I didn’t really talk to this guy. Just pointed at my lens and then pointed at him and nodded. He nodded back and I snapped a couple of shots of him. Sometimes it’s better to have as little conversation as possible with your subject on the street. He intuitively understood that I wanted a candid photo of him, rather than one with him mugging for my camera. Had I chatted with him first, he likely would have given me more of a posed shot. After I got my photo I did chat with him a bit, since it no longer mattered.
The takeaway for street shooters: Tap your lens then point to the person and nod, and you’ll discover that everyone understands this as a non-verbal request to take their photo. Some will say something but most either nod back or shake their head. But most importantly, they’ll get that you don’t want them to stop whatever it is they are doing and that you’re trying to catch a candid moment.
If, however, you do want a posed shot, you’re probably best to engaged the person and explain what you want and why. Have a good reason, like how the colour of their jacket is such a nice contrast against the colour of the fence they are leaning against. Or mention something unique about them, such as an interesting hat or the cool sunglasses. If it’s a woman, don’t tell her you want the photo because of how beautiful she is. That’ll come off as creepy and she’ll likely turn you down.
The main thing is this: However you approach a stranger for a photograph, own it. Be absolutely 100% confident that you know what you’re doing and that this is a photo that demands to be taken. If you seem weak or afraid or shy, it’ll empower the subject and they’ll feel confident enough to say no.
So last Saturday my buddy and I were out shooting with a camera crew, creating a street photography video. Not sure how it’s going to come out but it was fun to do. If it’s good I’ll share it here. If not, pretend we never discussed it. 😉