STREET PORTRAITS

A black and white street portrait of a man with a pipe in Budapest, Hungary, 1991

As a photographer, I spend a lot of time alone. My camera helps me connect with people. When I’m out taking candid photos in the streets, I’m around others, creating a connection I enjoy. In these moments, my focus shifts from myself to those around me. While there is a connection, it’s one-way and not personal.

Leica photographer Cradoc Bagshaw is taking a street portrait of two waitresses on a break in Porto, Portugal.

On the other hand, when I take portraits of people I meet on the street, as opposed to candid shots, I can form genuine connections with the people I photograph. This differs from my usual goal of being unnoticed in my candid photography. I enjoy shooting both street candids and portraits.

I absolutely love using my Leica for portraits. It’s small, simple, and quiet, and it keeps me from coming across as the “photographer” and them from being the “subject.” I enjoy getting to know other people and hearing their stories. With the Leica, I find it easy to carry on a conversation with someone without the photos I’m taking interrupting the natural flow of our interaction.

A black and white street portrait of two waitresses on a break in Porto, Portugal. Taken with Leica by Cradoc Bagshaw.

When I lived in Porto, Portugal, I was walking near my home and saw these two waitresses taking a smoke break outside their restaurant. I gestured, “Can I take your photo.” I’ve found that people let me photograph them because they can sense my real interest in them. They don’t see me as a threat but rather as someone who appreciates and respects them.

A black and white street portrait of a workman in Aix-en Provence, France. Taken with Leica by Cradoc Bagshaw.

Some portraits happen quickly. I followed this plasterer in Aix en Provence, France, and made the portrait when he turned around momentarily.

A black and white portrait of a Portuguese musician, part of an international parade in Marbella, Spain. Leica photo - Cradoc Bagshaw. Portuguese musicians, part of an international parade in Marbella, Spain.

If you’re uncomfortable approaching strangers in the street, festivals or fairs are good places to practice making portraits. When you see someone who interests you, talk to them, let them know you see them and find them interesting, and ask if you can take a photograph. If they ask you why, give them a “because.” “Because I’m working on a project, because I enjoy meeting and taking pictures with people, and the camera helps me do that.” Talk to the person. Ask questions, listen, and be interested in what they are saying. After all, you chose this person for the portrait because something in him or her interested you.
 
If, as in the above photo, you don’t speak a common language, you can point to your camera, then point to the subject and make a gesture that asks if taking a photo is OK. Almost everyone says yes. If they say no, smile and thank them.
 

I Made the portrait at the top of this post in Budapest, Hungary, in 1991. Most people in the city lived in the modern world, while a few of the older ones clung to the past.

The photos below are of me making a portrait of my friend, the late Tom Abrahamson. They were taken by a mutual friend, Chris Cameron.

Leica photographer, Cradoc Bagshaw, photographing a street portrait of photographer, Tom Abrahamson in Vancouver Canada. Photo by Chris Cameron.

Leica photographer, Cradoc Bagshaw, photographing a street portrait of photographer, Tom Abrahamson in Vancouver Canada. Photo by Chris Cameron.