It Never Hurts to Ask

This just in: a guest post from one of our PhotoFest Japan attendees, Eric Armstrong. Thanks Eric for sending  us the nice article – and the great photos! Take it away!

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of attending PhotoFest Japan 2010 in the Akihabara “Electric Town” District of Tokyo, Japan.

Rick Sammon was one of the professionals providing his expertise to a small group of excited enthusiasts. Juan Pons and Hal Schmitt were the other super talented pros.

Rick’s first outdoor lesson, “Daylight Flash,” was conducted in the street near the local Metro Station. Because we didn’t have models for our session, Rick was quick to provide us insights into employing ordinary passers-by as photographic subjects.

One of the comments he made was, “If you see a suitable subject to use as a model, just ask.  What is the worst thing they could do? Maybe say, No”.

Following this comment, he stepped right into demonstrating it by approaching a young woman at the Metro station and asking if she could spend a few moments to model for us. She was very flattered at being asked, and readily accepted his invitation.

A funny scenario unfolded when she received a phonecall from her friend she was meeting and explained to her why she was late. Shortly thereafter her friend showed up and joined her making two subject models. These young ladies remained with Rick and our group for over 45 minutes, allowing Rick and the attendees to direct their movements and change the background settings.  All of this was made possible just by asking, and he continued to prove this method several times during his session.

This technique may seem simple enough, and in reality it is. However, Rick cautioned us about keeping the subject models engaged in the shoot. Too many times photograpers get caught up in setting and adjusting their camera controls, or composing their shots in the viewfinder, that they fail to see the subject becoming complacent and losing interest. This detachment between the model and the photographer can most times produce unwanted results in the mood or theme of  the photos. A shot portraying an obviously disinterested subject can instantly take the pop out of a great photo.

How can a photographer keep from falling into this trap? Rick provided our group with some very key pointers that can help save a dying session. One very easy solution to making these casual moments a success is to continually talk to your subject and keep them animated. Ask your model to frequently pose in different positions, or against different backgrounds. However, be careful of making them hold uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. Engage your model to assist you in selecting a good shot or pose. And above all, don’t forget to tell the model when they are giving you exactly what you need.

Although PhotoFest was conducted in Japan, Rick was very quick in using sign/body language, enlisting nearby native speakers to assist in translation, and even posing himself as an example to get his messages across.

Rick’s most important message about photographing casual models, is to share your photos with them during the shoot. As you finish a session using a particular pose or background/foreground, share your camera’s playback screen with your model so they can see what you see. In most cases, many models will be very surprised that their photos have turned out so well. This small interaction can provide a tri-fold benefit to any shoot.

First, it allows the model to see that the shoot is going well, especially if you show pride and excitement when reviewing your shots.

Second, it re-engages the models interest in the shoot, thereby requiring little difficulty in asking them to do more.

And third, it binds the photographer and the model closer together where apprehensions or suspicions hanging in the air are suddenly released.

On the last day of PhotoFest Japan, attendees were asked to provide shots they took for a semi-formal photo contest. Several entries depicted photos of people in the street, and comments from the group indicated they used Rick’s advice with much success. The attendees found in most cases, when politely asked, the subjects readily agreed to having their photo taken.

From his informative session, Rick has rekindled my creative spirit and provided me with a new found interest in Street Photography. I am looking forward to many more opportunities to use his techniques and tips in the creation of my own photos.

This post was written by:

- who has written 171 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon has published 36 books, including Exploring the Light and Digital Photography Secrets.

When asked about his photo specialty, Rick says, “My specialty is not specializing.”

You can follow Rick on twitter at and visit his website at

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One Response to “It Never Hurts to Ask”

  1. jose Says:


    Thanks for the post. I was about to ask about this today since I saw this person who was a very interesting subject at a restaurant yet really was not able to ask to take him the picture I wanted nor what to do in order to keep him engaged during the shooting had I asked.

    By the way I saw your Ipod app, featured on Digital Photographer magazine issue 97.



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