Photographing People

“Many of these pictures were not really taken, they were given.  The subjects trusted me.  They projected something of themselves to me, and it became my privilege and pleasure to receive that something, look at it, arrange the space in which it resided, find what seemed to be order within chaos, and make the photograph.”

WILLIAM ALBERT ALLARD, National Geographic Photographer

Photographing people is something I love but fear to do with strangers.  Shyness holds me back and the fear of rejection or offending a person terrifies me.  This was the main reason for me to enrol in this course.  I want to learn how to approach strangers and take great pictures of them without feeling awkward.

William Albert, a national geographic photographer explains that time is the secret to be able to engage with a stranger.  The first thing to do is approach with honesty, using words and gesture.  The way we do that with honesty and good manners would be received by the stranger in a good way that he/she would agree to allow you to present them in your photographs.

In his book “Spirit of Place”; Bob Krist explains how to break the ice when photographing people.  The problem is the photographer himself he says not the people he/she photograph.  Most strangers are happy that their photos are being taken, it is the photographer who is scared to approach and ask.  The stereotype of the paparazzi is one of the reason.  A study conducted by the Maine Photographic Workshops found that less than 25% out of the 300 people being photographed felt any unease.

To break the ice, start a conversation with the person you want to photograph, try to use phrases in the native tongue of that person if English is not his/her language.  This of course means that you familiarize yourself first with the place, people and culture.  Introduce yourself to that stranger as a yourself not as the photographer.  Be polite and draw a smile on your face.  Krist suggests that we try to photograph people that we naturally interact with as a practice if we are reluctant to approach a stranger.  Waiters, taxi drivers, street artists etc are used to requests from tourist and travelers so they will probably be happy to pose.  Just keep in mind that the worst thing that can happen is your subject saying no!

Another approach is rather than asking someone if it is ok to take their picture; explain to them that you are working on a project and explain the project to them, you will have a better chance of getting cooperation.

Once the ice is broken and the person is happy for you to take pictures; you have to be fast.  The subject won’t enjoy waiting for you to prepare your camera and toggle with the buttons.  You have to be prepared beforehand and think about what you want out of this photo.  Consider using an auto-everything camera for a more relaxed session with the subject.

“I’ve always tried to create an environment that seems part of a bigger story, and then capture a small part of it.”

SAM JONES, a Los Angeles based photographer and director 

Narrative is an extra detail that gives a photograph a meaning.  The pictures will impact more people and will last longer.  When you find a person with an interesting personality, put him/her in a location that would tell a story or add to your shot.  Matt John Robinson, a portrait photographer from Allentown, Pennsylvania explains what he calls his personal style to create a portrait.  He explains that sometimes he finds the location or background then he waits for a stranger to pass by him.

Bibliography / References:

Krist, B. (2000).  Spirit of Place: The Art of Traveling Photographer.  New York:  Amphoto Books.

Orwig, C. (2012).  People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs. 1st ed. Berkeley: Peachpit Press.

Robinson J. M.  How to Photograph Strangers: The 100 Strangers Project [online]. Digital Photography School.  Available from:  [Accessed: 17 July, 2016].

Wage stein O.  How to Photograph a Portrait of a Stranger with the WOW Factor [online]. Digital Photography School. Available from:  [Accessed: 17 July, 2016].


4 thoughts on “Photographing People

  1. Holly Woodward says:

    Just found this post, Ghada, which meshes in with my own fears about asking strangers to let me take their photo. I’m sure Krist is right in saying that most people are not at all bothered by being asked for their photo. It’s what Angier describes as ” the brief acquaintanceship between photographer and subject, leading to a presumption of closeness, a semblance of intimacy” that I find difficult. He describes Dorothea Lange as “putting on a cloak of empathy”. I think it is that false cheeriness and intimacy that I, as an introverted person, dislike. (Angier, Train Your Gaze, p38)

    Liked by 1 person

    • ghadaocablog says:

      Thank you Holly, I am the same but I find taking someone else with me to help is useful, someone who is more outgoing and open. I will be trying that for my assignment one and see how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

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