When it comes to street photography, I am a huge fan of “street portraits.” but what are “street portraits” exactly?
Well the basic concept is that you take a photograph of a stranger (usually with their permission) that focuses on their face.
A lot of street photographers don’t consider “street portraits” under the genre of “street photography”—but I disagree.
I think that street portraits are just another form of street photography that focuses more on the individual rather than the environment.
If you were interested in shooting street portraits, I hope these tips can help you get started!
1. Try to get rejected
One of the biggest fears that a lot of street photographers have is the fear of rejection (rather than the rejection itself).
Meaning, approaching a stranger and asking him/her for their portrait can be intimidating. We might try it once or twice, but if we get rejected, we become unmotivated to try ever again.
So the solution? Try to get rejected.
If you are new to street portraits I recommend the “5 yes, 5 no” challenge in which you approach a bunch of strangers and ask to take their portrait. You try to get 5 people to say “yes” and 5 people to say “no.”
Believe it or not, it is often much harder to get a rejection than getting a “yes.”
My suggestion is actually to try to get the 5 rejections as quickly as possible. Sometimes you approach strangers who you think will say no, but actually end up saying “yes.”
So don’t be afraid of rejection. Rather, welcome it and seek it.
2. Establish what you find interesting about them
When you approach a stranger to take their portrait, they might not know why you want to make a portrait of them. So in these circumstances, try to be very specific. Tell them what about their face, expression, or outfit you find interesting.
Tell them that you find their face has character, or that they have a good look or mood.
Also by complimenting your subject, they are more likely to say “yes” to being photographed. Not only that, but this will help them feel more comfortable (and happy) to be photographed.
3. Offer to send them the photograph
When I shoot a street portrait of a stranger I generally make it a practice to show them my LCD screen afterwards. Why? It makes them more a part of the process, and helps them better understand what you are trying to achieve as an artist in the photograph. On top of that, you make them more a part of the photographic process – the portrait is a two-way street (rather than you as a photographer just stealing their soul).
Not only that, but offer to send them the photograph via email or in the mail. This way, you are giving a beautiful gift to them. Most people don’t have strong images of themselves, so know that they will greatly appreciate this gesture.
Approaching strangers and possibly getting rejected can be very scary. But know that you want to live a life without regrets. If you find someone in the streets that you find so interesting or fascinating, don’t hesitate. Go up to them, introduce yourself, and ask them politely to make their portrait.
The more you open up to them, the more they will open up to you. Make the street portrait session a collaboration, rather than a “hit and run” session.
And lastly, don’t forget to smile, compliment them, and ask them to have a beautiful day.
If you want to learn more about how to shoot street portraits, check out my presentation “How to Shoot Street Portraits.”