≡ Menu

Approaching a Stranger to Take His Picture

Over the years, one question that keeps surfacing in my 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 forty 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 scare the  “Peewhadens” out of people.  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 drop 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.

    The first thing I did was to buy some tomatoes.

The first thing I did was to buy some tomatoes.

Here’s a picture I took while working on a photo essay entitled “back road businesses”.  I left my camera in the car and walked up and began to admire his 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 develop a little Chutzpah!!!


For more information about my workshops, visit me at: www.joebaraban.com, and come shoot with me sometime.

Let people know you saw it here!
    { 4 comments… add one }
    • Thilo November 7, 2011, 6:29 am

      So, you “sneak in” to take a stranger’s picture. How do you deal with the model release, then?

    • Joe November 7, 2011, 8:34 am

      As I was leaving with two baskets of tomatoes, I stopped and told him that i wanted to do a photo essay on “back road businesses”, and would he sign something that would allow me to use his photo in case I did. I didn’t call it a ‘model release’.

      If he said no, then it was no. However, I can still use it for editorial and teaching purposes, just not in any commercial applications.

      I wouldn’t exactly call it “sneaked in” Thilo!!!!




    • Chris Summers November 14, 2011, 11:32 am

      I work similarly and have found that if you ask you usually get better results than if you try to sneak a shot from a distance using a long lens. Interacting with them first is great advice and most people will be more candid and not feel threatened. Even in other countries where language may be a barrier you can usually get your request understood. I usually give them a business card with my email on it and suggest they email me and I’ll give them a copy of the image.

      • Joe November 14, 2011, 2:32 pm

        I always ask for their e-mail address. The ones that don’t have one will usually direct me to a friend or family member that does.

    Leave a Comment