I’ve learned that besides the usual catching people doing going about their lives unaware (most of the time) of you snapping their photo, there is a thing called street portraits. So how is this different from just street photography? In the case of doing a street portrait you are singling out an individual/s and you interact with them. At least long enough to ask for and take their photo and sometimes you may even get to know a bit about them.
It can be very scary to go up to a total stranger and say “Hi! Can I take your photo?” The responses can be &^%$ off! You want money for this? Why? Where is it going to go? Occasionally you will get someone who doesn’t mind at all and will pose for you; I’ve had a few people ham it up for their photo. You are taking a photo of someone and it hopefully represents the real them. I don’t like the idea of photographing a person showing the worst of them or just how down and out they may possibly be unless there is a reason for it (other than sensationalism) and I aim to get their permission first.
Ask politely, explain to them why you want to take their photo such as you love their hat, tattoos or cool look and that you do street photography. Tell them where their portrait will end up such as on Instagram or a blog. I always add that in no way will it go up on anything shady unless someone hijacks my page or that I will sell their image. If they want a copy then give them your email or social media account name to contact you for it later. Locally, that has led to me getting hired to take photos for some people.
This adventurous day I took the train into Manhattan and wandered around, camera in hand, with the goal of getting some good street photography and street portrait shots. I took some nice candid images as well as got turned down by many I asked for portraits. You just have to shrug it off and keep going; it’s not the easiest thing. I met some people from around the globe on my walk in New York. Let’s begin our tour…
In front of the One World Trade center I met this gentleman from France. We spoke for a bit after I asked for his portrait complementing him on being quite the snappy dresser; he was from Paris. When I just could not get his name right, he told me it rhymed with the French word for friend but began with an L. I never got it right – c’est la vie!
From there I legged it over to the Brooklyn Bridge where I met Christina from Germany. There was a bit of a language barrier trying to explain why and what I was doing before I got her picture. Her husband seemed suspicious of me. Me?
I think it has to be the dead of night or way before dawn when the Brooklyn Bridge is not crowded but I saw this woman playing an interesting instrument and well, I had to take her photo! This is Akerke, a professional musician from Kazakhstan who plays her country’s national instrument the Kobyz.
Just as I was starting my walk back to the train station before the rain hit (I didn’t make it in time) I asked to photograph this couple. I didn’t get their names but they told me they were from Belgium via Morocco. That’s an interesting route I commented. We all chuckled at that.
There are some street photographers who are quite “aggressive” with getting into a persons space in their quest to get a photo and others who have the art of asking and getting a street portrait down pat. I’m still working on being able to pick out someone and get the shot and maybe even get to know a bit about them. It’s a work in progress and to be honest it rather reminds me of some of my anthropology lessons in college; studying humanity via photos.
Do you do street photography/street portraits? Or is this something that is just not you or really terrifies you? Let’s talk about it.