Skip to main content

Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 5 of 20

Establishing Trust When Photographing

Ashley Gilbertson

Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Ashley Gilbertson

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Establishing Trust When Photographing

S o this is big like make eye contact always make eye contact with people you're talking to I have periods where I don't do it and I have to remember that I need to do it sometimes it just gets I don't know like overwhelming because you're doing it a lot you're meeting a lot of people in every single day like we always got taught as five year olds right? Like look people in the eye when you're talking keep doing it now it shows trust what it shows that you're trustworthy um so that's that's key and making great photographs if people if people trust us then it'll be like photographing our own family like I'm my own family must get upset with me because I photograph I got a six year old at home um on a photograph him having fun I photographed him in the playground a photograph him you know during his birthday parties and every day but I also photographing when he's having tantrums a photograph from when he's in trouble it must be pretty annoying except that it really he never says anythi...

ng to do with my life isabel and this really upset her but um you get to a point where people it just becomes part of your thing like I know that one of my sort of tricks it's not a trick but one of my one of my methods of working is when I'm introducing people and I say to myself, I'll say, do you mind if I take your picture and I say, yeah, sure, and they sort of sit there so I will sometimes actually shoot a frame. I have no intention of using that frame, but it's to sort of break down that first boundary of making a picture, and I do this, especially when I'm photographing somebody for a long period. If I'm going to be with somebody for a couple of days or a couple of months, then I will go into the relationship and, like, clearly, market as I'm here as a photographer, like, I'll probably end up friends with you, except I'm here first and foremost is a photographer. So say my name's, ash, we're gonna be taking pictures together, and we'll be sitting in some cafe with bad light in the back of the room, whatever, but I'll start taking pictures anyway, just teo, just to establish that's the relationship, and that means that I'm not turning into a thing like when I'm going to take my first picture, and the longer I put it off, the more of a thing, it becomes in the hotter it actually gets to take the first picture break the seal, um, so explaining why I'm drawn to a particular person often on the street it's often where they are it's how they look it's how they interacting with people like I saw yesterday I was waiting for um somebody who was going to be photographing to turn up and while I was waiting for him there was a guy in this a crazy wind and rain on he was smoking a cigarette like hiding under what's left of a tree in in full and it was it was totally cool it was like a funny picture that I really liked so I went up and I said like okay so it's pretty miserable out here and you're out smoking a cigarette and still my um do you mind if I shoot a picture and you start laughing is like you of course go for it I mean it's a simple is that you know what is it that drew you to the person usually you're doing it for almost always I think at least I'm doing it for honorable reasons no I work for a photo agency I believe in compassion and empathy integrity if the work that we do on about celebrating you know these things that do ties together as human beings so if I see someone like I definitely classify myself as a freak and it's a positive thing I think mostly um but you know, if I see somebody who's particularly interesting or different on the street you know I'll say that um and his ways of presenting that in a positive in a positive manner um this is a family um her son was in the military and he dived on di had a morning with them in new orleans and then took me to the to the cemetery where he's buried on dh she got there and fell on the ground started crying with her other son is you as you can see is holding the headstone and it's a really intimate like this is what you have to challenge yourself like a lot of us have I think it's pretty normal toe have a complicated relationship with death, right? Um thank some of the greatest literature is being written about that fear of death um in a situation like this I need you know I wanted to be there and it's it's something that I'm not necessarily uncomfortable in any way except we have to confront our own fears and challenge yourself in these sorts of environments you know where you it might be it might be touching or something in your life you know I don't want it I don't wanna go to the cemetery because I lost my mother when I was young I don't want to go to the cemetery because my friend is dying you have to challenge yourself, you know, pushing yourself to meet these strangers but also the situations in which you get yourself like sometimes you don't know where it's going to go, then you have to go with it in very rare cases, it might get sketchy, but it's it's almost it's almost unheard off that if you just shooting on the street it's gonna get really weird or crazy or dangerous, so I wanted teo. Oh, yeah, you have a question? Yeah, I'm curious with, uh, that last photo is there ever a time that you effectively apologize for, you know, it's such a raw moment and, you know, you're going to be doing something with this photo, sharing it with people? I mean, do you how much? How much do you go on that side of ah, you know, I have public dries for I don't okay, I mean, I I do apologize, but I'm people on the street because I feel guilty that I'm taking time away from them on it's just the way it happened that I said, I have developed I'm sorry, but I'm ash was taking a picture of you, but in a case like this in a case like the bedrooms, the veterans, I won't apologize, phil being there, I will empathize and say, you know, I'm so sorry for your loss and, you know, hug the person you are like touch them in some way like physically touch their shoulder something like some sort of physical engagement to show like I can't I really do care that's why I'm doing this but as a photographer when somebody invites you into a situation like this they know why you're there you've said I'm a photographer and I'm working on the street on dh you interesting and what are you doing today? I mean I've done that in philadelphia in new york I went to penn station one morning which is like the main station that goes out of town or new york and I walked around until I found somebody who looked cool interesting and I found this guy had a saxophone on his back and I went up and said, hey, what you doing that I'm going to a music festival in philly like do you mind if I come? Why not? I spent the whole day with him it turns out he's ahh grammy award winning musician with robert glasper experience he was like headlining this giant music first it was amazing it was so cool accepted that do was a total stranger I had no idea who he was so in a case you know in cases like this they're inviting you there because they want to show you they want to share this experience I guess if I could just follow up a little bit you answered my question perfectly but do you find that there's times when they've invited you in you take the shot and they just say that photo would you just keep that one private place very rally very really I'm trying to think of examples where that's happened it's usually getting real examples I think I'm more sensitive to that then the people I'm photographing uh in that I'll be photographing somebody in a difficult moment and I think like this person would not want to look like this but they do look like this and it is you know cheryl soft which is the mother of ah no appears uh who's one of the veterans the picture of the selfie on the fun of the woman holding it I have this picture of her crying and she hates the picture but she hates what it represents doesn't hate how she looks she hates knowing that that's how she told me it took her years that she came to terms with the fact that that's how she looks inside and that's you know that's not easy except she let herself be that vulnerable and showed me how she looks inside you know she's got this very strong front and fighting for finding the for better rights the veterans and she's keeps it together but sometimes he falls apart and when people do that in front of you it's because they trust you and you're there to take pictures you know you're there to share and communicate this person's experience, and I think it'll be easy sometimes to not take pictures and to go and hold the person but it's really important that you do mark and memorialize that occasion, like, create create an archive of that occasion because they've opened up like that because you're there and you're a photographer, and that is clear if you go in and just say, like, hey, how's your day, then he's sneaking pictures of different things, but who does that? Actually, we have so many amazing questions that air coming in if I could ask a couple before we do the role play, so that would be awesome, and I want to let everyone that is watching right now know that we will be addressing the release question because we have about a hundred quid surgeons about getting releases, but that is coming up later in the class, so hold hold tight for that one, but some of the questions around eye contact and trust and cultural differences. So what do you do in a culture where making eye contact isn't necessarily appropriate? And would you research that to know in advance that that was going to be the case? You definitely research it? I mean, I've worked a lot in the middle east where um, I mean, it's it's, pretty rare that it's not culturally acceptable. Um, keep in mind that you always if you're working in a different culture, you always a foreigner, so there is some ah, you know, there is some give in, you're not fully aware of it? I mean, I think that you do need to be, you know, very well researched, like, and we'll get teo breck researching a story later. Onyx if you need me research about where you're going about what it's like cultural sensitivities, but when you sit down with somebody for a cup of coffee and you're introducing yourself and telling them what you're doing and why you're working, it's eye contact, I mean, I'm trying to think of places, but that wouldn't be the case, and I guess that there's some I've heard of one, but by and large, it's that's, that's how we work, but definitely be aware of cultural sensitivities. Really, a lot of people are asking about language barriers, so if you can't walk up to somebody as we'll see and and say hi, my name is ash, what do you do there? Well, I always work with a, um I always work with the fixer, um, when I didn't have the budget well, the opportunity tohave fixer, which is a like somebody who thinks or somebody who fixes everything for you they teach you the cultural sensitivities they say oh my god, you just did this never do that again um, they tell you like you're eating with a knife in full like nobody does that it's just the cut of meat use your fingers, whatever it is they they also translate for you, they introduce you to people on dh you know, a really good fixer will translate what you're saying in a culturally sensitive manner, so they'll explain what you're doing and why you're doing it. Usually while you're speaking, so I will still speak if I'm working in um you know, uganda, I'll be working with my fixer and I'll walk up to somebody and say, hi, my name is ashley gilbertson I'm working with the queen's trust on this project about preventable blindness was one of you had a second while I'm saying that my translator is translating it for me so it's a live translation but that's like that's the that's when it's at its absolute best and I'm guessing that what people usually working with is not those conditions, so I will be really slow like I'm not I'm not really aware of how fast I'm talking now, but I'll speak very, very slowly, I'll say my name on what I'm doing and then ask if the person speaks english and if I really need to engage with that person then I'll say just just wait here for a second I don't find somebody around who does speak at least a little bit of english like I did a job in um kosovo in nineteen ninety nine was traveling with an australian cameraman um australian director actually tim group and team spoke a lick of german the refugees that we were talking to the cost of our albanians spoke a lot of german so tina I would speak in english to tim tim within translate into his high school german what I was trying to ask the cost of us the cause of the albanians would then translate that awful german into albanian and pose the question that way it sounds like a nightmare, but it still worked mind you sometimes it didn't work so well like we had another translator that wasn't good in iraq because the tv networks kept stealing our translators because we get like really good guys so they would they have more money so they would steal the guy's so we got stuck with this really sketchy translator and at one point he say so this again I was with tim hey said, so this cameraman and this photographer they are here with the cia on representing president george w bush, and they want to know what you think about it, like we saw this, and we're having a translated later, I'm like, oh, my god, we needed new translator, so we can always make it work like you, just whether it's asking people around you, whether it's working through a variety of different languages and getting pretty messed up questions, sometimes you can always engaged. I mean, I think that a lot of this, a lot of how we act and hold ourselves around people, empathy doesn't really have a language, and if you present yourself in an empathetic manner with people in compassionate manner, they see that may feel that and that that's what really opens the doors? Well, that's a move forward with the role play that we're going to teo so yeah, do you want a volunteer way? Need a camera? You should take one of these once, right? Yeah. So I'm thinking that you can show me how you work and like, it could be perfect. I don't know. Is there such a thing is perfect, you know? Um, so does like present. Yeah. Tell me how you would do it. What am I, what am I gonna be doing just waiting for a train? Hi, I'm carrie taylor it's nice to meet you uh what's your name uh I'm a photographer and I just wanted to see if I could take a few photos of you while you wait for the train cool what for? Um I'm shooting for time magazine. Wow yeah so what is the story it's about daily commute and how far people go are willing to go to travel to work every day at school I got a problem with that. Okay, cool. Thank you she's really good right that's how you do it question two it's like in that regard you we're standing here with the camera up were you was that saying that you were taking that photo first and then going up to him or were you just framing him like, what was your thought process? Um I thought it was that like I'll make myself aware so you can I'll make him aware that I'm there by shooting and then get him like curious so I'm already engaging him like from a far kind of that's what I really like kind of like manipulation no yeah it's not a bad word like people people in america use manipulation is about what hell always negative okay, yeah, I like that you announced yourself in that way it wasn't confronting your not within my personal space you're uh you're this far away so what you're taking a picture that the train station whatever it is but then you entering my personal space and saying like you mind if I do this I want to work with and that's it there's nothing confront there's nothing to confronting about that um which I like I mean I like that you're setting down immediately that you're a photographer and also like the confidence is really good there's no question about you're not giving me so much of a chance to say no as give you permission like why would I'm looking the way that you're presenting it isn't like do you mind if I take your picture because it okay, I'm just doing this thing for time magazine you're saying like I'm taking photographs of time magazine would you mind if I included you in the story and there's a yeah why not? Like I didn't actually think about it until it is said that but I said why not like that sound? That sounds fine giving people an opportunity to say no like would you be in my picture I know instead like you say this is what I'm doing is a cool you know it's ah it's it's much more conversation with much more approachable so that was really good cool you guys have any any questions about what you just saw or any what ifs my what if is it is if the person does not believe you uh like the time magazine story all right so I know we have business cards right um on dh you know in the pot like now they'll have my photo agencies name and logo on them you sometimes have a press card but the press card that I have been using for the last two years when I have to show it is totally out of date and it looks fake it's an nypd prescott but I've got a black eye it looks like a fake it looks like a practical joke there's no israel even though it's saturday so like I will usually just give a business card and I think that a lot of it is is how you carry yourself you know, like I've definitely done the thing where I misrepresented myself is an eighteen year old trying to get him to like run dmc concerts and I was like, I'm shooting for this magazine and they'd be like really you're not shooting for that magazine okay that's true um but I think you know when you are representing yourself honestly and with that sort of confidence it doesn't usually come into question when it does come into question you offer some sort of backup to your authenticity you know and a business card is usually all it takes like here's my name here is my role here is my phone number here is my email address and here is my address like if you have any questions after that call me like I'm not hiding from you I always make sure that people don't feel like I'm hiding anything from them and that's that's really key right? So that so the whole this is my website you might appear here that's just that's fine yeah well normally like that like what you just did like that's giving permission to be in my opinion is giving permission to be online is given permission to be on social media in print and we'll get to the release of stuff later except you know, as of working photojournalist today I'm sure this will change over time that is enough permission for all of those different alberts agency web sites social media print what if the train came while she was taking your picture? You have abandoned that exchange because of the noise and because it wouldn't have allowed you the time to do it no, I would maybe get on the train with him with me um I mean, this happens a lot like you're right, that happens a lot when things start happening around you and you're photographing, you know most of these situations and moving right so often you have tio like, if I if I find somebody in the street like this photograph you walking, they'll be walking you gonna like, walk with him like I'm doing these pictures but um and sometimes you have to, like, spit it out really, really fast, which isn't that comfortable except, you know, maybe you're gonna maybe you hop on the train with him, like I said, but I still engage, you know? And even if I have to talk a lot, shout and talk really quickly, I try to offer some explanation, like it's fair to me if I was gonna be in time magazine as a commuter, I want to be told framing inappropriate to ask the person like, in this particular scenario, would it be inappropriate to ask the person to wait for the next train? I wouldn't do that, no, you just upset, I mean, they they might offer a bean in situations where they say like, oh, I could take hale, just hang out here with you for a little while, but like how one of our roles as a photographer, a za journalistic photographer is that we don't we try toe have minimal effect on the situation, so we try not to intervene and change things. So if you're asking somebody to wait for the next train, you know you're changing the course of the day even more dramatically than you already have, so you always going to have an effect on the situation, but you need to try to minimize that best you possibly can it's not really about that scenario, but how do you decide when a project is over, like some of your more long term projects? Like you said, you worked on the bedrooms of the fallen for seven years? I mean, how do you get that in the next segment? Because that's really hot that's a hard thing to do, eh? So we'll get to that. If I skip it by accident, then come back to it. Okay, um, so listening, as I said, living like learning how to listen is really key when you're talking to people on the streets, sometimes I don't say a lot, and you have to like, feeling a little bit of the silence, especially during the initial meetings, like best example I've had in my life that was working on the bedrooms of the fallen where all the cool people and there was so afraid of the press and the press misrepresenting or politicizing that kids death, that they wouldn't say anything because they didn't want to be quieter for anything. So I took for half an hour and say, you know my name when I'm doing what I'm doing it my motivations, that it's, a book that is also in the magazine, blah, blah, blah. And after half an hour like the person the phone might say uh oh my god um and then another fifteen minutes and then I would say like I would just like to come over to your house and have a cup of tea and that's a aren't you in new york too? Yeah, but I can get a plane and they say ok, that sounds fine and so that's the first sort of exchange except then when you sit down with him you sit down and say, well, you know I am what happened and then it stopped talking, you know, and listening really carefully to what they're saying taking notes doesn't put a barrier necessarily between you and the person that you're talking to if anything, it builds trust because it means that you're representing the story and there d the details of their story in a more factual matter like we're not old truman capote with his ninety seven percent retention right whatever it was right and as I said exchanging information like with card uh business card is always great because it looks most official except you know, even if it's scribbling on a piece of paper your name, your e mail, a phone number increases the level of trust between you and your subject because it shows that you're answerable to what you're doing you're gonna post a picture of somebody and say that they're doing something they're not and if they if you do that, then the person has essentially right of response. They can always find you with that information. So it it's key to building the trust. And the other thing I like about exchanging information means that, well, if you're shooting for somebody like the new yorker who need to coal people and actually fact check information. The spelling of the name. Were you really at this train station? Um, it means you can keep in touch with him, which is which is a great thing, because so many people that I keep in touch with, um and and revisit over the years. So you're building these relationships.

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. 



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!