Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Do's And Do Nots Of Street Portraits

I get asked a lot about getting street portraits so here goes:

Grow some balls and ask ;)
The first and probably the biggest step is this, it can be hard and yes you will get some rejection but if you do not ask then you will never know. I work on a 10% rejection rate and for me that's good. If I ask 10 and only one says no its a good day but if I'm honest, its much less than that.

Be prepared
Have your camera set up before you ask, all you need to be fiddling about with is the exposure compensation, its no use asking and getting a positive reply if your subject walks off after getting fed up waiting.

Speak to the person, get their name and something about them, they are going to ask you the one question everyone asks, "Why do you want to take my image?" and that my dear friends is your cue. Have a reason ready, I usually say because they have life in their face and I love the way they look. When here expand on it and get some background to them and chat to them, you will be surprised just how much they will talk to you and how much they will tell but be prepared to give some information about yourself back. Its a two way street. Say nothing, don't converse and it will show in your final photograph, a person not at ease does not make a good subject.

Be polite
Good old values such as thank you, please and on approach a simple disarming "excuse me but" will open so many doors when doing street portraits. Be rude and you will have the door slammed in your face.

Give them information
The majority will ask what will happen with the image, tell them, have a card handy with your contact information if needed, offer a copy of the image if they want it but be open and honest with them. If they ask and you do not say they are going to walk away and I would not blame them.

Be aware
Look at your surroundings and where your subject is, do you want background clutter? if there is too much you move, not your subject, if they have agreed and you need them in a different position walk around them, they will instinctively turn to face you. If they look at unease while you do this then explain what you are doing but you have to do the work, not them, no one likes being told to stand here or there and so on.

Its the easiest thing you can do and yet so many don't bother, someone who smiles immediately disarms others. Most people will go along with a friendly face, look at salesmen and advertisers, they have been using smiles for centuries, they know it works.

Enjoy what you do
If you do it will shine through in your work and you will get to meet some wonderful people in the bargain


Lisa RedWillow said...

Very Informative.
I have done only a few but would love to do more.
You inspire greatly Mike Shaw and for that I thank you .. and I will never have balls. :)

Anonymous said...

I really need to pluck up the courage to ask.

ZoomDoug-61X said...

Yes! It should be so simple, the human thing; be polite, smile, ask, please-and-thank you.
be ready not stealing time. Even just this morning I was hoping to find some 'how-to' keys,
and you've handed me some, Mike. Thank you.

Mark Brown said...

Good tips. Do you not also have to ask for their permission and also get them to sign something to say that they are happy for you to use the image?

Anonymous said...

Mike I just ran across some of you landscape images while I was trying tto learn some diff things. You are spot on. I don't take photos of people, I keep to myself a lot. When I drive around and see the homeless people on the corners with the signs I tell myself, I should get a picture of them. Over and over again. One day I saw this old man, looked pretty much like the other homeless for my area, but I grew a pair. I went home grabbed my camera, drove back to where he was, he was sitting off to the side of where I originally saw him, and his partner was by the road. This worked better anyway beacause I felt odd anyhow and wanted little attention. I asked him if I could take his photo. He did ask what I was going to use them for. I was honest. I told him I don't take picures of people and I liked his face and just wanted to see if I could take a photo of a person. I felt odd and out of my comfort zone, so I did tell him I would give him 5 dollars if I could right off. I'm sure that was more than he was going to get standing on the roadside given the laws in the city. It may sound cheap, I know and I do feel bad, but I know what he was going to use the money for. I talked to him for quite a while found out he had 2 degrees and there was not mucg I could do to get him help even though there are a lot of services in our city. Back when I was younger I did a lot of voll work in the communities where I lived, and some of the work took a lot of money out of my pocket to help the poor to the point I was shy of funds at time and got in trouble myslef, but glad for what I did despite that. Now I pretty much keep to myself. But I do have to say becuase of the homeless man mentioned above, and growing a pair, I did do something else I would not have expected of myself. I went to a renaissance fair the next weekend, something I would normally have concidered a freak show before and never had been to one in my past. I was thinnking after taking the photos of the homeless man (you know I hate calling him that over and over, his name is Paul) I would like photos of people with alot of color in thier clothing when I saw the sign for the fair. So I went and it wasn't the freak show I thought, I felt comfortable there, maybe I grew a pair again. Despite my babbling Mike is spot on.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the typos and miss spellings. I should have had the respect the thread deserved and checked.

Mike Shaw said...

Its not a problem Tom, I can be the worse in the world for typo's, I'm glad you got out and about and managed to do this, it will open so many doors for you.


pio dal cin said...

Thanks Mike. Great information. Your portraits are great, so are your suggestions. I have been a street photo lover for a long time, and always will be..