I’ve been there hundreds of times. We all have, I’m sure. We’re prowling the streets in an unfamiliar land and there they are, right there in front of us. A local character, personality oozing and dressed just how you’d ask a model to if you were epitomising the destination. You want to take a photo, right? But what’s the etiquette?! Do we pay? Do we ask? If we ask we break the element of surprise which affords us that reportage, candid shot. But what if we want to use the photo? We need a release in many circumstances so we need to go say hi and get a little signature. Well here’s how I do it!
If, for example, we’re out and about in Havana (which I hear you Americans are allowed to do now) there will be a local puffing on a Habinero and you will want a photo. But guess what… they have a price. It’s in situations like these where the person has basically put themselves there specifically for that purpose and it’s their living, so these people need paying. So here’s the first rule: if it’s someone making their living from donations, donate. Monks, street entertainers, buskers, beggars, they need paying just because. If you can get a model release signed, happy days. That leads me on to the next point.
If you’re paying and if you want to use your resulting photos to their full extent, the model release is something you should strongly consider. In my bag I have a small wedge of them for ‘just in case’ situations like these. Getting it signed, however, isn’t your consideration but theirs. If they point blank refuse and you’ve worked your way through your powers of persuasion and landed slap on the floor there’s not a great deal you can do, but then there won’t be a great deal you can do with your photos either. If the person isn’t recognisable you don’t need to deal with this at all, it then all comes down to you. So there’s the second rule: model release!
Next up it’s the fiscal aspect. How much do you pay? Well it all depends on how bad you want the shot and what plans you dream up for it’s subsequent use. If it’s someone who’s expecting to have their photo taken, they won’t ask for much. A £/$/ or two will suffice in most cases. When the stakes are raised be prepared to get value for money and get your bargaining gear engaged! Although I won’t recommend it as an option, here’s a tactic I’ve used in Cuba. Plaza de San Francisco. There was a church I wanted to go up on top of. I saw a balcony, I knew it existed, but I just couldn’t get to the right part of the building to access this balcony. That is until I found the right person, and had the foresight to arm myself with the right currency. Sure, my CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) were good, but I had something more valuable – sweets! With the right amount of sweets, which are a rare and valuable commodity there, I was able to negotiate my way behind the special doors to the balcony for the shot I wanted!
So lastly, if you’re travelling and you think you’re going to come across some models you’ll shoot, always have coins and small notes with you separate from the rest of your money. This way you aren’t revealing to any unwelcome eyes where you keep your cash, and you aren’t showing that you’re (relatively) rich. As if your camera isn’t a beacon for that already! You could consider making it cheaper for yourself by offering a copy of the photo, which I did to get this couple to walk past me in New Jersey. A much cheaper version, and a souvenir for them.
Let me know if you have your own experiences shooting models on the go, I love to hear from you.