Can I take your photograph, please?

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“Can I take your photograph, please?” – one simple question and you’re suddenly invited in to someone’s life for a few minutes, a couple of hours or sometimes for days, with one simple answer – “yes”. People very rarely say no. I’ve been asking men and women if I can take their photo for years, that’s hundreds, probably thousands of people, and in all that time I think I’ve been knocked-back a maximum of 10 times. I never ask why, that’s not my business, but I’m pretty sure the barman I asked in Camden, London, was working illegally and the lady in Ullapool, in the far north west of Scotland, assumed I was a pervert…
Photographing strangers, or even people you hardly know, isn’t easy, nobody ever said it was. You need to get out of your comfort zone and actually force yourself to start shooting. People often tell me that they feel foolish or embarrassed or that by asking someone if they can take a picture of them is somehow invading their privacy. You aren’t invading anyone’s privacy by asking and if you feel that self-conscious that it makes you think you look foolish, then I’m afraid you should stick to remote landscape photography.
What feels worse? The brief, awkward introduction? Or the long, nagging feeling that you should have asked, but didn’t, and missed the shot forever…?
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All the images here were shot in Yellowknife, Canada, as part of an ongoing project. Yellowknife has to be the easiest place I’ve been to for approaching strangers, not a single person said no, some didn’t even ask me what I was doing, they just said, “Yeah, sure! Where do you want me?!”. Some of the people here I’d known for a few hours, some I’d just met.

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All images were made using a Mamiya 7II medium format camera, 80mm f4 lens and Fuji Pro 400H film. For the 4th image down I lit the subject using a Vivitar 285hv flash (direct)

31 comments

  1. I see that you aren’t opposed to using flash. How and when do you make the decision to use it? And, is it off camera or on camera? Just wondering. I’m working on a portrait project, but using strobes and other lighting gear. Love hearing others’ take on their approach.

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    • No, I don’t mind flash, but if I’m using it, it needs to look like it’s been used. I don’t like any flash effects, such as bounce, I’m an ‘in your face’ kind of shooter!
      I’m intending to shoot a longer project, shooting portraits at night/in the dark.

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  2. One other thought–this series of photographs drew my eyes to the textures in the shots. I don’t know if that was purposeful, or just how the photos struck me. I love the interplay of color on the final shot.

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  3. Sue Glowach

    Yup, Yellowknife is a wonderful place to do this, and you’ve captured some of our most wonderful representatives here. I encourage all photographers to come up, stay a while and see what you capture!

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  4. Thank you for stopping by my place and “liking” it. So here I come to see who you might be & wow! You are a photographer, at least. You don’t have to tell me twice. I’m going to start asking next time I see that face that needs to be captured. There have been times that I could barely hold my tongue (weird saying). No more. Thank you. The last shot is my favorite in this line-up. I find people more interesting, many times, when they are framed with their “things.”

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  5. Is that Alex Debogorski on the third photo? My friends said it’s weird for me to love watching Ice Road Truckers but I don’t care. I find that show entertaining and Alex is my favorite.

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  6. Pingback: Unusual #Photography | johndwmacdonald

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