Street photography and pictures of strangers
If you’re a fan of street photography, you know that un-staged photos of strangers in their natural environs (candid photography) make the perfect subjects due to their authenticity and naturalness. But if you haven’t practised it before, there is one looming prospect: how to ask strangers to take their picture. If you aren’t familiar with street photography, you may even be asking yourself if taking pictures of strangers is legal.
If you want to know how a photographer takes pictures of strangers, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we will be explaining exactly how to do a stranger photoshoot. We will be looking at:
- Is taking photos of strangers without permission legal?
- How to ask strangers for photos
- Taking candid photos
- Street photography tips
Is taking photos of strangers without permission legal?
Yes, taking photos of strangers for artistic purposes in the UK is legal. In the UK, you are allowed to photograph anyone in public space, but according to the Association of Photographers, these photographs cannot be distributed for commercial use (without taking appropriate steps – see below), i.e. to promote a product, service or brand.
This being said, it is considered okay to use these images to promote your services as a professional photographer or as part of an exhibition. But you cannot use photos of strangers for other commercial uses e.g. using them as stock photos.
Use a model release form for commercial usage
If you intend on using your street portraits commercially, you will need to use a contractual model release form, and not a consent form. Although a consent form offers the person’s consent in writing, it is not legally binding, unlike a model release. Under GDPR laws, your model could revoke their consent and file a claim against you for the illegal distribution of their image. However, if you are just photographing strangers for artistic purposes, no consent form or model release is necessary.
In order for the contractual model release to take effect, you need to offer your model something of value to then use these images commercially. You could offer them prints from the shoot, or offer them money.
How to ask strangers for photos
If you want some portrait photography practice, who better to try it out on than some fresh faces? Heading out to a public place is the perfect way to find some participants for your photography, and you are sure to find a variety of interesting characters to be your models. But how to ask?
It can be anxiety-inducing to ask people to take their photo, but you would be surprised at how many people are excited to have their portrait taken by a photographer. When approaching people, be polite and respectful. Explain that you’re a photographer looking to take some portraits for artistic purposes and that you find their look interesting and think that they would make a great subject for a portrait. Many people will willingly oblige, but if people decline, respect their boundaries and move on.
If people refuse, you shouldn’t be discouraged, either. Some people aren’t comfortable having their photographs taken, but there will be plenty of people who will be flattered.
Take candid photos
As taking photos of anyone in the UK in a public space is legal, you don’t have any legal obligation to ask strangers to take their photograph, and a lot of street photographers prefer to shoot from the hip. Once you ask someone to take their picture, it can make the photo seem staged and unnatural if you then want to take a candid photo.
If you are taking candid portraits, you don’t have to ask people to take their photos if you would prefer not to. If you’re taking this approach, it’s best to be subtle when taking your photos.
Street photography tips
- Respect people’s boundaries: When you’re practising street photography, it is legal to take photographs of strangers, but you should still be courteous in your practice. Don’t encroach on people’s space and make them feel uncomfortable. If someone asks you to delete your photo, you should consider this.
- Be discreet: When doing photography in a public space, you should be very mindful of others around you. Not only should you give people their space, but you should avoid being a nuisance by having a complex setup with a tripod and lighting. Many street photographers shoot freehand with their cameras to avoid causing a disturbance.
- Make sure the space is public: While it is legal to photograph strangers in a public space, places you might assume are public may well be private property, e.g. shopping centres. It is illegal to take pictures on private property, so make sure that the location of your shoot is a public space.
- Pack minimal gear: When practising street photography, you don’t want to be bogged down by heavy gear. Limiting yourself to your camera and a couple of lenses keeps you agile and flexible, and many would argue that working with a limited setup encourages you to be more creative with your street photography.
- Experiment with levels: A method of varying street photography compositions is to experiment with levels. Taking your photos from different vantage points can alter the perspective of the storytelling as well as the literal perspective. Try taking photos from a low angle, and then a higher angle, if it is feasible and safe to do so.
- Incorporate the weather into your photos: Although we feel as though the grey, gloomy, and wet weather put a dampener on things, it can suit street photography rather well. Rain photography in the context of an urban scene helps you to tell interesting stories.
Good luck with your street photography and asking strangers to take their photos!
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