Asking Strangers to Take Their Photo

A couple weeks ago I decided that during my hiatus from posting on social media, I wanted to undertake some kind of project or personal challenge. Initially I was trying to think of a ‘thematic project’ or something like that, but then it occurred to me that I could try something as more of a personal challenge instead of being focused on the actual photos. So I thought, what better challenge than to do something I’m afraid of? At that point I decided to approach random people on the street and ask to take their photo (and to intentionally choose the people who I felt somewhat intimidated by).

If you are familiar with my street photos, then you know that I’m not afraid to take photos of strangers without asking, even directly in front of them. However, the idea of approaching someone with no good reason and putting myself at risk of rejection made me feel very uncomfortable, not to mention that I will have to be speaking my second language (Chinese) when approaching these people.

On the day I decided to start, I was wandering around on the streets in Zhongli. I kept seeing people and hyping myself up to go ask them, but I kept backing down over and over for at least the first 30 minutes. I remember walking by a girl sitting on a motorcycle and smoking a cigarette, and I thought she looked really cool, but didn’t have the courage to ask her. Then after walking a few meters, I decided I was going to make myself ask her or else this was never going to happen. Before approaching her, my body felt a bit shaky – somehow public speaking doesn’t bother me, but asking a stranger a simple question on the street did. I walked up to her and told her I’m doing a photography project and was wondering if I could take her photo. She seemed very skeptical and was asking me what the project was about, so I just told her I’m challenging myself to ask random people to take their photo and will later write about my experience. To my surprise, she agreed to let me take a photo. Overall it was a very awkward experience.

The next several people I asked immediately said no or they didn’t even give me time to ask the question before saying they’re not interested. The next person who ended up allowing me to take a photo was a woman I saw standing outside a shop smoking, and I thought she looked very strong and intimidating, so I approached her to ask if I could take her photo. It turned out that she worked at the shop, so she initially thought that I needed some help buying something, but after I explained that I was just asking random people to take their photo, we ended up chatting for about 10 or 15 minutes and I had a really nice time talking with her. It was a few weeks ago, but if I remember correctly, her name is Nicole.

After another hour of being rejected by every person I approached, I was feeling exhausted and decided to go back to where I live. Before going home, I first went to the park just to see if maybe I could find anyone to ask before it got dark. I ended up seeing a guy sitting at a table by himself using his phone, and so far I had been rejected by every man I had asked, but I decided to ask him anyway. I think I ended up chatting with him for about 30 minutes and he was a very nice guy – if I’m not mistaken, his name is Benjamin. He thought it was too weird for me to take a photo of just him, but he said we could take a selfie together.

All in all, I think I must have asked like 20 people if I could take their photo, and was rejected by all but 3 of them. The first few times approaching people were certainly the hardest, but the rejections really weren’t that bad – my anxiety about this was definitely disproportionate to reality. Although, I will say that I was emotionally very drained after this day of being rejected so many times, mostly because I felt that several of the people were a bit rude in the way they responded to me, and I was having a hard time staying in a good mood after all that. Right now, two weeks later, the only things that really stick in my mind are the good experiences I had with some of the people, so I think it was all worth it. I don’t think this will be something that I continue doing very much, as photos of people posing or just standing there for a photo don’t really look as interesting to me as taking photos of people in their natural environment with natural responses, but I found it to be a valuable practice in my self-development (and I’m glad to have these three photos to remember this experience).

Even though this was a fairly short project/challenge, I have noticed a huge difference in my overall confidence while out shooting on the street and I’m much more willing to talk to random people I encounter. Being rejected so many times made me realize that it’s really not that bad if you don’t make it into a big deal. Also, because during this challenge I was essentially approaching people with what many would consider a weird request, it just makes it a thousand times easier to approach random people when I actually have something more normal to ask or say, which I also wasn’t particularly comfortable with before.

Feel free to reach out and share your experiences!

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