How to Take Candid Photos of Strangers
Seekers & Builders
When I first started studying photography, I was taught that there were
two types of photographers: seekers and builders. Builders like to
control their subjects- arrange a set, pose models, etc., whereas
seekers like to hunt out interesting scenes and photograph them as-is.
I found that I can be a bit of each type, seekers have the benefit of a thrilling hunt- especially when it comes to street fashion ands travel photography. Few things can be as satisfying as shooting something exquisite that one just stumbles upon. That said, it's easy to spend hours searching for the perfect shot- and that can be exhausting and frustrating. I found that the best way to find great shots in great volume is via the stake-out.
What I refer to as a photography stake-out simply involves letting the exquisite shots come to you. Here's how to set yourself up:
1. Find a cool spot
This is where pre-shooting-day-research
can really come in handy. Research popular spots, trendy shopping
districts, and the like in your area of interest to find out where the
most interesting action will be.
If you don't have time / don't want to research, simply find a cool person and follow him/her (in a non-creepy way, please). I've found that this method can lead one to most fascinating locations.
2. Set up
Once in your location of choice, find a thoroughfare where you can lean up against a wall or sign and shoot the world as it passes by. Consider traffic, lighting, and the legality of your location, as well as how conspicuous you'll appear. If this spot doesn't work, by all means change locations, but I've found that this method is most effective when one remains utterly stationary.
3. Start shooting
Now that you've got your perfect stake-out spot, you can start shooting away! At first, you'll get the regular suspicious looks / attention, but after a while, people will take you for granted as part of the scenery. This is the greatest benefit of the photography stake-out. It allows one to become part of a place, and therefore experience it in ways that no moving object ever could.
4. Be prepared for attention
When people notice you have stationed yourself in a little spot and are taking pictures of them, there's no telling how they may react. Most will ignore you, but some won't. I've had people start posing for me on the spot, strangers strike up conversations with me in other languages, and even tourist groups swarm around me and make me the subject of their swarm-like photographic exploits. Simply keep in mind that while stake-outs are typically less conspicuous means of photographing places and people, they can become quite exciting.
5. Have fun!
No matter how people react, go with the flow. You're just taking pictures, after all. Use your intuition, smile, and be friendly. If your experiences will at all mirror mine, you'll have the time of your life and find that five hours have passed as though they were merely five minutes.
If you are a photographic 'seeker' you may truly enjoy the stake-out... even more so if you enjoy street fashion and travel photography. Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.