Street Photography - How to Capture Expressive Portraits

by Ibarionex R Perello

I recently received a comment on the expressions that I'm able to evoke from my photography portrait subjects. It was along the lines that I am able to capture a look of serenity from them. These viewers found this interesting because they knew that many of the people I photograph are strangers who I've approached on the street. I thought it an interesting comment - something that I had never really considered. I knew I liked the look of my subjects but I had never given much thought to this commonality in many of my street photography portraits.

Portrait: Capture the Moment
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Street Photography - Portrait Tips

I think part of it is rooted in the fact that I'm not trying to make my subjects smile for the camera. I'm simply taking them as they are at that given moment. Trying to make someone smile, particularly a stranger, invites a look to the images that I don't believe would work. If I think the expression is forced, I may ask the subject to close their eyes, take in a few deep breaths and then open their eyes.

Expressions are also a result of them being caught off guard. It's not a common occurrence to have a stranger come up to you, give you a compliment and ask to make your photograph. I think that's a big part of what happens between myself and my subjects. There's this sense that they really don't understand what's happening at that moment, which I think is a quality that I like. They are just there in the moment, possibly bemused by the unexpected attention.

Many of these images work for the viewer because we're able to take on the subject in a way that we don't normally in the real world. We really get to examine a subject, and by not having them smile, you are forced to dig in a little deeper to discover where that person's at. The subjects aren't obviously happy or sad or miserable. They are just there, and I think that forces the viewer to look at the subject a little more carefully in an attempt to discern what is happening with the subject. I think that's why these images work.

At least that's my reasoning today.

Learn from Ibarionex R. Perello...

Pro photographer Ibarionex Perello teaches many inspiring online photography workshops, including: Portrait Photography Using Available Light, Posing and Portraiture Techniques, and The Pursuit of Light.

Check out the BetterPhoto digital photography school for more online photo workshops covering street photography and other techniques on photographing people.

About Author Ibarionex R Perello

To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.