The Art of Photographing Complete Strangers

Learning how to interact with people you would like to photograph is a skill that can be easily mastered.

If the person is a relative stranger, strike up a conversation before asking permission to create a photograph.

  1. Introduce yourself and smile.
  2. Invite them to tell you their story by asking some open questions.
  3. Express an interest in their appearance or their activity.
  4. Let them understand your photographic intentions are honorable and non-threatening.
Down but not out
‘Down but not out’ – a portrait we created after I had sat down and chatted to this character for 20 minutes – Mamiya 645 and analogue film.

Consider phrasing your desire to ‘create’ rather than ‘take’ a photograph in a way that will most likely lead to a positive response, such as… “You won’t mind if I create a few photographs of you will you? or “I think we need to capture this moment for posterity.” It is easy for someone to say no if you ask the question “Can I take your photograph” because it is a difficult question that may require the subject to question why you would want their photograph. It is easier for the stranger to say ‘no’ rather than ‘yes’ because yes involves moving into possibly unfamiliar territory with someone they have only just met. Why do they want my image? What else will they want from me? Will they try to sell me something? Rephrasing the question at the correct time will make all of the difference.

A great way to beak the ice, and overcome any fears you may have of photographing complete strangers, is to seek out an event where people will congregate and be more open to being photographed, e.g. a parade or sporting event.

Cup Day, Darwin 2017 – Sony A6500 and FE 85 F/1.8 (Eye-AF enabled) – created 3 minutes after meeting this actress from Kong Kong who had arriving at the entrance to the Darwin Cup Race Day.

This is an extract from my new book ‘Introduction to Photography: A Visual Guide to the Essential Skills of Photography and Lightroom’.

The book is broken down into four creative genres of photography and outlines the camera setting and the creative approach I use for each of these situations.

It is available from all good book stores and Amazon US , Amazon UK and Amazon Australia

Little India, Singapore – Sony A9 and FE 85 F/1.8 (Eye-AF enabled) – 2 or 3 minutes after meeting this woman this is the fourth image after lots of smiles were exchanged and I moved steadily closer.
Town Hall, Sydney – Sony A9 and FE 85 F/1.4 (Eye-AF enabled) – 5 minutes of conversation preceded this photograph as I discussed his current trade and his former career.