In my first post on photographing people I discussed what kind of lens I usually use and what my general philosophy is on approaching strangers. Today I’ll cover when I ask for permission, how to communicate with body language, and the approach.
To Ask or Not to Ask….Permission
In most situations where I’m photographing people, if possible I prefer to ask permission (verbally or non verbally). Now this doesn’t mean I stop everybody who passes in front of my lens, but it is useful when I know I want to spend time making pictures of somebody. And of course there are moments that would be missed if I stopped to ask permission, so I take the picture! Then if I’d like to continue to shoot, I’ll ask permission.
People will occasionally tell me no, which is always disappointing, but I move on. I figure that if someone isn’t up for it, I won’t make a good picture anyway.
Permission doesn’t need to be verbal and in fact, it can’t be if there isn’t a shared language. This is where a simple smile or a point to the camera works wonders. Or I’ll start shooting, as with the situation in the photo above, and when I’m noticed I lower my camera and give a smile or wave. I’ve gotten very few ambiguous answers with these techniques. It is usually as clear as night and day whether somebody is keen for their photo to be taken.
I find that if I go into a situation nervous and unsure, people can sense the unease in my approach and will react similarly. I’m not always in the right state when approaching strangers, so I might need to give myself a pep talk. It is uncanny how people pick up on unspoken cues.
In the upcoming posts I’ll cover putting your subject at ease, model releases and paying for photographs, lens choice, and much more. Please leave your own tips on photographing people in the comments below.