Skip to main content

Essential Tips for Photographing Strangers

I can't remember ever coming across a photographer who said they find it easy to go up to a complete stranger in the street to ask to take a photograph. I hope the tips below will help you overcome this perfectly natural reaction and improve your chances of persuading a stranger to agree to be photographed.

Right, let's get straight down to it then. Think about what you're doing and put yourself in the other person's place. What would your reaction be to someone coming up to you in the street? This mindset can help you, not only approach people but also to take a better picture. The key to a good portrait is empathy with your subject.


Be clear and open about your intention. Approach people from an angle where they can see you coming. Don't sneak up on someone from behind and tap them on the shoulder. Giving them a fright is not a great start.

Your camera should be visible. It's a clue about your intention and allows the person you're about to ask to prepare themselves. From the moment they see you coming they're doing a risk assessment and wondering what you want. Your camera is one of the visual clues they'll use to judge the situation. Muggers, beggers and sales people don't usually carry cameras.

If you have an outlandish fashion sense you may want to reign it in. People judge you by the way you look. Dress like the subjects you want to photograph to blend in with the crowd. Having said that, a quirky element can make you look 'arty' and interesting. Just don't over do it.

Take off your sunglasses when you speak to people. We all know how important it is to be able to see someone's eyes.

If you're photographing in a foreign country then take the time to study local culture and customs to ensure you do not do anything that could cause offence. Be aware of how close you are standing next to your subject. Don't invade their space and take care with your gestures and body language.

Location and time

Taking an extreme example to illustrate this point, if you approach someone in a dark alley, late at night, you're going to be seen as far more of a threat than in broad daylight in a very public place. 

Don't corner people in a place where they may feel uncomfortable. If you have a good location that is a bit off the beaten path you first have to earn your subject's trust before you can ask them to accompany you to your wonderfully photogenic spot.

Even if someone does agree to pose, if they feel uncomfortable, it will show in your image and possibly spoil the shot.


Keep your introduction short and to the point. Introduce yourself and explain why you would like to take their photograph and how you intend to use the image. These are the key questions that people generally want to know. If you come across as open and straightforward, people will have more confidence in you than if they have to drag all the answers out of you.

Travel photographers can benefit from employing a local guide, who can translate and open a conversation with the person you would like to photograph.

Also remember that you are asking people to give you their time, however brief. You're taking their picture. They're giving you a gift so the least you can do is thank them. Using bit of charm also goes a long way but don't overdo it. Just behave normally and be courteous. I always offer to email my picture to the person I have photographed and have met some very interesting people this way.

A final point. If someone says no then accept it gracefully. There are plenty of other people in the world to photograph.

If you feel this article has been useful then please share it on your social media networks.

Till soon,
Follow me on Twitter:

My wife and fellow professional photographer, Magda Indigo, finishes a spontaneous group portrait in Antwerp. We love meeting people and talking to them.


Popular posts from this blog

The art of writing a caption

A caption in its simplest form is the the title of an image but usually we mean a bit more. A full caption takes the form of descriptive text, usually a few sentences.

A good caption informs us about the things we cannot see and encourages us to look at an image more closely. There is a relationship of mutual benefit and dependence between a well written caption and an image. The caption can bring an image to life by providing context and meaning. It is also the link between the article/story/text and the image.

Magda Indigo has written a good description of a caption here. I agree with her dislike of "untitled". It does show a certain lack of imagination and is not particularly helpful to the viewer. Creating an image is all about trying to communicate something and the caption is vital to help the audience understand an image. It can hugely enhance the viewers experience.

A good caption is a piece of writing that should be concise, accurate, informative and as carefully craft…

All the different types of photography

Welcome to my blog. While you're here why not browse through my extensive library of articles covering everything from tips on how to do things photographic to help with the mental approach you need to become a successful photographer. You'll also find articles with some of my unconventional views. Yes, I've rattled a view cages in my time. Hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.

You can view my more serious work on

All the different types of photography

With the help of acquaintances on a photographic site I've tried to compile a list of all the different types of photography out there. I'm sure there are many still missing but the list is pretty impressive so far. We have identified around 80 descriptions.

For fun I've highlighted in bold the different types I've done so far...

3D photography
Action photography
Advertising photography
Aerial photography
Amateur photography
Animal photography
Architecture photography

Is professional photography still a viable career?

I am not against amateurs and semi-professionals selling their photography. It's a great way to earn some extra cash. However I am concerned about the level of high quality published work and the standards that clients and the public accept these days.

It seems that just about everyone is a photographer. The line between amateur enthusiast and professional is fuzzy to say the least.

Photography enthusiasts are selling their images through stock libraries and microstock websites, directly to magazines or through their own and third party sites. They're accepting commissions to shoot weddings, being hired to shoot for magazines and selling fine art prints from their websites. They're teaching photography on the weekend and guiding photographic holidays and safaris.

Photography became accessible to the masses with the first non-expert cameras and the famous Kodak slogan"You press the button, we do the rest." The digital camera age has taken the whole thing to a new …