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Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 3 of 20

Why Photograph Strangers?


Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 3 of 20

Why Photograph Strangers?


Lesson Info

Why Photograph Strangers?

Why photograph strangers? I think that my favorite thing about photography is I I'm a curious person when I'm walking around on the street I maybe I'm a freak I don't know, but I when I'm walking out of the street I see people in society whether the interacting with one another orders walking and I think of what this what their lives must be like I think of what their stories are, what sort of like moments of joy or tragedy they've had in their life and I build these the's narratives about all of these different people I mean, it feels like sometimes it feels like I'm lacking oxygen I've had like a a spliff or something I don't know, but I start imagining like like these millions of thousands of different stories that will be a grand central terminal in new york and I look across the grand concourse and these thousands of stories and I'm I'm really inspired by the fact that each of us has some sort of amazing story some something that makes us so unique and I love finding that when I m...

eet people on the street like it's so inspiring to me uh like nobody has a boring story and as a photographer it's my role teo enter a situation, meet somebody and start trying to find out like what their story is, you know why they interesting and they will share you have to give them a reason to you have to build the trust in order to get that except you know there's different you know there's there's moments like the grand concourse in new york where maybe you want to do a wide shot of looking the whole scene but then to me what's what's really beautiful about photography is when you start exploring that curiosity that you have so you know, as a photographer I'm allowed to be professionally curious that's my job so the it's to me is the best job in the entire world in the camera is what gives me my ticket I think I'm allowed to be anywhere with a camera I get caught in a bunch of place and they've thrown me out and I'm just taking pictures they're like you can't do that except you asked permission later in cases like that um I've been in the oval office and met the president and I was there because I had a camera you know there's no there's no way I would have that chance but then I've met amazing people like you'll see in the video that we shot for this course that we came across like a really amazing inspiring guy that has had a difficult life in seattle except you know, we came across him on the street and he started sharing some of his stories and I ended up following following him around and it's really to me that that adventure in a meeting you people is is makes me the luckiest person in the world it's what I want to be doing anyway and if I didn't have a camera it'd be even weirder than already it already is but representing those stories in an honest manner you know I feel I feel really lucky that I'm actually able to do that people tell me their stories and they trust me that I'm going to try I'm going to communicate that story that they told me in a factually correct and honest manner and then when I'm traveling I think now when I travel unless I'm on holiday with my family um now when I travel I'm usually on assignment so I'm trying to get access to things that we don't normally see if we were traveling in these areas but when I was younger and I was just sort of go places and b you know you lived a lie a little bit to actually become the person you want to pay so I was trying to be a photojournalist so I'd like buy plane tickets and go places and was back backpacking but all shooting pictures um but you would get access to these places because you had a camera that would say you know this is in west papua I was there I was photographing a resistance movement who live in the jungle they fight against indonesian occupation or indonesian rule and I went into the bali and valley and they have these war dances that occasionally tourists can see but there they said like okay, so you're here taking pictures of our culture we'd like to show you everything that happens around it so I got to go very you know, become part of this ward at these ritual war dances that they have and I'm right in the middle of the circle they're all dancing and fighting around which is what the first pictures from and then I got to photograph the like the preparations and then the feast they had in the village afterward and that was purely is the result of being a photographer and being curious so you get to see and experience all of these different things is a photographer because you're putting yourself out there you know you're not just standing back you're engaging with people and with that they start inviting you a little bit into their lives whether that's you know, donny tribes people in west papua or people in downtown new york although I will say that new york is that it is a little bit difficult I gave one intern an assignment he was with me for I think six months and I said your assignment for the next six months is to try to get into somebody's house and he couldn't do it theo is a kind of tough um so we have to explain whywe you know, what I need is to actually photographed these people that we meet sometimes that's very serious on dh, you know, requires deep levels of trust, like these photographs. And I talk to you about amanda earlier on the photograph. In the middle is of no appears he was a veteran who killed himself and his mother after we'd spent many, many days and a month's worth of phone conversations together ended up bringing out his telephone on which he took his last picture of himself before he ended his life. And that was such a, uh, it's a photograph, yes, but I have difficulty divorcing my photographs from the emotional content when I was taking them. Like this picture to me is an absolutely beautiful memory that the mother is sharing with me. I mean, traumatic but it's also the last picture of his son that she'll treasure. And I had the opportunity to photograph that to me. That's very, very special and something that I treasure. Um, so you have to, and you can do this with your families. You could do this with your kids, but you have to learn how to do it with strangers as well. You have to show people that it's okay to be vulnerable with you, sometimes I do that unintentionally by sharing my own vulnerabilities, I think that there's a lot of situations in which we have to keep it together but then there's other situations where it's ok tio essentially lose it was a few weeks ago I was in greece on the island of lesbos photographing for unicef looking at the refugee crisis I'm like I'm pretty used to emergencies and things like that on photographing people in difficult situations, but the first boat came in from turkey and it landed on shore and the refugees started streaming off and some of them were screaming and some of them were shouting but a lot of them were joyous that they had landed in europe that they had made this most dangerous part of their journey and survived and they were thanking god they were hugging each other and kissing each other they were kissing the ground and I had to stop shoot well, I couldn't shoot because I was I started crying on dh it was then they saw that the volunteers were there saw that and all of a sudden I realized, you know, I'm not a vulture they're coming in tow to steal pictures and like feed it feed a news organization I'm very much empathizing with the story and with the subject and I think that in a lot of situations when you start showing your vulnerabilities than the subject will start showing their vulnerabilities this is, um this this man is actually um kanaan and he himself is a syrian refugee and he came to europe five years ago uh moved to belgium where he's learning flemish and trying to find work and he flew back to greece teo help with the refugee crisis so he had just pulled this little syrian boy off the butt and he told me later that it was there on that beach that he found his soul so it's moments like this like I love this I love this picture is my favorite picture from that assignment but it's also such an inspiring moment you know yes, I think that's like so powerful for some of us here to to hear how did you get that story out of him? Like how did you what was the engagement with that image? Because that's so powerful that you were able teo like did you how did you do that with that one? Okay, so that's a really weird example? Uh, normally what I would do, um okay with that picture, I posted the picture on social media on instagram with the unicef feeding with the photo agencies feed on, people started engaging and saying, hey that's kanaan on they tag cannot in the picture and then so can on and I started engaging one another and then kanon started engaging all of the different viewers of these pictures you know, like the pictures like that of getting, you know, tens of thousands of blacks on instagram so he comments so people would be saying thank you and he's like don't thank me you know anybody should be doing this it's really inspiring and it's a beautiful thing to do and he's engaging directly with the audience so, you know, we started talking privately um we're going to be offline but in messages on I started interviewing him so that I could put a longer caption on the picture so that was the first time that's actually ever happened it was really weird, but this is I mean, I think it shows the you know, it's a new frontier and it's really interesting like it's a great new way of engaging and having the subjects that we photograph actually represent themselves like this this is where it's gotten better yeah it's really like now when we take pictures on the street were actually more transparent than we were in the past because the people that were photographing probably on instagram as well and I'll look you up like you can't mess up, you can't mess up their story, otherwise they'll correct you um so be careful when you're taking notes except normally what you would do what I do is I engage with people you know in the case like this as volunteers on the beach there's a boat coming in you've already engaged with volunteers I can mash the gilberts and I'm a photographer with unicef and when the boat comes in you start photographing people you photograph the movements and the action is it's happening then used when things slow down a little bit then you start into interacting introducing yourself taking information finding out people stories why did you leave how was the trip what is your next step you need warm clothes there's people over there like helping um giving advice but as a human is a human being exactly exactly that's that's really I think e and what we do like we have to remember that we human beings before anything else thank you um and so as I said like sometimes the scene is just really visually compelling s o this is in afghanistan in two thousand one watching your cricket match that afghans were having in a little old airstrip outside of kabul and so this kid was just watching cricket amongst these like destroyed helicopters and it's amazing it doesn't have to be you know like kanon pulling a five year old syrian refugee off about you know these movements that make me want to cry sometimes it's just a beautiful image and that's okay you know there's nothing there's nothing wrong with that like I think that photographs like this we can celebrate the beauty and the joy in the world that's what it's about, you know, in the end it doesn't always have to be awareness campaigns and saving the world sometimes it can just be admitting that it's not such a bad place that we live in s so this is what I start sounding like a freaking apologize, except I've got a really weird upbringing in photography I've got two mentors emanuel santos who's in australia and then miss a window who's in japan um, they taught me instead of going to college, I learned under those guys, so they told me through samurai traditions through stories of miyamoto musashi and hug a koala and he's very zan approaches to how we should live. So a lot of these things that I've learned over the years I still apply to my photography today, and sometimes it sounds pretty brutal because you know, these air like fourteen center a sporting generation, fourteenth century samurai warriors talking about killing each other, but I think that these lessons still apply today in humanistic photography and street photography. So when I'm when I'm photographing in crowds like this protest in times square, I'm looking across the whole crowd, I'm I'm taking, I'm surveying the scene and I find somebody that I think is interesting and then I start working towards that person, so the quote is the oldest, said it's, a quote from hagar currie the courts, the oldest said taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird even though enters into the midst of a thousand of them it gives no attention to any bird and the one other than the one at first marked does that raise a shout vision that I'm using as a photographer? You know I'm not going to stop going through there because I see something else I see something that I think is compelling and that's moving and I start working towards that and I don't let my vision you know, be taken away by something else on the way to that picture so I apologize if it's really were hard to connect with hopefully it's not because I think that I hear that a lot of people on wall street actually read a lot of these samurai text but um federal les I don't know it's just how I understand photography and I think we all have different ways of understanding you know why we do this and that's my way? So to do this you need absolute commitment like absolute commitment to photography to taking pictures too, to forcing yourself into a really uncomfortable situations you have to be constantly challenging yourself the other thing and this again comes from well, this could come from meditation and come from reading these texts in my case, but you have to be completely and utterly in the moment when you're with these people that you meet for the first time at a train station on the street in a cafe you were all about them you're listening to their stories you're telling them your stories but there's no yesterday or this morning or that annoying conference call you have to do in an hour like none of that it is all about right now um being in the moment means that you can really empathize and people people feel and notice that they feel special and they are special and it's it's out role as a photographer to make sure that you know we put ourselves in the moment and don't don't disengage I'll start checking your phone or like looking over their shoulder at the next person you might want to photograph like you're there with that person engaged with that person be in the moment so forcing yourself to engage with people the hardest thing is the introduction obviously but as soon as you've done that and it gets easier with time my problem well it gets a little bit easier with time I covered twenty years but it's still weird sometimes but eh? So I'm I'm still forcing myself to engage sometimes often don't be afraid of showing vulnerabilities and being honest as I said that honesty is key people people know when you're not telling the truth and get ready for a lot of no's

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!