Regardless of whether you’re in the familiar surroundings of your home town or visiting a brand new country, asking total strangers if you can take a picture of them is often very daunting. Whilst taking pictures in a place you recognise might be slightly less intimidating for some, strangers are still strangers no matter where you are.
Often, the worry of coming across too intrusive can be enough to put many people off outdoor portrait photography altogether when in actual fact, some strangers will happily allow you to include them in a scenic photo with no fuss or awkwardness. If you confidently use the correct style of approach, you’re guaranteed to increase your chances of being given permission to take the photo you want.
If you’re a keen outdoor portrait photographer who shrinks away from asking strangers for photo permission, you’ve already found your solution right here! Below are a few top tips you can use to boost your confidence when approaching strangers, and how to ask the vital question without ever feeling like you’re invading their personal space.
Overcome your initial fear
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re experiencing some form of fear about approaching strangers and asking for permission to take a simple photo. So, successfully combating this initial fear will hands-down be the most essential step you’ll take to improve your mind-set and success.
There’s no easy way to sugar-coat this, but if you’re too scared to approach a stranger, how are you going to successfully take their photo? Surely the pressure of taking a good photo is much worse than simply asking for one, especially if they’ve requested to see it afterwards?
To conquer this fear once and for all, it’s essential you adopt an entirely different mind-set for your approach. The idea of ‘talking to strangers’ is a lot more daunting than ‘talking to people’, so by simply thinking of who you want to photograph as a ‘person’ instead of a ‘stranger’, you’re likely to see them in a less intimidating light.
Taking an impressive photo is your main goal here, so look at asking permission as a mere stepping-stone to achieve it.
Strangers will often ask what the photo is for, and some may even want to see it once it’s been taken. Remember, you’re asking them to do you a favour by being in your photo, so being 100% honest and open about what you’re doing is guaranteed to make them feel more comfortable.
Better still, if you’ve invested in a decent camera and high-quality digital accessories, you’ll come across as extremely professional, further increasing your chances of being granted a stranger’s permission.
Simple yet extremely effective, a smile has been shown to have distinct benefits to both the smiler (you) and the person being smiled at.
A genuine smile displays instant friendliness, showing whoever you want to gain permission from that you’re polite and respectful. Also a universal expression recognised across the world, if you’re travelling and constantly surrounded by people who speak no English, you’ll still achieve the desired effect from your smile, likely increasing your chance of a success.
Show added caution and respect around children
Taking photographs of a stranger’s children has become widely controversial and is often seen as very suspicious for obvious reasons, so it’s essential you’re very careful if taking photographs in a setting where children are present.
In this day and age, parents are increasingly hostile towards strangers who appear to take photographs of their children – and understandably so. However, if you do wish to take a photo of an outdoor scene consistently featuring unavoidable children, try to identify the parents of the child/children in question and apply the same approach you would any other stranger: smile and politely ask permission to take photos. Not doing this will instantly give off a suspicious, negative impression, which is definitely not something you want.
As this is quite a sensitive topic for parents, many may instantly refuse. And you have to respect that, even if it means you can’t get the specific shot you were looking for.
Whilst the mere thought of asking a stranger’s permission to take a photo of them is often seems a lot scarier than it actually is. By utilizing all the above techniques, the more you do them the higher your confidence will increase, and you’ll one day look back and wonder why you were so worried!
John Stowe is an amateur photographer based in Leeds UK. He got the digital photography bug back in the early 2000’s and has since had many different models of cameras. He loves to share his ideas and thoughts online for others to read.