Thursday, June 28, 2018

Secret? No Secret, Just Shoot

One of my favourite things to do on the street is to shoot portraits of strangers. I have been asked too often the techniques I used to approach random people and get friendly looking shots. I have also repeatedly answered that I did not have any secrets or techniques, I just walked up to people and took their photographs. With consent? Definitely, else their facial expression would look very differently. Yet people have difficulties believing that I have no other ways to making my portrait of strangers shots. And believe it or not, even cats come to me and pose willingly for my shots. I have friends who have followed me around to testify.

Photo credit: Matti Sulanto

Here is what matters: show yourself, don't hide and pretend like you are invisible and sneak around like a thief or someone suspicious. As stealthy or invisible as you would like to think you are, people can see you with your camera. Present yourself as a human being, show respect and kindness, and prove that you are not a threat and you do not have ill intentions. Be open, be courteous, be polite and be generous with your smile, because how people respond to you is usually a reflection of how you show yourself to them in the first place. 

People are not stupid, they know that you have a camera and you want something from them. Be up front and tell them your intentions if you have to explain yourself. Don't give excuses and don't challenge people into an argument. If your subject is not willing, move on. What is the point of aggression and in the end you end up with all the negativity dragging at your feet all day? Drop it, forget it and move on. There are plenty of opportunities waiting, just keep an upright attitude and walk on. Rejection is part of life, deal with it. Resisting is making things worse. 

I like natural looking poses, like my subject is exactly right in his environment, doing whatever he is doing. I don't mind smiling human subjects in my images, after all it is a perfectly normal thing for humans to do: smile. I know many street photographers discourage this, but you are your own captain of your ship and you may set your own directions and course. You decide what you want in your image. 

No matter how many times I have been on the street, no matter how many portraits I have made, each time I nailed a portrait of a stranger shot, I get that satisfaction which I cannot describe in words. That is why I keep doing it. The magic never fades. 

Secret? No, not really. I just go out and shoot. I shoot a lot more than other photographers, perhaps, that itself is the secret. 


  1. Robin,

    Do you ever offer to get them a copy of the picture via email or text?

    By the way I think there is a secret. You.

    - DG

    1. I like to make a google drive folder to put the photos from a family event or photowalk in, make a shareable link to the folder, then you can print off a few copies of the link to hand out to the folks you photograph, maybe put it on the back of your business card. Also, qr codes are cool and easy, too. They can just take your card, open the site with the link you wrote down, or the qr code, and they can see their picture in the next couple of days after you edit.

    2. David, If the person asks for it, yes. But usually no!

      Michael, that is a fantastic idea. But for event shoots I think it is a different thing. Street shooting is so random that you get to meet all kinds of different people, some may not even have emails or smartphones.

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  2. I testify to your cat whispering skills! With photos to back up.

    Agreed with your points, and I have been trying to do more with your tips, and so far so good!

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