Why I Love Street Portraits

Street portraits are something I do a lot of. I think candid street photography has lost some of its luster for me over the years. I have candid images I really enjoy but I’m too large and unwilling to be furtive to capture the moments I truly enjoy.

I often plan on moving in a candid fashion. However, my targets, who have long since noticed my looming 2 meter shadow overhead, tend to eye me with some suspicion. So I then point to my camera and ask for permission. Or grunt and make hand gestures if I don’t speak the local language.

Typically, I’ll say something along the lines of “you know, you’re sitting in some incredible light right now, and as a photographer, I just love what I’m seeing. Do you mind if I take your picture?”

Street photography purists might call it the coward’s way out for not working harder for the candid shot. But I think street portraiture opens up another dimension entirely that the purists miss out on: the opportunities afforded by interacting with strangers.

Some of my portfolio images were street portraiture moments that evolved into something greater. In this series, I saw a couple taking selfies at the park in Pittsburgh. The vibe felt right so I offered to take some couples photos for them. Little did I know that Jared was looking for just the right moment to propose to Claire, his unsuspecting fiance-to-be. Serendipity.

Today, I was walking down to the lakefront and came across a young man taking some cellphone shots with another guy who might have been his brother or friend. As a general rule, I never engage if the other shooter is using a dedicated camera. I’m not about to upstage another photographer, even if he’s rocking his Nikon D3300 and kit lens combo. 

I put it out there that I’m a bored photographer willing to take some shots for him and he happily accepted. I’m always down to practice my portraiture because, to be honest, I’m not that great at it. I don’t really know how to use flash well and I find it hard to give good directions to models.

But after moving to a slightly different location I managed to find some delightful natural light coming from the evening sun and snapped some images that I’m actually proud of.

After which, he offered to Venmo me some money, which is always appreciated! I made $75 for 10 minutes of my time. No complaints there. Honestly, I really enjoy living through generous surprise donations. 

It’s a major reason why I set up the buy me a coffee link for this blog. I like the idea of people feeling inspired enough by my curiosity and joy to give freely while still being able to enjoy it even if they don’t feel like giving. And it’s a good spiritual exercise for me, to learn how to trust in Providence and let go just a little more. I’m hoping I can grow this site into something along the lines of a Patreon without demanding that you Patronize me, y’know?

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