How to talk to strangers and stay out of trouble in street photography

Hi, fellow photographers!

In this first lesson, I’d like to talk about the controversial topic of talking to people in the streets.

As you may know in street photography it is a big issue. Whether you should ask people for permission to take a photo, what you should say when someone asks you who you are and why you took that picture. Is it better to take candid shots and walk away or have a chat before or after?

The discussions on the forums are numerous and basically, it all comes to personal style, preferences and a situation. But whenever you find yourself in such a situation when you need to communicate with people in the streets, you have to be ready. Especially if you find yourself in a place where no one speaks your language.

Now, what could those situations probably be and what can you say? Let’s break it down.

1. Someone saw you taking a photo of them.

First and foremost thing to do in this case without using any spoken language is to smile and be friendly. Most of the times people would smile back or just realise you mean no harm and move on.

But if they keep looking at you or start talking to you, you could tell them “Hi, how’re you doing?” or “Hi. Have a nice day!” and go on with your shooting.

Depending on what the people say or ask, you might have to explain yourself a bit more by telling them who you’re and what are the pictures for. For example:

“Hi, I’m Ivan. I’m an amateur photographer (not a professional photographer) and I like to take pictures of people or things that are interesting. They are just for me.”

Well, this is a rough example of how you can introduce yourself. It may vary. People may ask extra questions like whether you’re a reporter or someone like that or what you took a picture of.

If the person seems to be really upset, you could apologise: “I’m (really) sorry for disturbing you. I didn’t mean any harm. Have a good day.” or “I didn’t want to upset you, I’m (terribly) sorry.”


Once I was walking around a market and saw a strange hat stand in the middle of the aisle. I took a couple of photos and then a woman from the nearest shop came to me and started asking questions. First, she was suspicious and a little bit unfriendly, but when I told her I’m just a hobbyist and not a reporter, she relaxed and got back to her business.

2. You see someone interesting and you want to ask for permission to take a photo.

Now, in this case, you can either go for it by asking straight ahead: “Excuse me, do you mind if I take a picture of you?” or “Excuse me, can I take a photo of you?”.

When you see someone doing something interesting and you just miss the shot, you might want to ask them to repeat that action. In this case,  your go-to phrase would be: “I beg your pardon, could you please do that again?” or “Sorry, I just saw you [doing something] and I’d really like to take a picture of it. Could you please do this again?”.

I personally prefer candid shots, but for the sake of experiment I tried that a couple of times. The woman in the photo below was really happy to pose for me with that cat.


3. You are getting well with strangers and like to chat with them before taking pictures.

Just because you may feel a bit unconfident about your English, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be yourself when photographing in a foreign place.

You can easily start a conversation by saying: “Nice day, isn’t it?” or “Hi, what a nice place!” or “Great place/view! Do you come here often?” or “Good morning/afternoon/evening, do you work here?” etc.

Depending on the situation, you can ask different kinds of questions. For example, if you see people in a park playing chess, you might ask them about the place or how often they come here or maybe even who they are.

This approach also includes introducing yourself and explaining a bit about your photography, so phrases from the scenario #1 would also be useful.

Ending a conversation is as important as starting one. And even if your small talk is going well, you can’t spend the whole day chatting. So to end the conversation politely you can say: “Well, I’m afraid I (really) must go now. Thank you.” or “I really have to go now.” or “It’s been nice talking to you, but I’m afraid I have to go.”

Whatever situation you find yourself in, it’s crucial to be friendly and smile in the first place. And by using phrases listed in this lesson, you can feel more comfortable taking pictures in a foreign place and really enjoy it without any fear of getting into trouble because of the language barrier.

Quiz time

Check how well you can get along with strangers by doing this quick quiz. Enjoy!

Over to you.

The situations in this lesson are based on my street experience.

And what about you? Have you ever had such moments? What did you do or say? How well did go? Please share in the comments.


Thank you and till next time. Cheers!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s