View Full Version : New here - asking strangers to pose for you

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Daily Alice
05-10-2013, 12:50 PM
Hello all,

I've been lurking for several months now and this is my first time posting. I'm fairly new to film - I converted from digital almost three years ago, and have been learning darkroom technique as well ever since. In fact, my goal is to finally have my home darkroom set up by the end of the year.

I'm also still fairly new to photography in general; I fell in love with it about five years ago. I photographed everything - except people, because I was never sure how to approach strangers to ask them to pose for me, and so never did. But I'm trying to challenge myself to try new and different things, and I'm determined to learn portraiture.

Today I went to a camera shop to pick up some prints I had made to show to someone who asked to see my work (I don't have time to do anything in the darkroom before tomorrow, unfortunately, so I decided getting my negatives scanned and having them digitally printed would be a good compromise. Boy, what a difference in quality between an actual darkroom print and a digital print! But I digress). The man working behind the counter asked to see them, and we had a short discussion about medium format cameras, and printing, and the like. I paid, and left the shop. I was thinking the entire time we were talking that I'd love to photograph him - he's extremely good-looking but not in a typical way, and I think his features would be striking on film. So after I left I decided to just ask him if I could take his photograph sometime because how else am I going to learn to take good portraits if I don't ask, right? So I went back in and motioned him over. I told him I thought he was really interesting looking and asked if I could come back sometime with my camera and take his picture.

He was really taken aback, and said he didn't want to model. I said (already starting to regret this), "No, no, I just mean I'd love to come in with my camera and just have you pose in the corner over there or something and take a photograph." He told me he'd think about it and I left. The whole scenario was extremely awkward and I'm worried he thinks I was coming on to him (I wasn't).

Which got me thinking: how do you ask strangers to pose for you? Would I be better off just hiring models? I hesitate doing so only because I'm still so new to all this, and I don't have a studio or anything like that (I suppose I could just have them pose in my home - or would that be strange, too?). How do you explain to someone that you just like their look, and that you're not interested in them in any other way other than as a photographic subject (or if not explain it, convey it)?

I would appreciate any advice or insight.

05-10-2013, 01:11 PM
Well, it sounds to me like you already know how to ask. It isn't easy, but all oneneeds to do is open their mouth and ask... right? There are two problems (for me, too: getting up the courage to ask a total stranger, and "closing the deal". To gain courage and confidence I started with "safe" options - like my kids who wouldn't dare to say no. Well, they might, but it is more likely that they'd say OK and be fidgetty, distracted, and goofy to encourage me to cancel the session. But sometimes they comply and it turns out the work for both of us. Fewer words are better. I often show them the camera and grunt something that can be interpreted as "sit... now". Next step is someone who might be a bit less compliant - wife, mother and mother-in-law in my case. Similar techniqe can be applied but much more grief is likely to result. Once past that phase, asking total strangers should be easier. "Closing the deal" isn't as easy. I try to remedy that by having a camera in hand and ready to go.. NOW. Assuring them that they look great just as they are goes a long way, whether it is really truthful or not. Once that has been accomplished it is a lot easier to start discussing clothing/location/posing/lighting changes. Begging doesn't work well for me - if they say no twice it is time to move on and try again later. Good luck!

05-10-2013, 01:11 PM
p.s. Welcome to the forum!

Kevin Kehler
05-10-2013, 01:31 PM
I have found that having samples of your work and the types of poses you want can help - especially in the situation of men asking women to pose, they often think there is a sexual element or potential stalker lurking. Being able to have a portfolio of pictures which represent what it is you want helps (and hurts, since they often think they need to mimic what you have shown them). In the end, asking politely and taking "no" for an answer will go a long way. Also, give them a business card (something stalkers don't often carry) and tell them if they email you their address, you will mail them a print (and actually do it!!) - that way there is no pressure for them to decide at the moment and they do not have to surrender personal information until after they have seen how you act.

05-10-2013, 01:33 PM
Welcome to the forum and welcome to film. I'm probably not the best to give advice, as I rarely ask strangers to sit for me, but expect with practice you'll find the right words. As you get portraits made, probably not a bad idea to make a small book of them to have in your camera bag so you can show potential models the kind of portrait you are interested in making. I would avoid making any comments about their looks, just stick with, "I'm hoping to get more practice making portraits." or something along those lines. And I find, if I preface it all with an "you can say no, and I won't be offended" that they hardly ever decline. Be yourself, and approach people with respect as you would in any encounter, and you might find a lot of positive response. Good luck with your photography.

05-10-2013, 01:54 PM
tell them if they email you their address, you will mail them a print.

Then they will know you are a real stalker.

Why ask strangers, why not start with friends?

05-10-2013, 02:05 PM
Sometimes strangers are a lot more photogenic than friends!

05-10-2013, 02:37 PM
I've known very few photographers who are comfortable on the other side of the camera.
But the best way to proceed is to just ask, and possibly be prepared to back things up because of factors that Kevin outlined.
Not that I am very skilled at that "just ask" part...:whistling:

05-10-2013, 02:55 PM
i would rather photograph strangers than friends or family.
friends and family have expectations which always exceed what someone is willing to do ;)
i often see someone and say, hey would you mind if i came by and took your portrait ... don't bother
with saying how they are interesting, or are good looking or any of that, people are ALWAYS self conscious ...
if they ask ... "why me, ... bla bla bla " just say you like taking portraits ...
the worst they could say is NO, right ?

getting them to say yes is the easy part ...
making a portrait is part dance, part art ...
the dance part is getting the person to relax and pose or not pose or whatever ...
thats the art of it too ...
the only advice is to have a conversation with the person to try to relax them, compliment them, make a fool of yourself,
i have found opening one of those compact coiled reflectors and having it open up smacking you in the face, or looking like you don't have a clue helps ...
then take their photograph ... it takes practice ... and once you do it a few times you will be pretty good :)

don't bother with email address &c just drop off a print the next time you see them and say thanks.

welcome to apug!

Daily Alice
05-10-2013, 03:23 PM
Thanks for the advice, everyone! I have photographed family and friends before, but it's never been very successful because they're used to the "say cheese!" type of photograph where they think they have to ham it up for the camera even when I ask them to please don't. :) And, the expectations are different, as jnanian mentioned. So far, I've only managed two portraits of someone close to me that don't look stilted. Clearly, I have to keep practicing!

Ken Nadvornick
05-10-2013, 03:31 PM
A different approach you might consider is to initially show a novelty camera. In addition to your regular (normal looking) camera, carry with you something like a Speed or Crown Graphic press camera. Or anything else unusual. When approaching potential subjects, this is the one you make the initial approach with.

My experience has been that strangers are overwhelmingly fascinated by usually older, novelty cameras. Often to the degree that many will observe you first, then come over and ask you to take their picture with it. I've had this happen to me with a 4x5 Crown. Two young ladies approached me at a state fair and literally begged me to take a picture of one while the other took a picture of me doing so. These two, had I asked them first, likely would have called the police on me as a stalker or pervert.

Once the ice has been broken and a degree of trust established, switching over to your "real" camera is almost never a problem. Just make sure to always offer the subject a print. Beware, however. Once you find how much easier it is to approach strangers with that novelty camera, you might just start leaving the regular one at home.

This also works extremely well with any large format camera. Subjects who wouldn't have given you the time of day if you held up an iPhone will wait patiently almost forever if you are setting up an enormous 8x10. The more different looking the camera, the better the reception you will get.

Here's an example from a Fourth of July weekend a few years back. I was wandering around town with a 4x5 Crown Graphic, looking at all of the various fireworks stands.

At one stand the lady behind the counter literally waved her arms and hollered at me to come over as I walked by. Then she told me to wait until there was a lull in customers. After looking at the camera (she loved the GG screen, as most do), I was pretty much forced by her to make an impromptu family portrait using it. She even made the new customers wait until I was done. And most of them were just as fascinated by it all.

No great work of art was created that day, but I did send them a copy of the result along with a thank you. And I never would have interrupted their business on my own just to make a picture. These people were total strangers to me.

Here is that photograph...


Kevin Kehler
05-10-2013, 04:15 PM
Then they will know you are a real stalker.

Why ask strangers, why not start with friends?

You could tell them you would email them a copy, send a lower-resolution picture (4x6) with a note explaining why it is lower-resolution and if they would like a larger-print, you would be happy to mail them one if they give you an address or meet you at a common location if you have time. For me, there is a big difference between an 8x10 print and a digital file which is 8x10 sized, if nothing else than most people have no talent at copying prints. Note that money is never raised in this situation, I don't charge them for their own picture. The couple of people who wanted a high-resolution shot emailed to them, I told them that I would trade them a high-resolution shot for a signed model release.

Good point about the exotic camera though - setting up a 5x7 in the middle of a farmer's market gave me a lot of interesting subjects, as did using a TLR (people thought it was a digital 3-D camera).

05-10-2013, 04:41 PM
Perhaps the photographic challenge with photographing friends should be to show them as they don't see themselves, or as you don't normally perceive them.

05-10-2013, 11:03 PM
If you have friends who are photographers, suggest to them a mutual portrait session as a learning experience.

Oh, and welcome to APUG!

05-12-2013, 07:34 PM
I suppose it's just a matter of how you handle yourself. I seem to have no problems getting a number of nude art models that will work with me gratis, to say nothing of regular clothed people.

Jeff Kubach
05-12-2013, 07:56 PM
Evertime I take a picture of myself in the mirror I get in trouble with being a stalker!:laugh:


Ken Nadvornick
05-13-2013, 06:49 PM
Another one of my favorite lines when approaching strangers is, "I bought this thing on eBay. I just got it yesterday. This is the first time I've actually tried it out. Whaddya' think?" Then hold up your novelty camera for them to size up while giving them some background info about it. Or even just hand it to them.

With the Crown I will sometimes open the lens, pop the viewing shade (an impressive audio/visual in itself), then just hand them the camera and tell them to point it back at me while looking through the open shade. By the time I've finished explaining that pesky upside down thing, we're darned close to being old friends. And by that point they're usually thrilled to have their photo made with it.

It's a fact that terrorists and pedophiles DO NOT use antique cameras purchased on eBay. Or hand them over to their intended victims first.



Mustafa Umut Sarac
05-13-2013, 10:33 PM
Move to Denmark , I am learning from gallery , there is lots of beatiful nudes there. Better to photograph a nüde than a photo lab guy.

05-14-2013, 08:33 AM

asking some stranger to pose - I think much is about your attitude and your approach. If you think it is natural, you behave normal and relaxed, with big smile - people will be less tense and will be more willing to agree.
Always smile and be relaxed :), and half job is done.


05-14-2013, 09:01 AM
You put your best foot forward and then just ask.. Some say no, some say yes. You can't worry to much or you'll just be a person without sitters. It really is that simple.