How To Take Photos Of Strangers

There are few photography subjects as intriguing as the candid shot of a stranger. Who were they? What were they thinking about? What was happening in their world? Adding a stranger to the frame can make almost any photo instantly engaging. But first you need to find the right stranger and know how to shoot them. Here are some indispensable tips from professional street photographer Richard I’Anson.

Photo: Richard I’Anson

Richard I’Anson is an award-winning travel photographer who specialises in natural, unstaged street portraits from around the world (you can check out more examples of his stunning work at his website). We recently caught up Richard during a Canon Masters photography event. Here are his tips for photographing strangers:

Know your camera!

“Take the time to understand the basics of photography and know all the technical stuff about your camera. You can then focus purely on the creative side of things which will result in better photos. This is especially important when photographing strangers: you need to get your technical skills absolutely down pat so that all you are thinking about is the image and connecting with the subject.”

Shoot well: but also shoot quickly

“When taking photos of strangers, it helps to operate at a fast level. Don’t let the equipment you’re using or your level of expertise slow you down. If you can capture the subject quickly and efficiently, you’ll get much better photos. Try and visualise the image before you approach them. If you’re still trying to figure it out while the person is standing in front of you, you’ll usually lose them.”

Be professional (this means knowing what you want)

“Street photography is different to commercial or studio portraits where you’re working with someone in a professional setting. But you still need to respect the subject and not waste their time. One way to do this is to know what you want in advance and take the time to explain it. It also helps if you approach with a smile. If you’re friendly and efficient, you’ll get a higher level of cooperation.

“One of the great beauties of digital capture is that you can actually share the picture with them on the spot and make them feel part of the process.”

Be passionate about the subject

“Anyone with basic photography skills can take a photo of a stranger. But if the subject means something to you, your interest in the subject is more likely to shine through.”

Appeal to vanity

“I try to photograph people with dignity. If you’re shooting as a professional and you can make the subject look good, most people will really respond to that. When they see a picture of themselves and it looks good it will make them feel good.”

Get down to their level – literally

“I’m quite tall so I try not to look down on people. If my intended subject is sitting, I’ll crouch down so that I’m at eye-level. It might sound like a little thing, but it can often make the difference between a yes or a no when you ask to take somebody’s portrait.”

Try to find great photos naturally

“I’m often asked how I get the people in my photos looking so natural. One of the ways I go about this is by looking for great shots instead of trying orchestrate them. As an editorial photographer, I won’t move people if the lighting isn’t right.

"If a subject is poorly lit, I just won’t take the shot. This means I am always looking for people who are in the right light. This also applies to backgrounds: if it’s crappy I won’t shoot it, or I’ll employ one or two photographic techniques to minimise its presence.”

Always ask first!

“Regardless of what the privacy laws in each country are, I always ask permission before I take a street photo. It's just common courtesy.”


    There's also this talk the guy who runs Humans Of New York gave at a university in Dublin:

    He talks about how he approaches strangers; things like coming at them from specific directions, how to start the conversation and ask to take their picture, and how to talk to them afterwards if you're interviewing them or need a quote. Considering the guy has published a book of his work and runs at least 2 massively successful social media profiles it's worth a look if you're interested in photographing people from cold approaches.

    I've played chess in that hot-spring pool in Budapest - great fun!

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