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  1. #1

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    New here - asking strangers to pose for you

    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.

  2. #2

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    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!

  3. #3

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    p.s. Welcome to the forum!

  4. #4
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    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.
    Once a photographer is convinced that the camera can lie and that, strictly speaking, the vast majority of photographs are "camera lies," inasmuch as they tell only part of a story or tell it in a distorted form, half the battle is won. Once he has conceded that photography is not a "naturalistic" medium of rendition and that striving for "naturalism" in a photograph is futile, he can turn his attention to using a camera to make more effective pictures.

    Andreas Feininger

  5. #5
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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    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.

  6. #6
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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?

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  7. #7

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    Sometimes strangers are a lot more photogenic than friends!

  8. #8

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    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...

  9. #9

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    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!
    john
    silver magnets, trickle tanks sold
    artwork often times sold for charity
    PM me for details

  10. #10

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    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!

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