How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

If you are a street, portrait or fashion photographer, the chances are you will need to learn how to ask strangers for their photographs. This can be daunting for beginners. However, after some time and practice, it will come as second nature.

Indeed, if you are at the start of your photographic journey and need some advice about asking strangers for their photograph, then continue reading to learn everything you need to know.

Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs
Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

1. Overcome Your Fear And Anxiety

This is perhaps the most challenging thing to overcome in the process of asking strangers for their photograph. Particularly for the shy and reserved artist. Despite this, even for introverts, it is entirely possible to learn the skills necessary to approach strangers to ask for their photographs.

Like anything in life, learning skills comes with a learning curve. Some may find it harder than others. However, it is still entirely within anyone’s grasp to overcome the hurdle.

The most important thing to remember when asking someone for their photo is the worst thing that can happen is they say no. And if so, the world will not end. You will simply move onto the next person. Remember that it is within your control to ask, but the answer is outside of your control. And as long as you do what you can, that is all you can do. And no one can beat themselves up about that.

For those still unsure, there is little more to say than just do it. The first few times will be tough. And perhaps a little embarrassing. However, your technique will become refined over time. And soon enough, you will have the majority of people agreeing to cooperate with you. Just take that first step and ask! It will be fine. That is a promise.

2. Be Professional

When approaching any stranger, they will always make a split decision about you. This is nothing more than human nature and is entirely unavoidable and out of your control. However, there are things you can do to help swing this decision in your favour. The most important one of all is to have a professional approach.

By having a professional approach, a photographer will begin building trust with the subject. Something entirely necessary to have them agree to something.

Firstly, when aiming to communicate their professionalism, a photographer should dress in clean and well-fitting clothes. This should be a given, but you never know. Secondly, Don’t fumble with your camera or words. Look and sound like you know what you’re talking about. Thirdly, don’t waste anyone’s time you will have a short window of cooperation from this person. Know what you want from them before you stop them. Being able to explain what you are planning will show you have thought things through.

Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs
Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

3. Explain What You Like About Them

Often when stopping strangers to ask for their photograph, it will be because that person has a particular style or feature that attracts you to them. So when you do stop them, make sure you include this reason. Most people will take this compliment and be happy with the interaction.

However, you may not always be drawn to a person for their commercially attractive features. If this is the case, then don’t worry. It is still entirely possible to take what some consider a negative and turn it into a positive. For instance, if a person has a wrinkled and weathered face, you can say you are drawn to an intriguing life told through these lines. You may not be comparing them to a vouge model. However, most people are just happy to know they stand out from the crowd in some way.

4. Explain The Project

When approaching strangers to ask for their photographs, you must explain what the images will be used for. For many people, the thought of having their face used online, in a newspaper or for commercial gains can be off-putting. Note: if they are going to be used for commercial purposes, then a release will need to be signed. On the other hand, editorial publications of people are ok in most countries.

Make sure you include this information in your opening pitch. Or if you do forget and are asked about it, do not hesitate in answering. By hesitating, you will look unsure and destroy any trust you had built. This is because it will communicate that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Keep in mind that the project does not need to be something grand to impress people. Most subjects will feel more comfortable cooperating with a photographer on a personal project.

Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs
Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

5. Offer To Share Your Photographs

Another crucial element in your pitch must be to offer the subject a chance to receive the photographs after you have taken them. This is a powerful tool because people are far more likely to cooperate with someone when they will be better off or receive something in return. On the other hand, you offer them nothing they may see cooperating with you as a complete waste of time and continue with their daily activities.

A side note to this would be to have an image or two ready to show them what they could receive by letting you photograph them. This could be in the form of a print or on your smartphone. If you can demonstrate talent, this will increase the likelihood of cooperation.

However, If you are a beginner and are still working on your portfolio, don’t worry because it’s not crucial. Furthermore, if you are a beginner, be genuine about your position, don’t try to hide it. People will likely side with you. Everyone loves an underdog.

6. Offer A Business Card

Offering a business card to a potential subject isn’t essential and not always practical (or affordable). However, if you have the opportunity, it will create an instant level of trust. If someone has taken the time, energy, and spent the money to build a website and link people to it through business cards, they are not some amateur pointing a lens at random people with little to no purpose.

Fortunately, just the sight of a card will be enough for most people. Most subjects won’t take one from you. Which will save you money on printing costs in the long run.

Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs
Portrait How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

7. Express Gratitude

The majority of people live their lives seeing themselves as the centre of the universe, and their time and chosen activities are no less important. Do not forget that by stopping them, you are interrupting these actions. And there is no surer way of turning people off you when requesting something from them than showing no signs of gratitude. This step comes down to respect. Something so basic and essential for smooth social interaction. Yet is something so many of us seem to forget in our interactions with others.

Keeping this in mind in your approach, you can add a few signals of gratitude by saying things like, “thank you for stopping”, and again before you part ways, you can thank them once more.


8. Use Smaller Equipment

If you take a DSLR to the streets, you are going to intimidate people with it. Remember that people are used to having their photographs taken on smartphones these days. Standing in front of anything heftier than this will take them outside of their comfort zones. Luckily, Mirrorless cameras are small and powerful and are fantastic tools for this job.

Why don’t you just hide the camera while you ask? Because if you don’t show your camera, you will not communicate that level of professionalism to a person. It isn’t essential, and a DSLR will do. However, if you can use smaller equipment, do so.


9. Conclusion

The bottom line is that while all of these tricks and tips will help, they are certainly worth knowing. The most important thing you can do is break your anxiety about asking strangers for their photograph. The rest will come as you build your own style of approach.

Accept then this challenge. If possible, promise yourself tomorrow you will take your camera out and ask at least 3 people if they mind their photograph being taken. If not tomorrow, then the next available day.

Once you have done this, you will realise just how easy it is and be well on your way to capturing some incredible portraits of strangers!

What do you think of the list? Anything missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs, How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs, How to Ask Strangers For Their Photographs

David Davis
David Davis
Hi, My name is Dave, and I am passionate about photography. I am currently travelling to document the world's most interesting people and places. I have started this blog to share these incredible sights and experiences with you, including all the knowledge I gain as a photographer/videographer along the way. If you share a passion for street, documentary, and travel photography, join the mailing list and stay up to date with the latest posts and resources direct from the field.

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