I don’t believe in sneaking photographs of people. Street photographers may argue that asking a person to pose for an image is taking them out of their natural routine and, therefore, ruining the decisive moment*. I couldn’t disagree more. My objective for taking portraits is to make contact with people, to establish a two-way connection that reflects their openness toward me and thus, indirectly, toward the viewers of the image themselves. In this way, the portraits speak a thousand words about their subjects and the environment they live in.
*Beware of the legal rules for photographing people, which vary from country to country. In short, if you don’t have a consent release, you cannot use these images for commercial purpose. The models can sue you, because you, or your publisher, are using their image to advertise a product or service to which they may not agree. Yet it’s fine to use an image for editorial purposes, for example, this blog post, because I am not promoting or selling any product.
The shot discipline required to make best use of high pixel counts, aggressively looking DSLRs with long lenses mounted on a tripod or monopod (a setup that probably costs more than some peoples’ homes), and considerations about the light and background excludes the run and gun approach anyway. It takes usually a large number of images to obtain a natural look of the person and a final image that doesn’t look staged.
I have found that most people like to have their picture taken. Think if a photographer from a far away place asked you; would you say no? Being 195 cm tall, I have been approached often by Asian girls. This has somewhat faded, which I believe is due to Asians getting taller, rather than me getting less attractive.
People respond well to respect towards themselves and their culture, knowing the local language is important to interact. Where communication problems are to be expected, it is good to hire a guide through a local agency, mentioning the photographic ambitions. Moreover, guides can help to approach a stranger and ask for permission. But avoid those self-proclaimed guides waiting in front of iconic places; you will for sure end up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I always offer to send prints, but I am also not offended when the person asks for small change. In particular with street vendors, you can break the ice by buying a little souvenir.
So here are some stories behind the images. More portraits can be found in this post. All images were shot with the Nikon D800e and the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II (at 150 mm and f5.6).
Nun smoking cheroot, Myanmar: In Myanmar women are often seen smoking large cigars, called cheroot, made from mixtures of dried, seasoned softwood and crushed tobacco wrapped in a dried leaf of carbia myxa. I met this nun outside the Hpo Win Daung Caves in Monywa, Myanmar and was attracted by her rejoicing in the cigar. Having never smoked I was not able to check these out.