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Portrait Tips: The most important tip for street portraits

Making pictures while traveling is the best way to share your experience with others. But the best way to the have the best experience for yourself is to make pictures of the people in the places you visit. In fact, making street portraits in your own town can give you a fresh perspective on the place you live as well as a fun activity.

And there’s just one thing you need to do to get it done.

This fellow was in Chicago for a huge music festival and was relishing everyone telling him he looked like Ferris Bueller.

“Can I make a picture of you?”

The only key to making a picture of a complete stranger you meet on the street is to ask permission. It’s simple, but for many people, it’s the hardest thing in the world. The fact is that folks are happy to help someone else, especially when it’s easy. So here’s what your conversation should look like:

“Hi, I’m Levi and I’m practicing my photography. Right now there’s a terrific background behind you; could I practice making a portrait of you right here?”

That’s it. It’s easy and effective and it’ll make your walk through town much more enjoyable. You can offer to share the photo, and if you’ve got a wifi-capable camera (my Lumix cameras excel at sharing on the spot) then you can share it right then. You’ll make a big impact in that person’s day, you’ll practice making portraits, and you’ll have great stories to tell. You’ll meet interesting people and get insights about the place that you’ll never find in a guidebook.

Be ready

Make sure that your camera is ready to make the picture before you approach people. You should be pretty quick. The best way to get denied is to be slow. The only thing you should need to adjust is the focus.

These girls were visiting Chicago and were good enough to let my class make a bunch of pictures.

Conclusion

Every summer I go to Chicago to attend the Out of Chicago Photography Conference and I get to teach everyone how to make portraits with strangers. But it’s so simple: Just ask. When you do this, use exactly those words above. If you make pictures of the people in the places you visit you’ll find that you have a much richer experience traveling and you’ll make the best memories and have better photos and stories to share with your friends.

I’d love to see you at Out of Chicago next year at the end of June.

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

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