How to do street portrait photography

Stopping random strangers and asking them if you can take their photo is a bit scary but it’s worth it because street photography is all about telling a story. I’ve put together a video on how to shoot street photography portraits including some street portrait tips.

The goal of a street portrait is to capture something that you couldn’t have seen by simply shooting a candid shot instead. A street portrait is a very special form of street photography and it takes a while to get confident enough with your equipment to take on the extra challenge of interacting with your subject.

You need to get to know your subject, even if only for ten seconds. It’s all about confidence and politeness. For example, it’s good to keep talking with your subject right the way through the shoot.

Street Portrait Tips

There are three important things to keep in mind when you are out shooting street portraits:

  • Be nice: Complement your subject so that they have some idea why you are taking their photo.
  • Be inclusive: Show them the photos you take and chat to them about which ones look best.
  • Be fun: If you enjoy the process then so will they.

I shoot with a Panasonic GF2 for street photography which is a micro four thirds camera and use a wide angle fixed prime lens because it allows me to capture the context around my subjects. You might also want to experiment with using a portrait lens so you can really focus in on your subjects facial expressions.

In your face portraits

There are other ways of interacting with your subjects and Sasha has a more in your face style of asking for street portraits. This seems to suit the beach vibe in Coney Island where he is shooting.

Stranger portraits

The master of stranger portraits is Danny Santos from Singapore. His shots are amazingly subtle and he seems to just stop time when he shoots.

His stranger portraits are an example of why asking permission can make such a difference to the quality of image that you capture.

Raw street photography portraits

Eric Kim and others have stimulated some interesting debates over the years about whether portraits with permission even count as “street photography”. Sure, they happen on the street but they often lack the gritty realism of a candid portrait or a grabbed shot. You can get totally different vibes with the stealth of Henri Cartier Bresson or the aggression of an off camera flash like Bruce Gilden.

In the end, it’s not about whether your photos count towards any arbitrary definition. The fact is that if you have fun and interact with your subjects then you’ll capture lovely human images. And you’ll have some wonderful stories to tell.

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