How to Approach Strangers on the Street for Portraits

Mustering the courage to shoot posed portraits of strangers on the streets is a challenge. This excellent video from respected street photographer, Frederik Trovatten, gives you some great tips on how to approach people and ask them to pose for a picture.

If you’re like me, the thought of randomly walking up to a complete stranger on the street and asking them for a photograph is intimidating. Given that I have no qualms about playing live music or public speaking, why would talking one-on-one with strangers be such a problem?

Trovatten has some fantastic tips here, exploring many of the soft skills that we as photographers so often forget. In my eyes, it’s far easier to shoot candid or intrusive street photography rather than engaging with a subject, respecting them, and taking an honest portrait. 

Demeanor is key, but I wonder how much the gear you’re holding also plays a role in how people respond. If you look like a paparazzi photographer with a huge camera and lens, it will create a completely different impression compared to the Rolleiflex 2.8F that Trovatten uses in his work. 

I think there might also be an advantage to being a foreigner who has a touristic interest in photographing the people of a certain town or country, and this is something that Trovatten uses when approaching people. For the subject, the photographer’s motives become understandable in the same way that an old film camera makes the request feel more like it's about art rather than being slightly odd and voyeuristic.

Are you feeling inspired to shoot street portraiture? What other tips would you add? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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5 Comments

Javier Gutierrez's picture

I can only speak for myself and my own expiearnce. I find it far more difficult to shoot a great candid that tells a story, than to ask a stranger to pose for a portrait. The gear I use makes little difference. That difference is mostly in the candid captures.
I shoot with Mirrorless most of the time these days. I have a Fuji and Sony collection, But that has more to do with weight than carrying around my D500 or D5. Those Nikon bodies with their Nikon Lenses are heavy. The advantage in those big Pro bodies is that folks think you are a pro and tend to offer up a pose. To easy. You can see some of my pictures here https://www.instagram.com/streetvisionla/ or here https://www.flickr.com/photos/jgredline/. The EXIF data is fully intact on my Flickr so you can see the bodies, lenses and settings used.

Steve Powell's picture

Speaking for myself, the appeal of street photography is spontaneity. I rarely ask for posed photos.

Rick Blanc's picture

It's kinda funny that the two previous comments are critical of posed street photo. If the video had been about candid street photos the comments would then have been about invasion of privacy from an opportunistic photographer taking advantage of unknowing people in public blah blah blah.

Steve Powell's picture

I didn't say I was critical of posed photos. I said it's not my preference.

Javier Gutierrez's picture

I was not, nor am I critical about the article. I only have a different POV and experience. I fall into the group of folks that in regards to street photography, rules be dammed. How every you get the shot, you get the shot.