People of Sierra Leone West Africa
People of Sierra Leone West Africa
People of Sierra Leone West Africa
People of Sierra Leone West Africa

Recently we shared inspirational travel bits from an interview with Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins also photographs beautiful images. We would like to share a useful photography tip he gave to readers on how he approaches people in order to take a photo of them.

From my experience people in streets do not like to be photographed. They can become angry very easy! But I like photographing people in streets. There is something charming in their facial and body expressions. So I constantly look for ways to do what I like, and to make people feel ok with the process!

This is a photo tip from Henry Rollins I wanted to share with you on how to approach people to take a photo of them:

People who were friendly can turn quiet or withdraw. Suddenly, you’re not just two people sharing a moment. You’re a photographer and a subject. How do you handle that?

Here’s what I do, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it because I’ve done it so much. The photos are okay, but the method has gotten better. I use a different camera body than I used to. I used to do a lot of travel with a [Canon] 1Ds Mark III, which is like wearing a cinder block all day and it just screams journalist.

I mean, that thing, you can see it in the dark a mile away. You can’t say, I’m just a tourist, man. That’s pro. Now you’re that guy. And you walk into any scene and everyone stops. And if you hear the word “journalist,” start walking away quickly. That might not work out well for you.

So I went from making the 1Ds Mark III my primary body, to the 5D Mark II. I’m a Canon guy. It’s a smaller body. It’s all the camera you need for the street, 21 megapixels, great readout. And you can put any of your lenses on it.

It reads like fairly well-heeled tourist. You can hide it under your arm easily, and all of a sudden you’re not that conspicuous. I don’t try to be sneaky. I don’t want to be like sneaky cam.

I use the 16-35 mm lens if I want to get portraiture. For something like the photo on the cover of the book, I have to get up close to that guy. I have to be personal and say, “Hi, may I take your photo?” I’m not using a 70-200 mm where I can do it from across the street.

I’m forcing myself to engage. And if I’m going to get the photo, you’re going to know I have a camera because I’m talking to you about taking a photo of you. It’s up to me to have my mechanics ready so I can go bang-bang-bang and be done, without having to even look down at my adjustments. I look at a guy or person or situation and just see the equation in my mind. I already know the ISO, here’s my F-stop.

I dial it in, walk up and execute. And I’m out.

Another thing, very important: If I’m going down a long street into a slum or something, I will walk in and look around and say hello, make friends with all the kids who want to say hello, and then take photos on the way out.

I do that so that, in case I’ve angered people on the way in by taking their photo, I don’t have to deal with them again when they’ve had time to mobilize, consolidate their anger and plan.

Because I’m alone and I’m not bringing a weapon and I’m not going to fight. I don’t want to lose my gear and I don’t want to get my ear chewed off by an angry woman who I’ve somehow offended, because I’m so not looking to offend anyone.

(You can find the full interview that covers travel and photo experience at “World Hum”)

How do you approach people to take a photo of them? Any secret methods you use?
It would be very helpful to learn them!

Photo by gbaku


  1. It is a great idea! Festivals and fairs are great for capturing actions and emotions. Do you usually come close to people or do you use a special lens for zooming? It would be interesting to have a look at your photos! Feel free to share :)
    I like to shoot close ups and colours at festivals and different events :)

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