How to Shoot Impromptu Street Portraits

youngnastreetportraits.jpgThis weekend, spend some time outdoors, explore a new neighborhood, hone your portrait-taking skills, make strangers smile, and walk away with some amazing photographs.

Sound good? Then we’ve got the perfect photo project for you!

Armed with a camera and a few simple tools, you too can conquer the art of the impromptu street portrait. Find out how in this simple tutorial by our friend Youngna.


Sometimes you’re stuck in a photography rut, craving new subjects, new faces.

An easy solution is down on the sidewalk below you, at the turn of a corner, in any neighborhood in any city.

Just follow these simple steps!

  1. Select a neighborhood. (The more unfamiliar the better!)
  2. Find a photo partner to accompany you on your mission.
  3. Bring: camera, lenses, notebook, pen, paper, masking tape, a seasonally appropriate form of barter (candy canes, candy hearts, candy corn, etc.)
  4. Run to nearest drug store and buy brightly colored poster board. We chose yellow, but grab whatever is in stock. It’s usually about $1 per sheet. Buy 2, one to make a sign and one as a back drop. Or, get creative, and set up multiple back drops.
  5. Setup on a busy block or corner and act like a car salesman would. Chat with all who pass by–the young, the old, the serious, the jovial. (Tips: Just strike up a conversation! Where are they from? Where are they going? How do they feel? Where did they get that hat? Do they like candy canes?)
  6. Ask each subject to stand in front of the posterboard at a pose of their choice. Meanwhile, take down their name and email address as well as any idiosyncratic facts.
  7. Shoot until you run out of candy or the sun goes down.

The result? A series of great and varied portraits from the street, many great conversations, and a number of new friends. Try it out!

(Youngna’s “Candy Canes for Portraits” was done in collaboration with Zach Klein in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, December 2004)

The results: Youngna’s Set, Zach’s set

Related: Interview in JPG Magazine (Preview of the inside)