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  • Jacopo Rufo

How to approach and connect with strangers


A lot of people ask me how I connect with people on the streets and how I gain the trust to take a portrait. I thought I could give you an example :)


I was on one of my favourite crossroads in Dublin, between Dame St and South Great George's St. I loved this crossroad because around 5pm the light was amazing and it was full of people.


But at a certain point I noticed this man and I immediately needed a photo of him.

I try to resume what happened with this man and how I asked him if I could take a portrait, dividing the action in three steps:


1) Eye contact


With the eye contact you can start a connection and you can evaluate the subject in relation to his feedback. Does he smile at you? Does he look annoyed? Is he in a hurry? If his feedback is good, then you can start a conversation.


He's feedback was fine, a little bit scared but something in his eyes told me that he was ok with that. Anyway, I took a photo without permission so I actually reached the goal immediately. But that wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted a staged portrait, not a candid one.


So... Let's go to the next step.


2) Conversation


Try to think what your subject wants to hear, and remember to make him a question. If you ask something he's obliged to answer so the conversation starts.


During the conversation I recommend to try to imitate the subject's body language. Imitating the gestures of your subject reduce the distance between you and him. If you see that he's ok with the conversation, you can start touching him.


If you start a physical contact with him, you've definitely eliminated any distance with him and you can ask to take the photo.


3) Ask to take the photo


How? it depends on the situation. Sometimes you can be honest and say that you're there because you want to take a portrait of him because you're a professional photographer.


Sometimes you should just say that you just want a souvenir of the conversation, acting like a dumb photo amateur. Sometimes you should just grab the camera and take pictures without asking. Or you can just say that you're a photography student and you're working on your thesis. If you are good enough you can manipulate the subject and you can make him/her do anything. I know, it's not kind to say that, but it's true. In this case, for example, I asked him to pull out his old passport (he told me that he has his old passport in his bag) for the portrait.

And remember to be grateful. If somebody decided to give you something, always try to give him\her something back!


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