"7 Easy Steps to Take a Stranger Portrait - Jens Lennartsson (#329) 06-19-13

Wednesday, time to get someone else's thoughts.

A few days ago I came across the website, "The Zen Photographer", featuring the photography and (Zen) life of Swedish photographer, Jens Lennartsson. See it HERE.

The post that really caught my eye was, "7 Easy Steps to Take a Street Portrait." Jens writes this for those traveling to other countries, but most are simple, common sense ideas that are appropriate anywhere. See the post HERE.

I have copied the text below, with a few observations of my own, in italics.

"7 easy steps to take a strangers portrait

Is when you have to take a strangers portrait on the street the most frightening part of travel photography? I’m using the word ‘have’ because good portraits is inevitable when you’re shooting for a travel article. The good thing is, you are probably making it a bigger thing than it is. Here’s seven easy steps that will help you get through it!"

"Don’t wait

The moment you find an interesting face, walk straight up to him or her. Don’t lurk around and pretend you are just waiting for something, people will notice the weird guy fiddling around in the shadows. Learn to react instantly when the voice in your head yells “Waaaow, that’s a interesting face!”, just go."

I find that waiting gives my negative thoughts a chance to take hold (He may say no – she might think I'm weird, etc). Action is more productive than over thinking the situation.

Look non-threatening

On your way over, just act like you are actually approaching the person you are approaching. Just look her in the eyes and if they look back, just smile and continue walking. Let your camera hang by your shoulder or in your hand by your side. Don’t let the fact that you are going to ask someone to take her picture, stay as relaxed as possible.

I keep my camera on a wrist strap, so it is not obvious. I always dress nicely and look people in the eye as I approach. Confidence is contagious.

Present yourself

If you are in a part of the world where you shake hands, do that and say your name. If you are in a part of the world where you usually bow or put your hands together as a greeting, do that. Always try to learn how to say ‘hello’ in the native language. The more familiar words and gestures you use, the more calm your model will become.

After introducing myself by name, I always offer my hand for a handshake. I have not yet approached a person who does not speak English.

Make small talk

When someone shows a camera up your face, you’ll usually feel a little caught of guard. Even if you don’t have much time to build a relationship, a few minutes small talk will usually put her at ease enough to feel relaxed with you taking her portrait. Humor is always a winner, joke and fool around a lot. Nothing will loosen up a suspicious person as quickly. It’s really possible to make “small talk” even if you can’t speak the same language, just use sign language or gestures.

I begin by saying that my project involves meeting people and taking their picture, and then ask, "can I meet you and take your picture?" The meeting always comes first.

Explain your intentions

When you feel that both you and your model feel relaxed, it is time to ask if you can take a few shots. A good way to familiarize her with the camera is to show a couple of shots you’ve taken before. If you are shooting for a magazine, explain that. If you are just shooting for your website or nothing special, let her know.

I let the person know that I will post the image on flickr, and possibly this blog. Then I show them my flickr Photostream on my smart phone.

Show them the pictures

After a few shots, turn the camera around and let her see what it looks like. Then you are able to change positions or backgrounds and fire of a few more shots. Repeat until satisfied. Remember to have fun and talk all the time, otherwise your model will most likely start to feel awkward.

Yes, I do this. A few times, the person has not been happy, so I shot a few more until she is satisfied.

Give her your card

When you are satisfied, smile and say thank you so much. Now you’ve taken her picture and it would be a nice gesture to give something in return. I usually carry a lot of business cards with contact information on one side and my pictures on the other side. It may feel as a small gesture for us but you’ll be amazed how thankful someone will be for just that little thing.

Yep, I have a card (produced by MOO) that has my name, e-mail, website, and flickr Photostream. I usually offer this at the end, but sometimes I give one when I show them the phone.

Hope you enjoyed this,