult to find time to talk to the subjects we capture, as life often moves at a very fast pace.

Steve McCurry, one of the most pivotal photographers of the 21st century, shares the same notion. McCurry has traveled the world and captured subjects in very intimate settings- and one of his pieces of advice is to approach and talk to people (even for a minute) before taking photos of them. I feel that this is a very important piece of advice to take, especially when visiting foreign countries. The video shown above is a feature put together by Phaidon, which can be viewed here.

Although I still feel that street photography should be done without permission and candidly, I see no problem interacting with your subjects before, during, or even after you shoot them.

Portraits by Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Steve McCurry Portrait

Thanks to Ian Pettigrew for the tip, and let us know how much you like to interact with your subjects when shooting by leaving a comment below! 

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  • Sebastian Schwan

    “Although I still feel that street photography should be done without permission and candidly”

    in germany prohibited/forbidden by law… shooting persons that are not part of public interest (actors, politicians etc. )

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  • David Adam Edelstein

    I agree with McCurry absolutely when I’m doing documentary work… and disagree absolutely when I’m shooting on the street.

    My work on the street has nothing to do with the people in the frame, and everything to do with what’s in my head. They’re just characters in my play.

    This image has nothing to do with who this guy is in his own life:

  • Anonymous

    I think it is far more enjoyable to talk to the people than to just snipe them with a camera. As you talk to them they relax and you are able to shoot who they really are. Talking doesn’t necessarily mean the picture was posed. Now as David Edelstein says, sometimes the image has nothing to do with them and he posted a good example of that. Why talk to a man when you are shooting his back? However shooting a person directly in the face has everything to do with them, they are no longer a prop to a scene or a character in a play, they are the subject matter in entirety. Speaking to them and drawing them out is far more compelling than dodging in front of them on a busy street as they walk with their shopping bags, flashing them in the face as you take a shot and walking away with a ‘thanks’. Those shots aren’t candid, they aren’t doing anything interesting, there is no story around them only their face in the frame and in this case I think talking to them would be far more rewarding both personally and photographically. Then again I don’t follow status quo and I’m not famous right? :)

  • Adrian Boliston

    I would not personally class any of these images as “street photography” as they are essentially “street portraits”. Undoubtedly very good street portraits but there is a big difference between the two genres.

  • Danger

    How you treat the people you photograph may not say much about what kind of photographer you are but it does reveal what kind of human being you are.

  • Boatshoes808

    Making a connection with your subjects will show in your photographs. Not making a connection with your subjects will show in your photographs.

    • jenny

      One word: TRANSLATOR.

  • Nate Lawson

    This is what’s so great about street photography. Just in the few comments here so far, there are many opinions on the subject. As for what I believe; there is a time and place for all. Sometimes it may be better to interact before making the photos. Sometimes that’s not at all possible. However, I have to agree with David here. When I’m shooting street I don’t want to interrupt the scene by talking to someone first. I approach street photography as an observer, observing life as it unfolds in front of me, and capturing moments that speak to me. If I’m constantly talking to people, I’m missing those moments. I will, however, chat for awhile if the subject wants to know what I’m doing.

  • Ridzki Noviansyah

    Some advice work to some to others it may not work at all. McCurry here states that building rapport (Say hello when you want to meet your subject in the first time) is the key, however I remember that McCurry also talks about photographing the soul which peeks through in a split second.

    In this sense Mr. McCurry combined the approach of a travel photographer while executing (creating) the image like the most quick-at-hand street photographer. At this digital era where everything is happening instantly it’s nice to slow down things and probably use this approach when we’re traveling.

  • Nathan Keirn

    It’s too bad that Steve is known to be a complete ass hole and very demeaning and disrespectful to his subjects.

    • David Adam Edelstein

      Is there any evidence of this besides the same single blog post that keeps getting linked to?

      • Jenny

        Just ask anyone that has been duped into paying for one of his expeditions. He never speaks to his subjects in foreign countries, he has a very gifted translator. Who even says he is a saint and such a great person? Just because he is a talented photographer doesn’t mean he is a good person.

    • Nancy

      Do you know Mr. McCurry personally, and know for an absolute FACT (from personal experience) that this is the case? If not, I would suggest that your posting of this link here, and your comment, are demeaning and disrespectful to Mr. McCurry, and serve no useful purpose here. Better look up the definition of “libel.”

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  • Guest

    Are McCurry’s photos free to use and display as one pleases?

    • Guest2

      Apparently so. Nice move from a photographer so willing to hand out advice and lessons…

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  • Vickie Lewis

    No, Steve McCurry’s pictures are not free to use, and so this site is in copyright violation. And, I know it is really important to make contact with people when shooting them in the street. Not doing so is really a violation.

  • Jenny

    Steve travels with a very charismatic and outgoing translator. If you ever get the chance to watch him work or go on one of his expeditions, you will see he never even speaks to his subjects. It is also well known that all his photos of crying children and adults are because he verbally abuses and physically hurts his subjects.

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