Street portraiture is an extremely satisfying genre of photography to shoot, but can also be one of the most difficult. It’s not difficult in terms of style and technique because this is something you can decide upon before you even head out onto the streets. Whether you go for natural light with a reflector to fill-in or slick off-camera flash techniques is the least of your worries.
The most difficult aspect has to be keeping your confidence levels up and not becoming disheartened the tenth time a prospective subject turns you down. It definitely gets easier the more you do it, but even experienced street portrait photographers can find approaching strangers in the street draining. In the first 30 minutes you could photograph 10 people, then not shoot a thing over next few hours.
So how do you stay positive? Recompose yourself and keep looking for potential subjects. If things are getting really bad get a coffee and come back to it after a rest. It’s amazing how 10 minutes relaxing can re-energise you enough to feel motivated again. The more positive, confidant and friendly you are the more likely people will be to give you a few minutes of their time. Remember that you’re the only person who knows whether the last person you spoke to allowed you to take their picture or walked away.
Tips for street portraiture
- Be friendly and a use your charm
- Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing
- Offer a business card
- Don’t forget to take a stack of model releases and a pen
- Email a photo to everyone you photograph
- Keep a bottle of water and some snacks in your kit bag
Here are a couple of photos from a project I shot collaboratively with Rosie Clarke in 2007. The project has been gathering electronic dust on my hard drive and when I recently built my new website I decided it was time to do something with it. We spent several days scouring the streets of Liverpool for willing subjects. Some days were easy going and productive, while others were slow and unfruitful. For the few moments that we spoke to people we were given a brief insight into their lives – you might not believe some of the stories behind the faces, and you certainly can’t judge a book by its cover. Visit www.jamesabbottphotography.co.uk to see more portraits.