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News & Insight

How to Capture High Impact Urban Portraits

By fotosiamo on October 21st 2012

Urban Portraits by Steve Paxton

Urban portraits by Steve Paxton

Have you ever tried to approach a stranger on the street to take their photos? What if it’s for urban photography, capturing the gritty, not the pretty? Shooting street photography can be tough, especially if you want to portraits of the harsher side of our society.

Steve Paxton wrote a great article on how to capture high impact urban portraits on In this article, he talks about safety, required gear, attire, camera technique, and how to approach a stranger to take his photo.

Here are a couple of tips that he mentioned:

On Safety
The best thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting hurt is to take someone with you. Your field of view narrows as you begin engaging people for urban portraits. It’s very easy to lose track of what’s happening around you. It is impossible to look through the viewfinder and pay attention to your environment. A second person can step back, watch the overall scene and ensure that nobody surprises you from behind.

On the approach and building rapport
You have actually to care about these people! You can’t look at each person you contact as another potential photographic notch on your belt. The key to making this work is showing empathy and true concern for the person and what they are saying. You will get turned down nearly every time if you simply walk up, throw change in their cup and ask to take their picture. People want to be treated with respect and know that you care. They don’t want to feel like a sideshow. Keep in mind that most homeless folks are probably already feeling pretty low. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Feeling cared for and respected is a universal need everyone has. You have to approach each contact with the mindset of creating a mini relationship and showing true respect. If you are successful, the photographs will come naturally.

Here is the behind-the-scenes video of his Least of These Urban Portrait Series

Here is a tutorial on how he post-process his images.

Be sure to read the rest of Steve’s article on How to Capture High Impact Urban Portraits, as well as the follow-up Q&A article.

If you want to see more of Steve’s work, you can visit his website:

Urban portraits by Steve Paxton

Urban portraits by Steve Paxton

Urban portraits by Steve Paxton


Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    good shots, too much clarity and sharpness

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  2. J. Dennis Thomas

    Ease up on the clarity slider dude!

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  3. Ad Rock

    your HDR toning looks horrible. Stop giving tutorials if you suck. Have a nice day.

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  4. Shaun Hill

    That is nasty HDR.

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  5. Maxnexster

    Cool and interesting tutorial! Keep up the great work!


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  6. Anonymous

    Cool portraits, terrible photoshop edits.

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  7. Peter Grifoni

    great subjects but the PP is definitely over cooked.

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  8. Michelmolder

    Good article. I just really don’t like the halo’s created by the high pass filter…

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    Wrong account logged in, excuse me.

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