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Quick Photo Tip: Photographing a Complete Stranger

Great tasting tomatoes!!

Over the years, one question that keeps surfacing in my online classes with the BPSOP and also in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops is how do I approach a stranger to ask him or her to let me take their picture?

My students will tell me that either they’re afraid of being turned down and they just couldn’t take the rejection, or the minute they see them coming camera in hand, they turn and walk away. Or it one extreme case, he was afraid of the person mugging him and stealing his camera.

Here’s what I’ve been doing for the past fifty years, and it usually works: Depending on the situation, I’ll either leave my camera in the car when I approach someone, or I arrange the strap so that the camera is hidden behind my back.  What you don’t want to do is approach someone with the mindset that you’re a photographer with an expensive camera, and therefore you deserve to take their picture.

A camera can be very intimidating, and can turn people off in a heartbeat.  It can also connote some financial plan you have for yourself at their expense.  For example, are you going to sell their image? Are you going to charge them for it?

If the person is selling something, whatever it is…buy it!!! If they’re entertaining a crowd, donate to the cause. If they need some kind of assistance, offer it. What you want to do is to make friends as soon as possible. You want them to relax their guard by being friendly. Since there’s not much of that going around anymore it just might shock them into reciprocating the gesture.

If it means buying their ‘souls’, expect to pay a little more. Stealing people’s souls is soooooo tacky! I’ve heard that it can take you to Purgatory where you’ll spend eternity playing Go Fish with the rest of the souls of sinners, instead of heaven; although that just might be a urban legend.

In the above photo I took while working on a photo essay entitled “back road businesses”, I saw this man across the highway and immediately turned around. I left my camera in the car and walked up and began to admire his home grown tomatoes. After buying two baskets (I happen to love home grown tomatoes), I asked him if I could take a picture of his tomatoes since they were so beautiful. At this point, I had left my camera in the car.

He said, “Sure thing”. I think maybe since I didn’t have a camera with me, he though I meant at some point in the not too distant future. I went back and got my camera and started shooting the tomatoes. After a couple of minutes, I asked him if he would be in the shot with his tomatoes. Now, since the tomatoes were the stars, he didn’t have a problem with it.  Here’s the way I think…all they can say is no.

Oh, one other thing…you gotta get over the hump and develop a little Chutzpah!!!

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and check out my workshop schedule at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me some time. This coming January Along with William Yu, I’ll be taking a group to China to photograph the flooded rice terraces and also the tribal villages. Next February in conjunction with the Santa Fe Workshops, I’ll be returning to Cuba for the fourth time. My next springtime workshop will Berlin next May; an incredibly beautiful city.

If you’ll send me a photo and question, I’ll create a video critique for you.


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