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An Etiquette Guide For Candid Street Photography

Woman taking picture

If you are a keen photographer, sometimes the best scenes and subjects occur within public places, whether that’s the beach, the city or events. Strangers can often provide great photograph material, too, even if they don’t realise it. 

If you are looking to take more public pictures for your Instagram or Instagram photo book, then it’s important to understand the etiquette rules. Public photography is legal in many parts of the world, but it’s always good to be aware of other people’s space and how they might feel about being photographed. Below is a quick guide to public photography and how you can go about asking someone for that perfect photograph. 

Experimentation Can Save You The Conversation

Firstly, if you are taking photographs in public places, you can always ask yourself if anyone really needs to be in focus during the shot. This can save yourself the conversation entirely and also help you to put the focus more on the details of the scene. If you’re taking urban photography, for example, then blurring out the people can provide an example of the fast-paced nature of the scene and actually elevate the atmosphere of the photograph itself.  

This can be the same story for all photographs taken in a public place. There is always a way to take new and interesting photographs that include the people around you, but not in such a way that they become active subjects. Utilise the skills you have acquired over the years and experiment around with different methods, you might even find something that is even better than what you would have achieved before.

Etiquette Is Always Everything

If, however, you are actively attempting to shoot candid street photography which include authenticity (i.e a photograph that uses people as active subjects) then all you have to do is remember the etiquette rule. There is nothing wrong with going up to people and asking their permission to have their photo taken. Be polite, tell them what you are trying to achieve with the photograph and why you are taking it. 

You can even show them a portfolio of your earlier work to let them feel a bit more at ease. It is worth noting, however, that this approach does not apply with children. You will need to have permission from parents and it’s always best to avoid the situation altogether. Stick to adults and make sure to remain polite and understanding if they would rather not be a subject within your shot.

What’s The Best Way To Ask?

Say, for instance, you have come across a man in a red coat, which coincidentally provides a perfect composition in front of a stark, white building. 

You want to ask that person to be in your photograph, but you’re concerned about how the conversation will go. Well, provided you have asked nicely and appropriately, then you’ve done all you can do and they can either come back with a yes or a no. Here are two variations (one good, one bad) that might help you understand how to go about it:

  • Version A

‘Hi there, I want to take a picture of you, is that alright?’ 

This version is straight, to the point, and ultimately inappropriate. You haven’t explained anything to this person and you have simultaneously put them on the spot, making them feel awkward. 

  • Version B

‘Hi there, do you mind if you are included in my photograph? Your coat gives a really interesting image in front of that building. Here’s some examples of my other work, if you’re interested?’

Here, you have asked the person politely to be included in your photograph. You have explained to them why you believe them to be a good subject and you have offered to show them some of your other work. If they say yes, then that’s great. If they say no, then it’s not the end of the world. 

Always Be Mindful

Candid street photography can create some fascinating opportunities to hone your craft, and create something with that once-in-a-lifetime beauty that’ll make any photographer, amateur or professional, swoon. That said, there’s a lot to remember when it comes to candid street photography, but it is important that you take it all in before you go out into the big, wide world.

There are always more photograph opportunities that will come along. It’s down to you to remember to be mindful, be polite and (most importantly) be aware of your responsibility as a photographer.


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