How to take a street portrait on the fly

Last week I talked about how sometimes you need to make yourself a little uncomfortable to be happy. And my discomfort, my putting myself out there, my stretching was taking some street portraits. Yup, asking STRANGERS if I could take their photo. Strangers. People I don't know. Have never met. On the fly. Right there.

It was part of my assignment for a class in street photography. And the point being, I need to get MORE comfortable with walking up to strangers and taking their photo. 

As an aside, LEGALLY, you can take a photograph of anyone out in public. Once they are walking around, they are fair game. ETHICALLY, if someone really doesn't want their photo taken, don't do it. This might seem silly but I think that photos taken against someone's will just won't have the right energy about them.

These are my shots - PLEASE keep in mind that it WAS on.the.fly. Pretty much ZERO time for settings and composition. They aren't my BEST street photographs but they are the ones where I did ask strangers.

I was using my 50mm prime lens which means that I was in close. Right there. No zoom. My feet are my zoom. There'd be NO mistaking that I was taking a photograph, hence having to talk to them.

So how did I do it?

1. Pick your subject

This is my own choice, but I didn't take photos of anyone who was obviously homeless or in other dire straits. I feel like it's a bit of an underhand pitch to take such photos. And they've been done to death too. And there's that power imbalance that makes me a bit uncomfortable too. Maybe I'm overthinking it but it seems almost exploitive to walk up with my fancy camera from my nice, tidy life and start shooting someone who is down and out. 

Vancouver is gorgeous but being a port city with a mild climate it has the WORST drug addicted population in Canada. I'm not going to take advantage of that situation for my photography portfolio unless I was specificially creating a photo essay to advocate on their behalf.

2. Use your spidey sense

Okay, so I wasn't going to choose to photograph someone with obvious mental health issues or someone who appeared homeless or with apparent drug addiction issues. That being said, I was out and about on my own and I relied on my spidey sense about who to approach and whom to avoid. Be safe.

3. Introduce yourself

When I stopped to chat I DID say that I was taking a street photography course and that I was wondering if I could take their photo for my class assignment. You know, be polite. This was, of course, while I was trying not to hyperventilate. Amazing that they could understand me when I was talking at light speed. "I'mtakingaphotographycourseandIwonderifIcouldtakeyourphoto". Phew!

It CAN be a subtle negotiation. If they hesitate for a second or two, offer to email them the photos. Let them know that it won't be sold. Play the amateur part. Just be nice.

4. Be prepared

People are doing you a favour so have your camera ready to go. You know how it is when you are at the other end of the camera? "Wait, I just have to adjust this or change that". Pain in the ass. So decide ahead of time and be ready. 

5. What if they say no?

Be kind, thank them for their time and move on. But you know what, no one refused me! I was shocked because I certainly wouldn't let some stranger take my photo. How generous am I? Yup, not so much.

Notice the baby rat in his hands? These two OFFERED to have their photo taken. I have some baby rat close ups too.

So what do you think? Can I challenge you to take out your camera and get some street portraits this week? What, if anything, scares you about it? And if you HAVE done it, what was your experience like?