Overcoming The Fear of Photographing Strangers

Being comfortable in photographing people is at the top of my list for 2011. I’m not talking about holding up a camera towards people you already know or the typical “shoot and run” approach we have when we’re out on the streets. I think photography is a means by which we can get to know people but how often do we connect with them before hitting the shutter button.

More often than not, it’s the people you meet that make travel truly memorable. It’s also the photographs of people that usually get the best reaction from family and friends so why is that we’re quicker to photograph “things” rather than people? The reluctance to do is stems from fear.

I don’t see a point in photographing people you don’t know but photographing them because you see a great subject and know something about them is a different matter. Close intimate portraits of people is a direct reflection of the photographer’s ability to relate to human beings. Those who are able to relate to strangers and share what makes a person fascinating are better able to take interesting photographs.

It’s easy to talk about the approach you need to photographer complete strangers but it’s a different story when you’re out there trying to practice what you preach. For 2011, I’m committing myself to draw from Danny Santos’ project of Shootings Strangers and complete a similar assignment so that I can build self-confidence in approaching people.


My wife took the photo that I absolutely love. It comes across very much like a documentary shot.

Looking Gangsta

The guy who I had bought some souvenirs with in St.Kitts wasn’t pleased when I photographed him afterwards.

I think the only way to take photographs which one finds value in is to actually have some sort of participation in the subject’s world and that comes from introducing yourself. I’ll admit that often times I photograph people without their consent and I can’t help feel that I’ve stole something valuable from them.

How are you going to do it?

1. I’ll be honest, I’ll introduce myself and explain what I’m doing. The worst that can happen is being turned down but for every person that has a similar response, there will be a few who won’t mind.

2. Both Canon and Nikon have an 85mm lens available and I guarantee that the highest response with regard to this lens that you’ll read is that it’s absolutely impeccable for portraits which is why I purchased it. If I’m going to be out in the streets asking strangers to participate in a project, it wouldn’t be a great idea if I took all my photographic arsenal with me and appear intimidating. The D90 and the 85mm will suffice.

3. No person I photograph will walk away without knowing something about me. Aside from the my introduction, they’ll all be given a Moo business card. This will show professionalism on my part and convey that I’m serious about my intentions.

4. I always have a Moleskine packed in my camera bag. Aside form a portrait, the least I can do to show an added interest is writing down their names and email so that I can’t keep them updated on the status of the project.

It’s common sense that when you respond to someone with sincere interest and commitment, you’ll engage with them for a bit longer. It’s in that moment of dialogue where you can get a sense of whether they’ll be willing to get photographed. That’s the key to everything. Of course inside I’ll still be shaking with nervousness but I’m confident that if I show an interest in them first and making the photograph secondary, I’ll be successful in overcoming this fear I’ve held on to for too long.

I prefer being the photographer rather than the person being photographed but the worst you can do to set yourself up to failure for a project like this is to assume that everyone is like you.

As for the name of the project, I’m still working on that. I don’t feel unprepared in not having come up with one yet because it’s a plan that I’ll be talking about more in the weeks to come where I’ll formerly introduce everything.