I was sitting with photographer Robert Brown and he asked if I had ever been confronted when taking photos in public. Yes, well kind of. Most people don’t pay attention, some are politely curious. I can only ever recall a few occasions that might have been out of the ordinary.

One situation was a wobbly young man with slurred accusations. That was easy. Pick up and walk away. You can’t negotiate with a giant walking martini.

“Like a showdown at the OK Corral we were shooting each other.”

Another interesting event was in the heart of downtown Toronto. A security guard came out with a camera and began taking my picture, so I took his. I was in a public space on a sidewalk and well within my rights like any tourist, from a courtesy and legal perspective . He was clicking away and walking towards me. Like a showdown at the OK Corral we were shooting each other.

Face to face, he began asking questions and asked for personal information – out of bounds lets say. However, I gave him more information than he might have ever wanted including my business card with an invitation to visit some of my websites and maybe join me for an online course. And don’t forget, the secret weapon – smile.

In my mind, barely a confrontation.

Most strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.

Man in Blue by Marc Mantha

Would you ask a stranger on the street if you could take their photo?

Photography is a great way to engage others. People are so much more than what we see on the surface. It’s marvelous how total strangers on the streets of a big metro city can be so open and willing to share.

How to approach someone you don’t know about taking their photo.

How do I ask?

When taking photos in public places, anyone can see what I’m doing. And it strikes their curiosity. They want to get in my head. What is so interesting? Take your camera into a busy place anywhere on the planet, point it up to the sky and you’ll notice many  heads will look up with you.

Always smile. Say “Hello” and “How are you?”, get some small talk going. More often than not, the person asks me something about what it is I’m photographing. Great segue and a good sign. I prefer not to rush into asking them if I can take their photo. That’s personal. You can build a lot of rapport in five minutes. I haven’t been turned down.

What are you going to do with the pictures?

My explanation goes something like this:

“I take a lot of photos. Most of them get deleted. Occasionally, some turn out really well. I don’t expect to do anything with these commercially, because this is casual photography I do just for fun. If you like, I’ll give you my card or I can take your contact information. If something turns out nicely, I’ll let you know. I’d gladly give you a print.”

That usually seals the deal. I’m not spelling this out so you can have a script.

Just tell it like it is.

Getting serious and using a release form.

I have list of ideas for photo imagery I want to create that will involve people. I might want to use a release form. These creative projects would be staged, perhaps in the studio or other locations. Still casual and for my own amusement and self promotion. I would likely consider using a release form. Most people are enthused to participate in creative projects and I would certainly provide them with a print of the best outcome(s). Commissioned commercial photography is whole different show.

A sample release form.

Here’s a very simple sample release form. Click this link to download. I’m not a lawyer although I do play one on TV, so do your homework and have fun.

MAMA Photography

 MAMA supports the creative minds of the planet earth. If you come across something interesting and out of the ordinary, or just something that makes you smile, we’d like to know about it.

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