3 ways to take photos of interesting strangers.

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Taking street portraits of strangers is one of the most important foundations of modern day street photography. These photographs express the natural emotion and candid beauty found everyday in your neighborhood. In recent times, multimedia legend Ta-ku has taken to Instagram (and more recently, Snapchat) to post some amazing street portraits like this:

Photo by Ta-ku

Photo by Ta-ku

 

Now obviously this style of photography is mildly intrusive, so many people are cautious and may not be too eager to have you take their photo (although it’s usually legal).  In order to capture those raw moments, you have to be as inconspicuous as possible. Now this might seem “creepy” or something to you, but as long as the intentions are sound, there is nothing strange going on. If you do get caught, you have the choice of whether or not to release that photo. Especially if you are caught, and then questioned thereafter.

While there are so many ways to learn to capture these moments in practice, these are the 3 I use most often to make these types of photos come out well.

Patience

This one may be one of the more obvious. When you see an interesting person, don’t drop everything in that instant (unless they are on fire or something). If you wait those few extra seconds, maybe even a minute, you can get the photo that you want, or an even better one. In this photo, I captured a skateboarder downtown pretty late at night, and very cold as well.

SONY DSC

This skateboarder was braving the cold and unpaved sidewalks to get wherever they were going.

I heard them before I saw them. The wheels rocking against the brick sidewalk, the bearings spinning quickly. I had no idea where they were going, so I stopped and waited to see. The skateboarder turned the corner, right underneath the streetlights. By waiting and observing where they were headed, I managed to get a good photo.

Another example:

This gentleman was conflicted on whether or not to hop on the bus.

This gentleman was conflicted on whether or not to hop on the bus.

I saw this man, wearing a large black hat and matching duster, sitting on the bench at left. The framing was decent, but the lighting was not. I took a couple frames of him sitting on the bench, and turned back to the conversation I was having.  When I heard a bus approach the terminal, I knew that there was a chance to get a better shot. But, when I turned around, I couldn’t see him, as he had walked behind the bus that had pulled up. By some stroke of luck, and myself waiting for something to happen, the man walked out from behind the bus and headed back towards his bench. Waiting had paid off in this circumstance.

Sneaky-ness

This one can be one of the more fruitful ways to obtain your street portrait. All dependent on what lens and camera you have, being sneaky is one of my favorite ways to get a portrait.

This man was waiting for the train after presumably a long day at work.

This man was waiting for the train after presumably a long day at work.

With my camera, the LCD screen flips out, so I can hold my camera like this:Nikon-D5500-with-rotating-flip-screen

I can hold my camera at my waist, and make it look like I’m just looking at images, rather than taking a photo. This is where live view comes into play. This was shot with a 50mm lens, so I did have to actually angle the camera with a little precision.

To appear less obvious, don’t look up at the subject, just at the camera. They’ll notice a lot of the time.

In circumstances where you have a wider angle lens, you can just point it in the general direction of your subject and click the shutter.

"Have you ever really looked at what's on the back of the dollar bill? That thing's not a pyramid."

“Have you ever really looked at what’s on the back of the dollar bill? That thing’s not a pyramid.”

This was shot with an 11mm lens, so there was really no margin for error on my end.

The tricky part with this method is setting the correct exposure, because if you’re pointing it at the ground, it’s not going to look the same when you raise it up at the same exposure value. With my wide angle, I could point is towards his legs, and set the exposure that way; again, making it seem like I was just reviewing images.

Just ask.

If you get the vibe that the person you want to photograph would be mildly okay with you being up front with them, just ask. Be as friendly as possible, and begin with a greeting.

I told this gentleman he looked great today, and he smiled and shook his head.

I told this gentleman he looked great today, and he smiled and shook his head.

Flattery can help. After the greeting, I usually say something along the lines of “I know this may seem a bit strange, but may I take your portrait? You look very interesting/handsome/cool today.”

I told this kid he looked pretty chill just sitting there. Now we follow each other on Instagram.

I told this kid he looked pretty chill just sitting there. Now we follow each other on Instagram.

If they ask you what it’s for, be honest. I usually tell people I’m a student (true) who posts my pictures online for criticism (also true). Always, always, show them the photo you took. If they don’t like it, sometimes they’ll be willing to take another photo with a better pose.

If they seem interested enough, ask them for their Instagram or other social media profile, so you can tag them or send them the photo later.

Lastly

If this article helped you, didn’t, or might help someone else, give it a share.

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