How I learnt to approach and photograph strangers

Updated: Apr 30


The first time I took part in the LensCulture photo competition (https://www.lensculture.com/), with my first series of photographs from

'I am your mirror' project, even though I didn't, I received positive feedback on my photography work.

LensCulture gives you the opportunity to request a review of your work.

This pleased me.

They complimented me and mentioned some photographers I should have followed to learn how to take better photographs.

One of them is Richard Renaldi, photographer of the Magnum agency.

'Touching Strangers' is the project that they advised me to follow, in which he himself stops on the street and couples people who do not know each other, allowing them to pose as they see fit.

I really liked his work, so I started following him on social media.


Then, over time, I developed my style.

At the time, I was working as a 'paparazzo' on the streets of London.

It was 2011.


The work has kept me busy for almost 3 years. I was working as freelancer for a couple of agencies. One of them was Flynet and then Wenn.

I was always on the street, even in the rain and snow.

Nothing could stop me.

The waiting hours were very long and disappointing.

And many times, it happened that I couldn't take photos of celebrities, because I couldn't find myself in the right place at the right time.

A little for delay, a little for personal difficulties.

I felt very discouraged, because that job was a source of income for me.

I don't know why I chose to be a paparazzo, at that time.



It's really tough. Many paparazzi disrespect peers and celebrities.

Celebrity is money, so any photograph, even the ugliest and most decadent, can build stories or scandals that can spark interest among Gossip magazine readers.

I, myself, felt a little different. My photos were mostly respectful portraits and my paparazzi colleagues were laughing at me.



At that time, I worked with only men and many of them were very rude and didn't behave well with me. Out of 50 paparazzi, 2 or max 5, were women.

It sounds strange, but over time, that 'paparazzo' experience gave me that strength, self-confidence and courage to step out of my comfort zone and do things I never could have done before.


For example, it was very difficult to attract the attention of celebrities.

I was at the beginning and nobody in that field knew me so it was difficult.

I was shouting all the time to catch celebrities attention and began to be more aggressive, but in a positive way.




And being 'a woman' I found it hard to get close to them.

Male colleagues didn't give me the opportunity.

They often cut me off, sometimes by placing their camera in front of my face (many paparazzi don't bring the camera to eye level, they tape the lens and snap intermittently) or by pushing me and making me fall to the ground. Few of them working in groups and believe me they don't give you any space.

They often called me - Cunt! - when I was complaining with them.

It was a truly violent environment, there was no room for a new 'paparazzo'. The competition, then, is fierce.

Working as a paparazzo was an important stage in my life that make me develop some important skills necessary to approach people.


Around that time, I started a project with strangers myself.

It was 2013.

I had that irresponsibility, naivety, enthusiasm and curiosity that led me to follow my intentions.

When I noticed someone, I was interested in photographing, in the street, I stopped him/her. I would introduce myself, get their phone number and call them to arrange an appointment. Some did not answer me. Others, on the other hand, met me.

My friends said what I did was dangerous.

But I didn't listen to them. I've always liked adventurous encounters. It is something that I bring with me from my childhood.

I saw it all as an adventure, a blind date and it all was exciting.

Sometimes I found myself in absurd, very embarrassing situations but I always managed to get away with it, even if I didn't speak English well.

Leaving home at the age of 18 helped me.

I've never been afraid of strangers.

Indeed, at times, it was precisely strangers who helped me in difficult times.

And this gave me more courage.


Many people I have met along my path, even photographers, seem to think that there is a magic formula to approach strangers and photograph them.

Of course not all photographers want to get close to strangers.

But there are photographers who, either out of shyness or out of fear, are unable to face this experience.


Looking at some of my photos they asked me questions such as: where did you find that subject? Where did you meet him/her? How did you get to know them?

It was difficult for me to give an answer, because in my personal experience, it all started in a very intuitive and natural way.

When meeting strangers I always try to be as spontaneous as possible and keep my energy and enthusiasm high.

This, in turn, helps the other to relax and trust me.

We build a connection, the most important part of the photography process.

It is something you feel inside of you.

So there are no secrets to getting close to someone you don't know.

The only advice I can give when you want to photograph someone in the street is to approach people and ask openly if they are willing to help you with your photographic project.

The worst answer you could get is - No thanks!

But this shouldn't discourage you.

Keep believing it. And stop other people.


I think being a good photographer has a lot to do with how we communicate and how we manage to involve others in our photography and life projects.

The most important thing is to be honest and openly express your feelings. Involve others in your emotional and photographic journey.


Here are some tips to help you develop more confidence with yourself.


You could for example try to do some 'street portraiture'.

Street portraiture is when you stop someone in the street and ask them to take their portrait. It's simple, it's fast, and it's easy.

In addition to getting great portraits and experience with portraiture, it's the best way to quickly get comfortable with strangers.


To make this journey easier, you could begin by choosing someone dressed with more sophisticated clothing. People in flashy clothes generally want to be seen and they want to be photographed and it might help to start with them.

Once you have gained more confidence in your abilities you could then slowly move on to more 'normal' people.


If you really can't stop someone on the street, a tip could be to choose a place and let people come to you.

For example, you could choose a place with good foot traffic or in an interesting setting. In this way, by remaining still in one point, your subject will invade your space and you will feel much more comfortable photographing them and will also be less likely to notice you.


Another step could be to use a small wide-angle prime lens to get closer to the subject.

Many photographers use the zoom lens when they want to take street photography portraits but I would not recommend it.

Personally, I don't like zoom lenses very much, unless it's necessary.

Zoom lenses are heavy to carry and are quite large in size.

They are also the most noticeable element of your camera.

When I use my 24-70 lens on my Canon 5D Mark III, every person who passes me stares at it. But when I attach my fixed focal length 50mm lens on my Mamiya 6x7, the camera disappears.

People feel safer to get close to me.


The last piece of advice is to be yourself.

Meeting strangers can really make us grow not only as photographers but above all as human beings. It's always nice to have a conversation with a stranger. Ask questions, be yourself, trust.


I recommend that you try to follow these little tips. It would be nice to know how it went by showing me some portraits taken on the street.



Loredana




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