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Creating street portraits is thrilling. The journey of identifying a potential subject, approaching them, and making their portrait boosts your confidence and theirs. The practical process comes with challenges, especially when posing your subject. But there are ways to get your subject to feel comfortable in an extremely short amount of time. And in this article, I’ll share some tips to help you do that.
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The Psychology of Street Portraits
Let’s take your camera out of your hand for a moment. Think about this. You’re walking on the street, going about your day, then in a matter of moments, a photographer is pointing their camera in your face, asking you to pose. It’s intimidating. The consequence is many street portraits look awkward and forced. That’s why so many of them go straight into the digital trash. (You can have your camera back now.)
Unlike a planned portrait shoot, where the subject has weeks to prepare mentally, your street subject usually has much less than a minute to process that their portrait is about to be made. This is where you have to use psychological techniques to help them feel relaxed as quickly as possible.
After many years of shooting street portraits, here’s what works for me.
1. Don’t Approach Street Portraits with Awkward Energy
If you feel awkward asking for a street portrait, then you’re not ready. You will communicate that “you’re not comfortable in this moment.” This type of energy is contagious, and you’re subject will also feel uncomfortable. You have to go in confident. Show them you know what you’re doing, and they’ll trust you. Trust leads to tranquility, which helps make better portraits.
2. Create Street Portraits in Quiet Spots
If you find your subject in the middle of a busy street, then try to move to one side, slightly away from the hustle and bustle. If you don’t, your subject may worry that everyone is watching them, making them feel uncomfortable. Finding a quiet spot takes that worry away, and they can better focus on having their image taken.
“If you feel awkward asking for a street portrait, then you’re not ready.”
3. Lead with a Compliment
The first thing you should say to your subject should be a compliment. Don’t waste time explaining you’re a photographer (they can see your camera). Instead, lead with, “Hey, I love your shoe and dress combination.” Most people enjoy a compliment; it gives them an instant confidence boost. A confident subject will be relaxed in front of the camera, resulting in a more compelling image.
4. Encourage Them to Breathe
So many rapid thoughts will go through your subject’s mind that they can quickly forget to do the basics, like breathe. This leads to anxiety, a blushing face, and stiffness. Ask them to take two to three deep breaths (do it with them), and they’ll soon be at ease.
5. Don’t Be Too Bossy
Directing your subject is fine, but don’t treat it like a regular portrait shoot with a professional model. If you’re too firm and direct with your posing, they may feel like you’re controlling them. Street portraits are not meant to be serious. So leave the “no, stand like this” for the professional gigs. Be open to going with the flow for a street portrait, and let your subject be themselves.
6. Tell Them the First One Is a Warm-up
Ease the pressure by telling them the first image doesn’t matter. Telling someone something isn’t important encourages them not to worry. Get the shot, show it to them, and remind your subject why you picked them (reinforce step three). Zero pressure equates to more open and relaxed body language.
Get Out and Shoot
You have hardly any time to create the best street portrait. Technical skill takes a second seat, moving aside for the psychological element of the process. If you can direct the mind, you can control the shot. That’s how you make fantastic street portraits.
How did you find this tutorial? Is there anything you wish I covered that I didn’t? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.