Asking Strangers to Model - Street Portraiture

The Photo

The other day I came across a lens I had been curious about for some time now. I decided to try it out and instantly fell in love. Came out of the shop with a lighter wallet but my creative mind a little richer. I have been waiting for a lens like this, to challenge myself to do some intimate street photography. Guess it's time to get uncomfortable and awkward out in public.


There are so many different street photographers out there. So many different styles, and ways to approach people. Some are very aggresive with their street photography like photographer Eric Kim. Others take time to compose the shot and have people pose like the NY based photographer The SarorialistSo I decided to finally get out of my comfort zone and go try my own style.


I waited for the sun to start to set and headed to downtown kyoto. I ended up walking down the amazing little alleyways near Sanjo for an hour. One of my favourite places to go is down these little streets. The lanterns illuminate the path down these narrow streets, showcasing the neat little shops, cafes, and bars. I found the perfect backdrop to do some portraits with some incredible backlight. I found the spot, now I just needed a face. So I waited, and waited.  I stood for half an hour while tourists and locals glanced at me with strange looks. Then, this Japanese Ojisan walked by in front of me. Before I caught him, he had disappeared into a bar. I was bummed. He was exactly the person I wanted for this shot. He came out 5 minutes later with a sign and spotlight for the bar he had just entered. Not only did he work at the bar I had been standing in front of for 30 minutes but he also lit himself perfectly for the photo. WAS IT DESTINY?


I turned the corner and asked him if I could take his photo. He was confused and didn't quite understand what this 6 foot 3 white man was saying to him in Japanese. I repeated myself and he half understood what I wanted. I told him where to stand, and lined him up. Stepped back, took 5 photos and before I could check whether the photos turned out alright, he was off. Back to work or something. I quickly chased after him and thanked him. Didn't have a chance to check out the photos till he had disappeared into the darkness of the bar. Luckily, I had been planning this shot and exposing it for the last 40 minutes. I had captured my perfect shot for the day.  

I will be honest. It was a little scary approaching someone, and asking if I could take their photo. Especially when they happen to be a grey haired uncommunicative bartender. Getting out of my shell and just pushing myself payed off though. I believe this is the beginning of some great new photos from me. I will be challenging myself and going out as much as possible doing these street portraits.


There are some incredible characters out there. People I have always wanted to shoot. I've been compelled with portraiture for sometime now, but never really had the urge to hire models or ask friends to pose for me. I think there is something magical about walking the streets and finding interesting characters. The people dressed up just as they are make such interesting subjects. As much as I would welcome working in the fashion industry with photography, I do think there is something compelling about seeing people with the clothes and styles they choose for themselves.  


-Daniel Levy


Here is the spot I stood waiting for 30 minutes. You can see the sky is a lot lighter here then the final photo.