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Portrait Tips: Street Portraits

The other day I was in New York City for PhotoPlus Expo and Photofocus hosted its annual photowalk. It’s a highlight of my photography year and I hope you can join me next time, or at the next conference (like WPPI). I had the pleasure of making several portraits during our walk, and you might benefit from simple principles for making street portraits while photowalking.

1. It’s just a portrait

First of all, there’s nothing different about street portraits. It’s still a picture of a person, and you should do your best to make it a good one. “Good one” is very subjective, but you should try to find good light and a good composition and communicate with your subject to help them look their best. My portraits from NYC were all at night, so finding great light meant utilizing storefronts and illuminated signs. In the daytime, it usually means finding indirect light reflecting off buildings. A good technique is to find great light, and then find a person passing through it.

2. Relax!

Your goal should be practicing making pictures and meeting people in a cool place. No one is paying you. There’s no client. There’s no pressure to perform. As I said, do your best, but don’t worry. Share a picture with your new friend and enjoy your trip.

Also, there’s no need to get a model release in the U.S. for street portraits. Are you selling the portraits to someone else? Are you using them commercially? Do you have grand plans for your portrait project to be published around the world? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then you should bring a model release; otherwise, just have fun and share a picture.

3. The story is more important than the portrait

You should gather more experiences than pictures. Here’s my favorite story from the night. As we set up to make a group picture at the outset, I passed out Lume Cubes so we could write “PPE 2018” during a one-second exposure. Suddenly, I noticed a new guy on the end. I introduced myself, but all he said was, “ITALY!” I asked if he was here for the photowalk, and he said, “ITALY!” So I handed him a light, to which he responded, “ITALY!”

It turns out that Antonio was visiting with his wife and two daughters from — you guessed it — Italy. His daughter spoke English, so she helped me communicate. I had a fun time talking with them briefly and made a family portrait and picture of the girls in front of taxis (their request). And I continued with my walk and made more pictures. But this story, with Antonio shouting “ITALY” over and over, was really fun.

4. Make friends

Whether you find a funny story or not, you’re sure to make some new friends. Making new friends, even if it’s only for a moment, helps keep you young and makes life richer. I promise that you’ll also be refreshed and more ready for your next paid portrait session. Get out there and make some street portraits.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

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