Making portraits in street photography

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A street photo without a person in it won’t look lively enough. It’s people who represent the life in the street. How people engage with the street in their natural abode makes street photography look authentic and engaging. In this post I’ll take you beyond merely including people in your photo — make their portraits.

It sounds intimidating idea to get closer to a stranger and ask for a photo. If you follow my proven ideas, you’ll find shooting street portraits a mutually enriching experience for the stranger and yourself.

Disclaimer: I’m an introvert person.

Street Portrait Photography

1. Learn about the city and the locality

If you know about the city, it’s culture and people — you’d know exactly what you can expect when you hit the street. I study multiple YouTube videos and portfolio of other street photographers from the city. I even look for relevant hashtags on Instagram, eg, city, landmark, activities etc. When I reach the street, I hit the ground running. I don’t waste meandering where to go what to shoot. Researching would pave your ways into the locality and locals.

Street Portrait Photography

2. Know your rights as photojournalist

Knowing makes you confident that you’re not doing anything wrong by making street portraits. If you you’re doing right thing, you’ll get extra fuel to ask person for portraits. Knowledge is empowering.

Street Portrait Photography

3. Always ask for permission before you shoot

Asking will help you get rid of any altercations in advance. Seeking permission with a smile and looking/ sounding/ being genuine pleases people and get you stunning portraits.

Street Portrait Photography

4. Don’t ask for permission if they’re too busy with their work

If people are busy in their act — talking, even for seeking permission for a photo, would disturb them. I shoot candid portraits on these occasions. Mostly, I get a tacit agreement to allow the person with their job and me with my job of making portraits. Positive body language, a smile and your professional demeanor will get you agreement, even if you don’t ask for it explicitly.

Street Portrait Photography

5. De-escalate in case of altercations

Even if you know, you’re morally, legally, ethically right photographing people at public places, de-escalate in case of any altercations. If the person doesn’t want you to take the picture, don’t take it. If the person insists you to delete the picture, delete it. You’ve met a completely strange person — you’ve no idea what they’re going through. So, respecting their feelings won’t hurt your street photography much.

Street Portrait Photography
Telephoto lens for street photography

6. Care about your gadgets?

Yeah, indeed. Street photography gears shouldn’t cost you as much as a sports photography or a bird/ wildlife photography. Yet, you should mind what camera and lens you’ll bring to the street for portraits. Experts suggest a 35mm lens and a quality DSLR to handle even low light situations. It’s a good idea. Well, I mostly did my street portraits with 50mm, 1.8 lens. It helps me get intimate portraits and get rid of noisy background, if the background distracts from the narrative in the image. A full frame DSLR is equipped better to handle low light situations without delivering a noisy photo. On rare occasions, I use a telephoto lens. I’ve reasons to do that… continue to read about it here.

Surajkund Mela Photography

7. Capture vivid faces

Humans experiment with their faces and dress. Go to local cultural events or festival to spot vivid people and capture portraits which you won’t get in day-to-day life. To capture fierce actions, go to protest sites in your city. Well, if you’re not a photojournalist, avoid such risky events. It takes good training and right understanding of such events. So, evaluate the event before jumping the gun.

I’ve limited scope in a blog post to write about street portrait photography… I’ve poured my heart in converting this idea into a book. You can find it on Amazon Kindle, it was bestseller for good couple of months last year. Let me know, after reading the book, if you are still curious to explore more. We can set-up a Zoom connect or email.

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