One of the best things about street photography is that wonderful mix of people you'll have the opportunity to encounter. Whether you're vacationing in some exotic location or simply walking the streets of your own hometown, potential subjects are everywhere. If you can get over the hurdle of making those encounters happen, you can add incredible portraits to your portfolio and maybe even make a few friends and/or potential clients in the process. Let's take a look at a few ways you can make the act of asking permission to take a stranger's picture a bit easier.
Don't Hide the Camera
You're a photographer. Let people see you as one. While being covert may help you get some of your best editorial shots on the street, it will only create suspicion in the minds of people that you want to engage with. Being open about taking photos is a great first step to establishing yourself as a working photographer rather than a troll with a camera.
Know that the Butterflies Won't Go Away
It's human nature and perfectly alright to be nervous about speaking to a stranger. In fact, it's probably a good thing, since overconfidence isn't a very attractive quality. Don't work to try to get over that feeling in the pit of your stomach; just accept it as part of the process.
Learn to Make Eye Contact
When you have someone's attention, don't avoid looking them in the eye. This can be an intimidating step at first, but it does two important things: it makes you appear more trustworthy and it gives you a great visual indicator of their reaction to you.
Yes, this is a no-brainer, but important nonetheless. People will warm up much more quickly to a stranger with a sincere smile. Let me emphasize that word: “sincere”. Don't practice a smile for this, just smile. You're doing something fun. Act like it.
Don't Over-complicate Things
There's no need to be formal or stuffy about approaching someone about a portrait shot. You don't need to lead with a spiel about yourself or your photography. A simple question like, “Do you mind if I take your picture?” will do just fine. If a person wants to know why, then you can explain who you are and what you want to do with the photo. That would also be a good time to hand them your card. Otherwise, a simple positive or negative response is all you need either way.
Remember that No Means No
Take a negative answer graciously and move on politely. Trying to talk someone into a shoot isn't likely to end up working in your favor and may actually cause a scene, which is very likely to end your day at that spot. You don't need to know why, and you don't need to take it personally when someone says no. Granted, there will be some rejections that won't be polite and those may sting, but that sting will go away quickly if you just get back to work.
Show Your Subjects the Results
Aside from the fact that your portrait subjects will enjoy seeing the photos you took, other potential subjects will notice the enjoyment and that sets the stage for more potential photos. This also gives you the opportunity to: 1) ask about a model release if you want to use the photo commercially and 2) tell your subjects that you'll put the finished version in a gallery online where they can download those that they really like.
We recommend using KeepSnap for displaying and selling your street photos. Their unique system makes the process easy for you and costs you nothing up front. If you'd like to increase the chances of profiting from photos you take of people, anywhere, take a look at their website to get the lowdown.