This spring I went with my friend and fellow photographer Carrie to downtown Victoria. We were each armed with a camera. Our intention was to walk up to complete strangers and ask to take photos of them. That’s something that takes practice, believe it or not. We were there for over three hours and we didn’t get a whole lot of shots. But that was okay, we were just practising.
Years ago (I’m allowed to use “years ago” because it’s already been two years since I moved to Victoria to get some schooling) my idea of comfortable street photography was to use the longest lens I could get, and to act like a sniper of sorts. Sure, the photos turned out candid enough, but there was always something lacking. I switched to a shorter lens, but my comfort level was non-existent, so I either shot from the hip or very quickly pulled the camera up to my eye, shot and hoped that I got something useful.
As for approaching people and asking them for permission or their name… I don’t think so. Way too shy for that.
And now it feels silly to think that way, because what are they going to do? Break my fingers, kick my knees and eat me alive? Hardly. The worst thing that happens is that they say no. In fact, most people say yes, especially if you approach them with a smile and introduce yourself before asking. Prepare yourself and be ready with an answer for questions like “What are you going to do with them?” or “Why do you want to take a photo of me?” Even better, have a business card to give them.
I admit that this walking up to a stranger to photograph them still doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to take a few deep breaths before I muster up the courage to approach people. But I’m getting better at it, and it’s fun. I get to know them a little bit (some are chattier than others), and often I send them a copy if they just send me an email (that’s where the business card comes in handy).
Since Carrie and I took this trip downtown in May I didn’t do this again until late August. I intend to not wait three months until I do this again.