Photographing a stranger is something that is intimidating to a lot of photographers, and that's completely understandable. After all we are injecting ourselves into another persons life, and they might or might not be willing to let us photograph them. We might get turned down or forced to be in an awkward situation. But, this struggle is something that is really fascinating because in a few short moments you can go from barely knowing someone, to creating an image with them that captures their true personality as well as being surprised at what a stranger will talk about.
So how do you start breaking down your barriers to the point that you feel comfortable approaching strangers and asking them for their portrait? A simple trick I used when I first started was to ignore my camera to start with and break down the first barrier which is the initial contact. What I would do was walk down the street and give people random compliments to gauge their reaction. For instance, if I saw someone with coloured hair or a fancy hat I would simple smile and say "I love the colour of your hair" or "that's a cool looking hat" and carry on walking. Almost every time the person would smile back and thank me. What this taught me was that a simple compliment even from a complete stranger would result in a positive response. Using this simple technique you can build up your confidence to the point that you're ready to take the next step which is to ask them if you can take their photo.
Using the compliment approach a lot of people will respond positively and if you also stop as well and follow it up with a second question such as "have you coloured your hair for a particular occasion" or "I've been looking for a hat like that for ages, where did you get it from" most people will also stop and answer. Once you start a conversation it's just a simple task to ask if you can take their photo. At this point one of two things will happen; they will either agree straight away which is great! Or, they will ask you why you want to take their photo. Just be honest, say that you love shooting portraits and that they are helping you gain experience. It's also worth mentioning that you may post the photo to your instagram (give them your instagram details) and offer to send them a copy by email. Most people will be fine and react accordingly. If they refuse at this point just smile, thank them for their time, wish them a good day and walk away. Never push the point or try and convince them to change their minds, there's alway someone else around the next corner.
So next time you're out walking around your city or at an event try giving people compliments and start breaking down the barriers. It's amazing how quickly your confidence grows and before long you'll be shooting stranger portraits on your local streets.
The following gallery contains some of the recent people I've photographed on the streets of Calgary. Slideshow will auto play.
All photographs were taken by Chris Toombes (City Street Photos) and are copyrighted.
Street photography in Calgary always delivers the unexpected and today (April 13 2019) was no different. Rabbits, fashion, homeless lovers and people with different political agendas were just a few of the things I captured during todays walkabout.
My first capture of the day we a guy called Haithem who stood out like a beacon dressed in his bright floresent Orange coat. It turns out that Libyan born, Toronto mentored, Haithem is a source of international style and creator of KaaDiki fashions. A graduate of the International Academy of Design in Toronto his collections focus on mixing traditional men's wear construction techniques with contemporary silhouettes that have a well-proportioned and fashionable appearance.
Next up and in total contrast to Haithem was David a homeless guy who was just passing through Calgary on his way back to his home city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. David had been wintering in Vancouver where its a lot warmer. He told me that he'll be hanging around in Calgary to make a few bucks off the spring tourists before heading home.
It's not every day you come across a man walking his rabbit but in Calgary anything is possible. Meet Stephen and Harriet Houdini his escapologist rabbit! Stephen told me that he had been performing his rabbit escape act for ten years. Harriet was now retired and was enjoying her new found freedom.
My final street portrait was of homeless lovers Tom and Lady Hawk who were laughing and joking with each other when I stopped and asked to take their portrait. They were sat on one of the many benches on 8th Ave the main tourist road that runs the length of the Downtown core. I noticed that Lady Hawk was wearing a leg cast and she explained that she had broken her leg after slipping on the ice while dancing with her partner Tom. She went on to say that maybe next winter she'd be more careful and not dance outside again.
Finally, I came across a few yellow vest protesters who were picketing a local venue where one of the NDP candidates in this months (April 2019) provincial elections was holding an event. The whole affair was noisy but friendly, with both sides chanting and shouting. On balance I think the yellow vests were the louder of the two groups but a heavy police presence was standing by to ensure nothing got out of hand.
Click on the photos below to view full size
The old cliche of cops loving donuts seems to have escaped Calgarys finest as it would seem this cop has a far sweeter tooth....
Monday (1st April) I decided to spend the day capturing a few more stranger portraits along with their back stories. Stranger portraits has been an ongoing project since the summer of 2018 and I have now made nearly 500. Below are some of the strangers I meet and the portraits I made.
Jose Juan Sanchez is currently on a sabbatical from his job in finance (from Feb 2019 until Sept 2019) and is touring North America and Canada. Driving his BMW Jose has so far driven from Mexico City up the west coast of the US to Calgary. He then plans to continue across Canada before driving down the US East coast and through the southern states before returning to Mexico in late September. Some road trip for sure.....
This is Yong who works at the hotel across from the Calgary tower and is a car Valet. He was just dashing off to grab some lunch when I stopped him to take his portrait.
Paul who by 10am was already well on his way to becoming inebriated stopped me and asked to me to take his photo. He said he'd give me his best pose so long as I emailed him a copy. So with hands out he posed, I grabbed his portrait and asked him for his email, "its paul on the web you'll find me" "he shouted out, "OK no problem I'll find it" I replied. With that he fist bumped me and wandered off......
Ralph was sat on his walker waiting for the bus when I approached him. "You English" he asked after I'd asked him for his portrait. "my great grandfather was Welsh" he continued. "well i'm half Welsh on my fathers side too" I replied. With that he gave me a potted history of his family and how they came to Canada before completely changing the subject and going on to tell me about the building across the street. The building was formerly know as the Alberta Hotel and had the longest bar in Alberta and had huge gilt edge mirrors all the way along it. Ralph said he often wondered what happened to those mirrors.....
I stopped Christa and asked if I could shoot her portrait because of her face tattoos and green hair. She said she was in a hurry but so long as I was quick she was happy to pose for a few seconds. Unfortunately I never got the time to ask her more about her body art before she had to dash off. I'll be looking out for her again......