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5 different approaches to take photos of strangers

The post 5 different approaches to taking photos of foreigners first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Nils Heininger.

As travel photographers, documentary photographers or photojournalists, we all share the same unique challenge: building a relationship with our subjects from the outset. Commercial and wedding photographers also need to get closer to their subjects, but they usually have a foundation that connects them. Models are usually paid to work with. Clients of wedding photographers want good images themselves. This is a basis on which photographers can build their relationships. Our challenge is different: we enter a new environment and have nothing but our camera and ourselves.

1 - Approaches for taking photos of foreigners - Nils Heininger

When we are in a special environment in a different culture and among strangers, we must find strategies to approach them. A large portrait consists not only of light and composition, but also of the emotional bond between the photographer and photographed.

If you as a photographer do not like to photograph a situation, this has a negative effect on the quality of your images. Even when we consider moral aspects, it is always better to make contact with people and ensure that they appreciate (or at least tolerate) your photos.

We (almost) struggle with approaching strangers. Even Steve McCurry admitted that he is often embarrassed and uncomfortable when taking photos. The good news, however, is that there are strategies to get the best out of the situation and then create more opportunities for good images. Here I share my best strategies for getting closer to people and coming home with more good portraits.

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1. Ask and shoot

The first strategy is fairly simple, but often a challenge – just ask. How often have you had the courage to approach a stranger and ask for an image? And how often have you regretted it? If you are like me, then way too much. The more you approach people, the more you realize that most of them are happy that they have taken their photo and can even consider it as a compliment.

But what if they say no? What does it matter if they reject you? And then? There are billions of other people. Anxiety is generally one of the biggest obstacles to taking good pictures.

You must overcome it.

One of the best ways to do this is to go out and practice. You will be surprised how many people pose for you if you approach them in the right way.

Stay confident, do your thing and do it right.

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The challenge with this strategy is to stay calm. When I started, I found my images to be weak or a bit soft because I tried to do it as quickly as possible. My hand was perhaps too shaky and I rushed through the process without considering the correct camera settings.

Later I realized that it is not necessary to be in such a hurry. Yes, you should not take too much time from people. However, if you become too nervous and you ruin the moment, it is spent all the time for nothing.

Be aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it. Stay calm and confident, then you will succeed more easily. People appreciate it the most when they see you act professionally and put them in a good light.

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2. Be patient and drink tea

Because I mainly find myself in South Asia, drinking tea is an activity to socialize and get in touch with people. In other areas you can replace it with coffee, maté or beer. Keep in mind that photographing people doesn't just hit the shutter button. If it were that simple, we wouldn't have all those great professionals who still stand out with their images of people. Each of these photos involved a lot of work behind or next to the camera.

Most photographers who accurately capture the culture and atmosphere of a place through a local person have spent a lot of time choosing the person and building a relationship. While you can run through the streets and click away thousands of images of everyone, you may want to spend your time more efficiently. Stay calm and invest some time in building a network. Go to places where the people you want to make portraits hang. Socialize and take your camera with you when it's time to do this.

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3. Search for a fixer

If you have found the right people and you still cannot get in touch, it is sometimes useful to find a fixer. Fixers are people who arrange access to a story for a photographer, videographer or journalist. They usually belong to the area and act as a mediator between the professional and the people.

Fixers can also help with translation and they know a lot about the problem in question and have an idea of ​​what you are looking for. While fixers are usually paid in the case of professional journalism, you can also find guides, community members or other local people who can help you. Sometimes this happens while drinking tea, sometimes it is enough to walk aimlessly through a street in a strange neighborhood.

Find the people who look like they can help you. The inhabitants often like to share their stories. Introduce yourself and show that you mean no harm.

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For example, I wanted to cover the life of a fisherman in Puri, India, but I didn't know anyone at the place I visited. When I arrived, I quickly found a boy who could introduce me to the community while I was wandering in an area where you usually don't find too many tourists. The young man asked me what I was doing and we talked. I didn't even have to find anyone who had connected me. The person found me in a few minutes!

Although he was not a fisherman himself, he was very helpful in providing information about the community and connecting others. After a while, people got used to it. Although the boy himself could not arrange a boat trip for me, I was able to make contact with others. One morning I finally met some fishermen on the sea.

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4. Visit a festival or event

Special events or festivals are a great opportunity to capture the culture of a place and get to know people. Festivals offer the possibility to take photos of important moments. Often people also ask you if you can send the images to them. Be helpful and share what you have. My experience is that everything you share is repaid in multiple amounts. When I photographed the wild dervish dance in a Sufi shrine in Pakistan, one of the artists asked me to send the images to him. When I met him, I was in the front row the following week. Once connected with the people, they made sure that I could take some great photos.

It is often tempting to push your limits to get the picture. Always be aware of what is allowed and appreciated during certain events. Some people may not want their images to be captured or to disturb an important moment (DSLR users know the curse of the loud shutter sound). I have a rule of thumb for these situations – when I feel uncomfortable in my stomach or get more attention than the actual event, I would prefer to ask someone if I should step back.

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Imagine a photographer placing his camera right in front of you for the kiss at your wedding. You can't even see the bride well. That would completely kill the moment. With unknown events and rituals you must be aware of what is happening around you.

As a badly mannered photographer, you can also ruin the name of an entire community of professionals and hobbyists. Always be friendly and considerate. Others may also want to shoot where you participated. If you behaved in a bad way, they may not get permission. In the most extreme cases, you can even put yourself at risk if you unintentionally cross a border. Get your picture but try not to focus on yourself. For you, a certain event can be an opportunity for photos. For others, it may be a very important day in their lives.

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5. Create a project and open about it

Approach a community and openly say that you want to photograph their daily lives. Leave the camera at home the first day and introduce yourself to the people.

While this can be frustrating (because you will undoubtedly see opportunities that you could capture), stay patient. Drink tea, talk and explain what you want to do and why. In this way people get to know you and your intentions. You also get a better idea of ​​what to record and how.

When I took pictures in a slum, people were suspicious because NGOs went in and out to take pictures of poverty. I explained that I want to take photos of normal life and portray them as normal people that I knew they were. The results were less staged images of their daily lives, which they appreciated.

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In such a ' n project you can even give something back to people.

Print some images and pass them on to the community. You may be surprised how happy it makes people. Moreover, you may also notice that people who did not want to take their photo before will approach you to take their photos. They are small gestures such as these that keep you welcome in an area.

Long-term projects cannot cover a large number of different places and people, but they can include a deeper understanding of a community and connect the public with the subject.

You don't have to make your project too big. It all depends on your options. There are many small ones that you can follow within a week or even a day.

Developing a project not only opens doors for you, but also gets you out of the way and increases your creativity. Photographing with a concept in mind can make you feel less uncomfortable when you are on the street. It can also help to explain to people why you would like to take their image.

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In a nutshell

Invest time in your photography, because it's more than just hitting the shutter button.

Commercial and wedding photographers must invest time to set up a team and develop ideas for clients, and landscape photographers must walk in search of the weather and sun. Photographing strangers also requires some preparation, even if it is just a mental preparation to overcome the fear of approach.

However, be patient and wait for the right moment. Don't get frustrated if you don't get a five star every time. Make connections and enjoy the experience.

What are your best ways to approach strangers? Do you have similar fears of just talking to them? How do you get over this? Sharing problems and advice can help us support each other. Feel free to share your story in the comments.

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The post 5 different approaches to taking photos of foreigners first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Nils Heininger.

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