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How I learnt to approach and photograph strangers, a journey of Street Photography

Updated: Sep 15, 2023


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

the 'I am your mirror' project, I received positive feedback on my photography work, despite not winning.

LensCulture offers the opportunity to request a review of your work, which pleased me. They complimented me and suggested I follow some photographers to enhance my skills. One of them was Richard Renaldi, a Magnum agency photographer known for his 'Touching Strangers' project. In this project, he pairs up strangers on the street, allowing them to pose as they wish. I was drawn to his work and began following him on social media.

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


Over time, I developed my own unique style. At the time, I was working as a paparazzo on the streets of London, around 2011. This job consumed almost three years of my life, working as a freelancer for agencies like Flynet and Wenn. I was always out on the streets, rain or snow, and nothing could deter me. The hours of waiting were often long and disappointing. Many times, I could't capture photos of celebrities due to various factors, and this was disheartening as this job was my source of income.



Celebrity covering his face with his hand
Shot in the night, during my search for celebrities in London

I can't quit explain why I chose to be a paparazzo at the time. It was a tough job, and many paparazzi lacked respect for both their peers and the celebrities they pursued.

To them, a photograph, no matter how unflattering, could generate stories or scandals that would pique the interest of gossip magazine readers. My approach was different; I focused on respectful portraits. This made me stand out but also earned me ridicule from my male colleagues. Out of 50 paparazzi, only a few were women, and working in such a male-dominated

Woman looking down followed by a group of paparazzi
Celebrity caught in Camden Town

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.


celebrity Dita Von Teese caught at the Savoy. Hotel in London
Dita Von Teese at the Savoy Hotel in London

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.

My approach was different; I focused on respectful portraits. This made me stand out but also earned me ridicule from my male colleagues. Out of 50 paparazzi, only a few were women, and working in such a male-dominated environment was challenging. They often treated me rudely and didn't offer support. Some even used aggressive tactics to obstruct my work.


A celebrity, Danny De Vito is autographing Fans
Danny De Vito surrounded by fans

Working as a paparazzo was a pivotal phase in my life, which helped me develop essential skills for approaching people. During that time, I discovered that attracting celebrities' attention was challenging, given my newcomer status in the field. I had to become more assertive and even a bit aggressive to be noticed, particularly because my male colleagues wouldn't provide opportunities. The competition was fierce, and this environment was often violent.


Strangely, this experience provided me with strength, self-confidence, and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and pursue endeavors I previously thought impossible.


A woman is looking at me, smiling, in a rainy night
Celebrity smiling at me, photographing her in a rainy night


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.


Around 2013, I initiated a project involving strangers. My irresponsibility, naivety, enthusiasm, and curiosity led me to follow my instincts.

When I spotted someone interesting on the street, I would approach them, introduce myself, obtain their phone number, and set up a meeting. Some people didn't respond, while others agreed to meet me.


My friends expressed concern about the risks involved, but I viewed it as an adventure. I've always enjoyed adventurous encounters, something I've carried with me since childhood. I saw these interactions as exciting adventures, even though they sometimes led to awkward or embarrassing situations. Nevertheless, I always managed to navigate through them, even with my limited English skills. Leaving home at 18 had prepared me for such experiences, and I've never been afraid of strangers. In fact, strangers have often come to my aid in times of need, further boosting my confidence.


Many people, including fellow photographers, believe there's a magic formula for approaching and photographing strangers. However, in my experience, it all began naturally and intuitively. I strive to maintain spontaneity and high energy levels when engaging with strangers, which helps them relax and build a connection. This connection is crucial in the photography process and something you feel within.

It is something you feel inside of you.


There are no secrets to approaching unfamiliar individuals; it's about being open and asking if they'd be willing to participate in your photographic project. The worst response you can receive is a simple "No, thanks," which should not discourage you. Keep believing in yourself and your project.


Being a good photographer is closely tied to effective communication and the ability to involve others in your photographic and life projects honestly. It's essential to express your feelings openly and engage others emotionally and photographically.


Here are some tips to build more self confidence.


1. Experiment with "street portraiture." This involves stopping someone in the street and asking to take their portrait. It's a simple, quick, and easy way to gain confidence with strangers.


2. Start with people dressed more distinctively, as they are often more open to being photographed. Once you're more comfortable, gradually approach "ordinary" people.


3. If you can't stop someone on the street, choose a location with high foot traffic and let people come to you. This can make subjects feel more comfortable and less likely to notice your presence.


4. Consider using a small wide-angle prime lens. These lenses are less conspicuous and make it easier to get closer to your subjects.


5. Always be yourself. Engage in conversations, ask questions, and be genuine.


I encourage you to try these tips and share the portraits you capture on the street. It would be great to hear about your experiences.



Loredana



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