“Hi, can I take your picture?” If you want advice on asking that million-dollar question, or you want to find out ways to ask that transcend language barriers, then you need to read our blog about getting permission to take a photo of a stranger.

Customs (and laws) vary around the world on whether someone with a camera can take a picture of someone without permission. However, regardless of laws and etiquette, asking is the polite thing to do  – especially if the person is going to be a key feature in your photo – and having permission is likely to lead to a far more rewarding experience for both you, the photographer, and subject.

Here's how to do it!

Make yourself (and your camera) known

Springing up on someone with camera in hand and asking to take a photo can come as a bit of a shock, and is less likely to elicit a positive response. However, if you have been walking around and taking pictures in the general vicinity, or even if you just have your camera out, your intended subject will already view you as a photographer before you even approach them.

Read body language

Whilst wielding your camera at a safe distance, take note of the body language of the person you'd like to photograph. If you sense that they are not comfortable at the thought that they might be your next target, best to leave it and move on, or you can try striking up a conversation and get to know them better to find out.

Make friends from afar

Depending on the situation, you may be able to make a connection with your subject from a distance, simply by acknowledging them through eye contact, a smile and maybe a wave. This builds up trust and is the first step to breaking down any barriers.

Get to know the subject

Strike up a conversation. It could be about the location you are both in, about the goods they are selling, about their attire, or their dog… whatever it is that has drawn you to them in the first place. You don't need to be brash and say “I really want to take your picture because….”, instead talk about what has captured your attention, ask conversational questions – just the way you would even if you weren't going to take a photo.

What striking up a conversation achieves: It builds trust, it generates context, but overall it helps the person feel relaxed and understand that you have a genuine interest in them and their life. The result is they feel valued – and we all like that don't we!

Pop the question

Yep, once you have shown that you are an honest person who is genuinely interested in them, that is the moment that you say something along the lines of “Hey, I would really like to get a picture of you, is that okay?” Don't be scared to throw in some reasons and compliments like “The light is perfect, it really makes your eyes shine.”

Be sensitive

If during your conversation you sense that they really aren't comfortable having their picture taken (because ‘taking' is what it is after all) then don't press the matter further. Even if they have said yes, and you sense they don't mean it, be sensitive to your gut feeling. In some cultures it is polite to say yes, even if it is something they do not want to do.


“...talk about what has captured your attention, ask conversational questions - just the way you would even if you weren't going to take a photo.&rdquo

Take the shot - Share the results

Let your subject see the photos you have taken, talk about the aesthetics of the pictures too and always ask if they would like a copy to be sent to them. Avoid snapping away endlessly. If after a couple of photos you feel like you want to get more out of the impromptu session, share what you have and ASK PERMISSION AGAIN!

How to ask without speaking

Whether you are taking a picture from a distance, you are genuinely too scared to strike up a conversation, or you are in a country where the language barrier means that getting to know the subject is not an option, body language is your best friend.


  • Make eye contact

  • Smile

  • Raise eyebrows

  • Point at camera

  • Point at them

  • Nod

If you get a nod or thumbs up back, take your shot. If not, smile and say thank you anyway and move on.

At the end of the day it is about being honest, open and sensitive. You'll find a friendly approach goes a long way.

Do you have any advice about how to approach a stranger and ask for a picture? Have you held back on street photography because you have been too scared to approach a stranger and ask? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us below.



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Comments
posted November 21st, 2013
Most people I have approached are more than willing and even pose sometimes. But, today, a lady first let me take a snap of her child but later expressed her fears. She was superstitious and feared that a lot of people seeing the pic may harm the child. She shared her concern as the child had been ill a lot. Many believe in the "Buri nazar" or "evil eye'!
I of course respected her and deleted the 1 snap i had clicked.
posted November 21st, 2013
This has been very helpful, I have seen a lot of street pics and when I have been out seen opportunities but have not had the balls to ask or know where to even begin.
Thanks for the blog. Very useful.
posted November 21st, 2013
Haha most people don't take me serious because of my age :((
posted November 22nd, 2013
Really good advice on street photography. I wish I was more comfortable at trying it.
posted November 23rd, 2013
Sometimes the shot is great from behind or the side too. I took some of my better shots that way. If I want a portrait, I always ask permission. I have never had a problem taking a shot but I'm still sort of shy.
posted November 23rd, 2013
Helpful article!
posted November 24th, 2013
@darylo well I looked at this because Daryl asked me to take a portrait for get-pushed, I really want to try it, but have to pluck up the courage. I once asked a guy in a shop because he looked so awesome, but he said no :(
posted November 24th, 2013
After a number of years of candid street photography, I have found great success by not asking permission. I just take their photograph. Not once have I ever had a problem. When I have asked, they either say no or what results is a posed, unnatural photograph.
posted November 24th, 2013
Joe
I only have a short time of experience, but I have gone as an observer on a session with a professional street photographer and had a one-on-one instructional session with another. What I learned from them agrees with what Danny @soyboy5 said. Neither professional photographer ever asks for permission and advised that I don't. They said once you ask for permission the subject(s) goes into pose mode and you lose the spontaneity of street photography. They also, with exception, consider a street shot ruined if the subject is looking directly at the camera. Their goal is to go unnoticed. Not sneaky, but unnoticed. Before this instruction I always asked for permission and it was tense and awkward for both, subjects were confused and wanted to know why I wanted their picture. Since I stopped asking I have never once had a problem.
posted November 24th, 2013
Hey thats my pic, whoooo.
posted November 25th, 2013
@chewyteeth It's a good one :)

Great article! I have yet to ask someone to take their photo... I am way too shy!!!
posted November 25th, 2013
Great article. Sometimes I ask permission, sometimes I don't. I've challenged myself to photograph the local people, but am finding it a real challenge because I put pressure on myself to always get permission first, and also because I think it's interesting to write a little bit about them. Sometimes the narrative is actually what 'makes' the shot. Sometimes, to make sure the shot is unposed, I take the shot first, and then chat to them. If they're not happy having their pic out there, I delete it....more often than not, they like what they see and are happy for me to use it.
posted November 25th, 2013
Great article! I often want to ask but don't. I make an effort to read the person. If I get the feeling they would say no, then I will incorporate them in my photo. The results are usually great simply because the photo is candid. Just plain natural.
posted November 27th, 2013
these tips are very helpful.
i will try to follow these steps in the future. :)
posted November 27th, 2013
@soboy5 I agree with you on this one. Sometimes, though.....if I've gotten a great shot, I will THEN go up to them and ask them if they'd like a copy. I've found people (in general, not just in the street) THINK they want/like posed pics of themselves, but in fact they end up liking candids even more!
posted December 1st, 2013
Thanks for the advice. I'm still a bit wary though. Don't
live in a city, and am sometimes a bit shy/scared. Especially if with parents.
posted December 11th, 2013
I agree with not asking permission. I try to use "no-look" photography for people. I hold the camera at waist level and fire off a number of pictures as I walk toward them, often while looking in the other direction. Usually street noise covers the shutter sounds. Alternatively I use my zoom lens from afar. I also agree that the best pictures are when the subject is looking away from the camera.
In some countries kids will come up and ask for their pictures to be taken because they love seeing themselves on the little screen! I'm less comfortable about that but always oblige unless an adult is obviously in disagreement. Sometimes the adults want their picture taken, too. I have some wonderful shots from those requests.
posted February 11th, 2014
@Julie - I was given the suggestion to say you are a student doing a project and ask if they would mind being in your shot. People tend to want to "help" for something like that. And aren't we all students of photography? I know I definitely am!
posted February 17th, 2014
Never ever take a picture of an Italian policewoman wearing a fancy white helmet. I got in so much trouble. She demanded I delete the picture and I was so scared that I couldn't remember how to delete. I'm sure she thought it was a ploy so she tried to grab the camera and do it herself. I wouldn't give it up because I knew she'd delete every picture on the card. At last I managed to do it and she let me go. By then the group I was with had moved on and I was lost in the pouring rain. Not a good day! Maybe she wasn't supposed to be taking a coffee break in a bakery?
posted November 22nd, 2014
I tend not to ask permission but if someone spots me then I will go over to them and explain that I am doing a project and they are very happy. So far I haven't had any problems. I agree with Joe for me I like the spontaneity of street photography which I think is different to street portraits, but I am no expert!!!
posted February 18th, 2015
I usually try to get my street shots without the subject noticing as this gets a much better result most of the time. Natural expressions and more emotion and animation in the poses. However, Once I have the shot I want, I try to make eye contact and smile. Let them know I am shooting.

I am always prepared to delete a shot if the subject has a problem with it.
posted May 4th, 2015
Great advice -- street photography is the hardest thing I have ever tried!
posted July 30th, 2015
I'm too nervous and anyway most of the people I see are too fat or too angry looking! I took a picture of a scene in which there was two people snogging and the guy got up, marched to me, grabbed my camera and said, You can't do this! He then deleted the pictures! I said I can do this, I'm a photographer and just taking the scene. He then replied, you can't be a photographer with a camera like that! Ha ha! My hubby gave him short shift afterwards!
posted January 31st, 2016
Interesting. I was wondering about the etiquette of taking pictures of strangers and them posting on this site. I did it today though. I was pretty obvious about it and figured if someone had a problem with it, I would get some dirty looks or remarks. I was planning to offer to email/share any good shots I took.
No one seemed to care.
I think with the number of people out and about taking pictures with their cell phones, we're all in someones photos whether we like it or not.
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