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Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 1 of 20

Class Introduction


Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 1 of 20

Class Introduction


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

Hello and welcome to create alive I'm kind of klosterman your host for street photography the art of photographing strangers with ashley gilbertson now ashley gilbertson is an australian photographer and director and a member of the seven photo agency he is the creative visionary behind two incredibly powerful books whiskey tango foxtrot and bedrooms of the fallen this class is part of a series of exclusive exclusive classes here on crate of live brought to you by the photographers of the renowned seven photo agency and in this class ashley is going to teach you all about how to get incredible street photographs with a number of both conventional and unconventional methods so everyone please help me welcome to the creative live stage ashley gilbertson um hi and thanks for being here. Um well, you guys and everybody at home or work um I'm yeah, I'm actually gilbertson I'm a photographer I've been doing this since I was really young since I was thirteen years old on thirty seven now um I...

started shooting because I was a um skateboarding thought I was a skateboarder and um I wanted pictures of myself skating essentially I realized after half a roll of film that was impossible to time it to time a trick at the same time as I was actually taking a picture, so I started photographing my friends and my career really started from there um so over the years I've developed a variety of skills with a bunch of mistakes along the way and I'm hoping that you know, by teaching you guys a little bit about photographing strangers you guys can skip some of the mistakes that I've had to endure that you'll see today as well every workshop that I've had to host that I've have given over the last two decades has there been one main theme that people want from me which is how do you photograph strangers it's the hardest thing I think uh for me when I was younger to actually, you know, engage with people in the street that I didn't have any other reason to talk to other than wanting a photograph off them um I started out believe it or not is really shy and today I you know, force myself to become an extra but I had to manage my fears of strangers and realize that it's it's not going to be that bad that the worst that's usually goingto happen is a no maybe you'll get a slap for a kick if it's like a really ridiculous situation but it's really rare it's like point zero one percent I think those skills that I've learned over decades you guys have the opportunity to sort of force yourself into and, you know, jump you know, jump a couple of levels by doing this cost today and I hope that you know together with questions and with what I've what I've actually put together here you can you can learn that it sze way really strange process like taking apart my working process like this photojournalism there's a lot of I want to call it magic but like I guess then involved in how we do this it's really hard to explain how we photograph strange is how we interact with subjects it's it's really organic when you're doing it uh but the first step is really the key, which is hi my name's ash and I want to take a picture of you um so right by the end of this, you'll have the confidence hopefully you'll find a space inside of yourself in which you can find the confidence to start approaching people in engaging with them um you're gonna need very, very thick skin to deal with the rejections because you get far more rejections than you get approvals from people andan working inside somebody else's personal space I think that what happens a lot is I'll say, do you mind if I take your picture and then I stand back a distance and start taking photographs what's really important is we actually end to the other person's personal space and there's ways of doing that this ways of moving this ways of dressing there's ways of speaking there's ways of shooting you know which helps you actually really share a space and collaborate on, you know, creating a photograph and by the end of it will be going through a toning and captioning and editing as well, which is really important in you know, I think part of being a photographer so by the end of this you'll also be you'll know how to edit your photographs how to caption your photographs so that you can deliver a toned final image to any editor or client around the world as a professional photographer would so after I spent a few years photographing my friend's skateboarding and submitting pictures teo skateboarding magazines in australia and then the united states I started photographing other friends of mine ah lot of my friends I was like a middle class kid from from a suburb of melbourne, australia s o a lot of my friends were graffiti artists like the classic rebellion, right? Um so is that a photographing them? And it was it was on this photo essay where I really started witnessing and experiencing what it was like photographing strangers because all of a sudden was photographing friends of friends and was photographing, you know, graffiti kings and I was not getting nervous and have to force myself, you know to say, do you mind if I come out with you and photograph you painting that train or whatever it is so I stopped. That was when I was sixteen and seventeen, and I started shooting that essay. I grew up in a stray dio as I said, uh, which, you know, like a lot of western countries has a pretty severe problem with racism, so I was insane. Spired as a young boy on dh now is ah, a thirty seven year old to try to combat this problem of racism, to try to humanize who the you know, these these foreigners were on to show that they do have universal concerns and fears that we have. So I started photographing refugees, photograph boat people, asylum seeker does refugees in places like indonesia in kosovo. Andi, until eventually I went to iraq to northern iraq to a place called kurdistan in two thousand two. And in kurdistan, everybody, at some point, had been a refugee. This is an entire ethnic group of people who don't have a land land that they can call their own homeland. But then, in two thousand three, in the beginning of two thousand three, colin powell went before the u, n said, made a case for weapons of mass destruction and war in iraq and, you know, it's a nobody australian photographer, I decided that I had a place to be there to try to document what happened there. S so I went back, and then it was this picture that I guess put me on the map. I'm still a little bit awkward about this picture because it's so silly, but, um, there were a lot of photographers covering the iraq invasion I mean, thousands of photographers, so after the major combat, all the invasion had actually finished the major combat hadn't really started, as we now know, I was in tikrit, which is the last main city to fall saddam's hometown, andi, I was photographing the americans, they're kicking in doors on dh clearing houses and looking for fedayeen saddam and, you know, regulus iraqi regulars, but you have forty guys kicking in a door, and across the street you have twenty photographers taking pictures, and I'm like, I got no place, I've got no reason to be here. This has always been a philosophy of mind if something is well covered, I don't need to be there, you know, it's my job to find an alternative angle, a different approach, a different vision. So I went to the palace and did tourism walked around there, help soldiers doing the same marines actually doing the same thing, they were taking pictures of each other, like getting on the elevator phones, pretending to call home. And this guy, helping the banishment said, I've always wanted to do this and slid down, so I shot a picture. I sent it back to the little photo agency called aurora that I was with at the time as a postcard, not as the picture was filing, like, look at this cool thing that I saw a few days later, a time magazine photographer approached me and said, congratulations and through this magazine down, and I found out that I had a double page image inside time magazine of this, and it was the picture that everybody was looking forward to the end of the wall. Little did we know that what was just beginning, but it was after this, when people would introduce me like ashes. The guy who shot the slider, I started working for the new york times I had there was a photography will vouch for me, but they also knew me from this photograph, so I got really lucky with his picture. I spent the next seven years working in iraq, uh, mostly, well, entirely on contract for the new york times, uh, covered the battle for fallujah, which is the work that I'm well known for which some of these front pages of four, and then I did my first book, which was a a description or a chronicle of what my experiences covering that iraq covering that war with like from the very personal angle remember writing the book and shouting out to my wife like, how old is mukhtar outside and she's like who gives a shit who gives a damn how old looked at her is um right from your experience um so I've tried to personalize all of my stories in that way now like I realized that I'm a conduit for the story and it's always about the issue and it's always about the subject but we are the messengers and I think that we need teo you know, as social media evolves as the media itself evolves, we need to come to terms with out howto how to channel these stories and flip it back under the issues. So photographing strangers has always been a huge part of this. This is some of the work related with veterans, something that I'm very passionate about that I believe that you know, we have a responsibility in any country if we send young men and women off to war, then it's our responsibility to look after them when they come home, but working in situations like this, like deeply intimate and personal situations, you know you're coming across a lot of people who need to trust you before you go into their homes and photograph like sherry on the on the left up there, his son came home and killed himself, so I spent a week with her photographing her around her house in her son's bedroom on heard a her son's grave or amanda henderson in the bed here I was assigned by time magazine to go out and take a picture of her she's also active duty, and I had to have a photograph of her holding a picture of a husband who was also a soldier, and I'd come home and killed himself, and they wanted her holding a picture of him side lit by the window. But I felt that that's the type of picture that we're used to, you know, when somebody dies, you used to seeing the family holding a picture of the other person and the families also used to that I feel like it's our place to try to push and develop the approaches that were that we make to these subjects. So I said to amanda, you know, what is one of the more difficult aspects of this? And she said, we're going to bed because he was always there, he was always there when I woke up. So, you know, over the course of the morning, we developed a trust where it was okay that we went into her bedroom and actually photographed her in the bed that used to share with her husband so it's that type of trust that we're developing and very very you know in a very quick manner without subjects that hopefully we can explore today and you know, clarify um the second main body of work that I did his bedrooms of the fallen and it's intact bedrooms of soldiers and marines who died in iraq this is the bedroom of christopher shera who lived in east northport long island and the intention of this work was to try to humanize you know what have become a very political situation in iraq I think it's easy to pull it there's something I think it's very difficult to engage in an emotional level and the greatest street photographers you know, the greatest photographers of strange is doing just that they're creating a way that we can humanize with people that we don't know a way that we can empathize um this is a pretty extreme example men walk into a family's home and saying can happily see the bedroom of your dead child is about as difficult situations I think you can get except again it was a question of building trust it was a question about me being honest on dh transparent in my intentions is a photographer on what I was doing with this work I think that's what we're doing on the street as much as what I'm doing on a long project this took seven years to shoot this is brandon craig's bedroom and I'm ella, bill maryland so it's all about access, I think it's easy, tio it's easy to screw that up, and I've done that a lot in the past. I've been really awkward, which which I still am a times today. Um, but mostly it's it's about being as honest as I possibly can when I'm actually coming into contact with people and sharing what my intentions are, um, I wanted to define the strangers just anybody that you have them, that that it can happen absolutely anywhere it could be at weddings and parties at a cafe, it could be on the street could be at a football game. It could be in the studio here today. Um, it's all about being, I think it's, charismatic and as charming as you possibly can, which but I don't know if you guys are naturally charming, but for me it can get kind of exhausting, kind of naturally introverted. So I've come from this very shy place where I'd rather after be by myself, and I've had to force myself to be on the street and engage with people, so by the end of the day, I'm completely exhausted, but I'm shooting, um, and then each isn't that you come across? I think that it requires a different approach. I mean, if you can imagine being in a dinner party, you sit next to one person. You have to be in a certain way in order to carry out a conversation. It's the same thing when you're when you're photographing somebody on the street, one approach will work with somebody, and other approach won't work with another person, and you have to gauge that that's part of the part of a sort of mystery of this that, you know, I'm trying to explain with this cost.

Class Description


  • Confidently approach strangers for street photography
  • Refine your eye for strong compositions
  • Choose the right gear for street photography
  • Tell a story through street photography
  • Write captions to accompany your work
  • Cull and edit your street photography images
  • Use street photography tips for building a career


Find the courage and skill to photograph strangers in public. Work with renowned street photographer Ashley Gilbertson to build both the confidence and skills necessary to succeed as a street photographer. Learn how to capture people moving through everyday life in artistic ways. Find out how to approach people in the street -- and how to photography anonymously in public places when everyone says no.

From understanding gear and the nuances of focal length to working as a documentary photographer in a public space, take your passion for street photography to the next level. This class isn't for beginners learning shutter speed and aperture for the first time -- it's for anyone that's ever wanted to work in street photography but struggles to build the courage to do so.

Watch behind-the-scenes videos following a real street photographer in action. Hear tales -- and see sample images -- of street photography across the United States and abroad, including major cities like New York and Chicago. Build captions and edit images with Photomechanic and Adobe Lightroom Live. Dive into an art form that reveals the complexity of human nature with Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers.


  • Intermediate photographers eager to try the street photography genre
  • Enthusiast photographers branching into documentary style photography
  • Advanced photographers struggling to come out of their shell to approach strangers

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Lightroom 6.0


Australia born photographer Ashley Gilbertson is a well-respected documentary style artist that many consider among the best street photographers. From working on editorial shoots to personal projects, his work has earned him an Emmy nomination, the Robert Capa Gold Medal, and an American Society of Magazine Editors Ellie award. The street photographer is also the author of two photography books and a regular writer for publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Based in New York City, Ashley's work has been featured in major publications as well as museum and art galleries around the world. 


  1. Class Introduction

    Start this street photography workshop with one of the most frequently asked questions: how do you photograph strangers? Meet your instructor and dip your toes into the world of street photography in the introduction lesson. Learn what to expect in the first lesson.

  2. What Do You Mean by Photographing Strangers?

    In many cases, street photographers photograph first in the decisive moment, then talk to the person in the photograph afterward. In this lesson, Ashley explains when he introduces himself first, and when he waits.

  3. Why Photograph Strangers?

    Carrying a camera gives you permission to be curious, to meet new people. See why strangers make such great photography subjects. Gain insight into how Ashley gets strangers to open up about their vulnerabilities.

  4. The Psychology of a Street Photographer

    Can you be a street photographer and an introvert? Learn how Ashley become extroverted for the sake of street photography and how to get out of your own shell. Work to build the confidence to approach strangers by looking at the worst case scenario and imagining how you would feel if the roles were reversed.

  5. Establishing Trust When Photographing

    Ashley says that trust is essential to successful street photography. Gain insightful tips to start building trust with potential photo subjects, whether you are working with them for one image or working with them for months. Learn how to confront your own fears and build trust with subjects.

  6. Decide on a Story to Tell Through Photos

    Begin the segment on the pre-shot process with a look at storytelling through street photography. Work through the process of determining what story to tell, from finding what you are passionate about to working for a specific cause. Just be sure, he says, to be open to changing your opinion as you work. Find inspiration from some of Ashley's past projects.

  7. How To Tell Your Story Through Photos

    Some stories try to change the world, others just celebrate the beauty and fun of it. Dig into researching the location, narratives, and existing work on a potential story. Learn how to build and pitch a photo essay, including a sample pitch.

  8. The Gear You Need For Street Photography

    Gear matters in street photography -- but perhaps not the way you think it is. A good street photography camera, whether film or digital camera, is simply a tool that helps you get the job done, whether that's a fancy Leica or an inexpensive camera and a prime lens or two. Ashley says, however, that you should know your camera inside and out. Street photographers also need to consider the conditions, traveling, and whether or not you need to be discrete when choosing gear.

  9. Know How to Present Yourself as a Photographer

    Perception goes with trust -- including what you wear and how you present yourself. In this brief lesson, gain tips on presenting yourself as a street photographer.

  10. Observe Your Shoot Location

    Scouting out the location helps prepare for a successful shot. Observing the location helps street photographers find the best light. Learn what to look for when scouting out a location.

  11. Where is Street Photography?

    Street photography doesn't require a street. Ashley explains how any public or semi-public location is fair game for street photography. Find insight into additional spaces to shoot besides just outdoors on the streets.

  12. How to Approach Your Subject

    Street photographers can approach subjects in three main ways. Work through each situation to interact with the subject while keeping the interactions unposed. Ashley also shares insight about getting a variety of angles to increase the chances of getting good shots with the right perspective. Go behind the scenes and watch Ashley interact with real subjects in Seattle.

  13. Ways to Connect with Your Subject

    Talk through ways to connect with your subject and how men and women may have different experiences in street photographer. Watch a behind-the-scenes video showing how Ashley talks with subjects. Learn why being at ease and comfortable is key.

  14. What to Do When People Say No to Photographs

    Not everyone will say yes to having their photo taken -- so what happens then? Ashley suggests not taking no personally and moving on to other photo subjects. In this lesson, learn how to capture photos of bystanders in ways that don't require a name.

  15. Always Have a Street Photography Backup Plan

    What happens when everyone says no? In this lesson, Ashley suggests some alternative projects or backup plans when the original plan isn't working.

  16. What to do When You've Finished Shooting

    The post-shoot workflow includes captioning and initial editing -- often on the same day as the shot. Ashley suggests writing down captions while it's still fresh in your mind, instead of waiting for the next day. Learn how to organize and cull your images.

  17. How To Find The Right Caption For Your Photos

    Documentary style photography isn't complete without a caption. Build a caption for your work in this lesson, from a generic caption for large batches of images, to captioning individual images.

  18. The Street Photography Editing Process

    Work through a three-step culling process for street photography. Start with culling photos in Adobe Lightroom using a star system, then continue narrowing down the frames.

  19. Toning Your Photos For Maximum Impact

    Street photography's journalism roots means editing should be minimal. Walk through the process of adjusting the tones in the image from maximum impact using Adobe Lightroom. Work with photos shot in previous lessons during this live editing session.

  20. Career Tips For Street Photography

    How do street photographers profit from their work? In this lesson, Ashley talks about the state of the industry, the different types of assignments, and how to approach street photography as a career.



I have taken more than a few of the Creative Live courses. I have, in general, found all of them to be very good and I have learned something important from them all. Not always enough of exactly what I was looking for, but something useful and important. This course was absolutely amazing. The best I have taken. I would like to download it and see it again and again. Ashley's style was authentic, humble, yet confidence inspiring. The information he gave was focused and totally useful. He shared both philosophy and thinking as well as real tools to learn - whether they be soft stuff (like how to approach someone) or hard stuff (like gear and settings and such). I cannot recommend this class highly enough. If you want to learn to do "humanistic photography" (his term which resonated with me), this is best I have ever taken!


This was a terrific and wonderful class. Ash was superb. His stories were awe inspiring, his passion was evident and his ability to teach was flawless. I would take any other class by him and actually can't wait for more of the VII agency programs eminating from Ron's class during photo week 2015. A great great addition to Creative Live's orbit.


Wow, I loved this course - I watched the whole thing, and most of it twice, during the first run. Ash is is intriguing, a good teacher, honest. I found this class to be so inspirational. I especially loved his encouragement about talking to strangers, asking to take their picture- "what's the worst thing that could happen?" And the videos watching him in action were motivating- you saw him make connections but also saw him get rejected too, but he keeps such a positive outlook. Love this class, please more photojournalism!