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I rarely post here, but heres a question and a pic

Discussion in 'Photojournalism, Candids and Street Photography' started by TomP, Aug 1, 2008.

  1. So how do you folks walk up to a total stranger, and ask to take a persons picture? What do you say, gosh you look real distinguished, you look like a real character, I like the ruggedness of your hard life sculpted face, you look really nice in a bikini?? I have a distant friend that can walk up to anyone and get the pic. For me it is like pulling teeth, I hate it. Here I was in a comfort zone, I had seen many people like Mr. Clark, when I was growing up, so started asking the question from that rural common ground. But how do you start off from a cold or nonexistiting point to put the person at ease?????
    I really want to know how you do it, and I am sure there are many others that would like to know.

    A brief, I'll try, outline. I saw him walking towards me, and I was struck by his bearing and confident walk, the jeans, well worn hat, bright blue shirt, beard and red suspenders could have made him look Amish, but the cell phone just set it all off for me, it seemed such a contradiction. His hat was real, no city hat for him. The hat told it's own story, of years of hot hard work; that sweat band was real. He carried a glass or acrylic cane. We spoke briefly, but covered a lot of ground in 5 minutes. He was a vet, just missed WWII and was in the military for Korea, being pulled off the troop ship for another assignment, just hours before it departed for the conflict. Other stories were told, he was amazing, an had an amazing life. I could spend the rest of my life photographing and telling these older folks stories.

    These pics are what they are, for me there good, all I had was my 12/24 and the pop up flash, the background could have been better, but I was not comfortable posing him, and there was nothing but steel and concrete as this was at a medical center.

    Give me your thoughts on the pics and your input on the question of how.

    Mr. Wendell Clark
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    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2008
  2. I'm reading a book by Bryan Peterson. He suggests you go up to the person and tell them in all honesty what it is about them that makes you want to photograph them. He said that works for him 99% of the time. He also gets a model release signed before taking the pic.
  3. Thanks Cindy, still it seems awkward making that opening request. Do you do much shooting in this line?

    I have asked the mods. to move this thread to the candids, where i should have put to start with, just had a mature moment.
  4. All I can say is that it's not always easy walking up to total strangers and asking to take their photograph. I do part time work for the newspaper, and I'm still not comfortable doing it.
  5. artona


    Jul 9, 2008

    My first job was on a newspaper and one of the weekly tasks was to pop into a town called Harlow and "pick up" a young girl to photograph to be Miss Harlow of the week. At 20 I found it easy as I was talking to girls my age. The older photographers found it difficult.

    I like the advice Cindy made earlier i.e.

    I'm reading a book by Bryan Peterson. He suggests you go up to the person and tell them in all honesty what it is about them that makes you want to photograph them. He said that works for him 99% of the time. He also gets a model release signed before taking the pic.

    but in the Miss Harlow days walking up to a young girl and declaring her "big boobs" (thats uk slang for breasts) would not have got me far. lol lol

    I used to show them a copy of the previous weeks paper, give them a business card and tell them that they had beautiful eyes and I wanted to see them looking out from next weeks pages.

    Ok, now you have all got over being sick what I would advise you to do is give yourself some credibility. Register a domain name such as TomSpeople or something and buy some hosting. Upload a wordpress photoblog to it and then get some business cards made.

    This will give you confidence and also create a reason for taking them.

    Looking at the photos you have produced it says to me you felt totally out of your debth but you will soon learn how to swim. Don't think you have to take the pics within seconds, we are not talking about the president here.

    If there is a cafe nearby offer to buy them a coffee. Thats the end of this post otherwise I might end up telling you what that 20 year old newspaper snapper got up to :biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:

  6. jjdesanto1


    May 1, 2005
    Warwick, N.Y.
    John DeSanto
    My way

    I've worked full-time as a newspaper photographer for 36 years and here is the secret to getting complete strangers to work with you:

    The Colombo Routine

    1) You, the photographer, cannot appear to be threatening in any way.
    2) You need to establish yourself as a regular Joe.
    3) You need to make it fun for the subject. (If they're having fun, they'll do ANYTHING for you.)
    4) Work fast - you always need to appear to be in a hurry.
    5) Always keep talking but avoid eye contact at all costs.
    6) When you've got the shot, leave immediately - don't linger. (It only gives the subject a chance to change their mind.)

    Here's how it works. True story: This past Friday I had all day to drive up and down the upper Delaware River between New York and Pennsylvania for a story about river safety. (We've had four drownings on the river so far this year.) A typical opening conversation would go something like this:

    Me: "Hi, I'm John DeSanto from the Times Herald-Record newspaper and we're doing a story on river safety. Now you're gonna think I'm nuts but somehow four different knuckleheads have managed to drown their sorry butts in that peaceful looking river out there. Now my editor thinks that if we do a story people will read this story and not do stupid things. But - if you ask me - I'm guessing he's wrong. Either way, I still gotta get a photo. So is it okay with you if we take a couple of pictures down by the water's edge?"

    I probably approached 10-12 people that way on Friday and had 100 percent cooperation. Why? By talking down and dirty, I establish myself as a regular person. By telling them "I don't think this is going to work but I still gotta get a photo" I get them to buy into the success/failure of the whole thing. I keep up the chatter from start to finish - sometimes it's corny jokes, sometimes it's general statements, sometimes it's about me screwing up the shot, whatever works - just keep talking.

    Now, I do have the advantage of saying "I work for a newspaper..." and most of you don't have that advantage. But you can still say your name and "and today I'm taking pictures of (fill in the blank.) As for photo releases, well this is editorial work so we don't need 'em.

    Back in 1972-73 I was lucky enough to intern under Bernard Hoffman, one of the original photographers at LIFE Magazine. On the last day I worked for him, just before my first newspaper job, he said this to me:

    "Everyone thinks photography is about equipment, but it's not... it's about people and making them comfortable in front of your lens. A good photojournalist can get into a Mafia staff meeting, take pictures of all the dons and leave the room with everyone still happy. And a bad photojournalist will tick off everyone at your Aunt Millie's 100th birthday party.

    I've tried to remember that.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 4, 2008
  7. I was actually having this problem the other day. and i thought, i was nuts. but i'm not. its isn't easy for everyone. so i read everyones advice and i just to say, thanks. :) 
  8. Nacho


    Dec 29, 2007
    Salem, Oregon
    What to Say... : )

    John, thanks for the tips! Another way that has worked for me is to tell people about my documentary project (briefly) and how it would be really helpful if... or ask if they would not mind if... usually people respond quite well. I think a good skill is being able to read who might not mind, and whom it might not be a good idea to point your lens toward!

    But it is really the notion that a bona fide purpose and project animates the photographer and the effort that helps out. If they get the idea that somehow you are just taking pics for the heck of it... so it is always a good idea to act professionally.

    I've had folks ask "are you a professional photographer?" or "are you with the media?" Giving much status to such professional designation. A response of "not at present, although my project..." or "I'm a freelance photojournalist," or even "I'm a documentary photographer," often helps put people at ease. I've found that folks have a higher tolerance also for the "artist." :smile: Make sure you are what you claim!


  9. 'Thats the end of this post otherwise I might end up telling you what that 20 year old newspaper snapper got up to

    Don't be a tease, Tell us the story.:smile:
    Thanks for your input, i guess it is all about trying to make connection with the subject, and improving on each experience.

    Well it is good to know that it is also heard for many other people also.

    Stew Nacho and John, thanks for the great input.

    There are some good suggestions here, and having a site of similar pics, I guess even a PBase gallery link might do, business cards would be very helpful. I do need to make some cards, something I have put off doing.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 4, 2008
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