Taking portraiture to the streets

Photographer Kym Moseley explains the importance of preparation, professionalism and print when it comes to taking portraits of strangers.
A smartphone showing the SELPHY Photo Layout app, a white Canon SELPHY Square QX10 printer, a pack of printer paper and several printed portrait photos are laid out on a wooden table, shot from above.

Photographing people you meet on the street can be a daunting experience, but it doesn't have to be, says popular TikToker and photographer/videographer Kym Moseley, who has amassed more than 180K followers on the social platform.

Kym is no stranger to street portraiture. In fact, approaching people he hasn't met and asking if he can take their portrait has contributed hugely to his online success. He's found that while some people might be shy about having their photo taken, others are flattered to be asked and will happily pose for him, especially if he offers to share the image with them afterwards so they get something in return.

Here, Kym, who uses a Canon EOS R6, discusses how he developed the confidence to approach people, the benefits of embracing unpredictability and the value of honest feedback. He also demonstrates how, with the help of a Canon SELPHY Square QX10, it's possible to go beyond showing your subjects a photo on your camera's LCD screen and instead present individuals with a print to keep and preserve the experience.

Kitbag and settings

A Canon EOS R6 sits on the lid of a container splattered with colourful paint.

When shooting street portraiture, TikTok star Kym Moseley uses the Canon EOS R6 and both zoom and prime lenses including the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM. "Missing a shot because you don't have the right kit is too painful to bear," he says.

Many photographers who are starting out want to travel light, and to do this, Kym recommends some of his favourite lenses, such as the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM.

Kym shoots with a Canon EOS R6, which he chose for its 4K capabilities, fast shutter speed and superb autofocusing – essential for portrait photography. When it comes to portraits, Kym likes to blur the background to draw attention to his subject.

"Whatever lens I'm using, I'll always go to the most shallow depth of field and set the rest of my settings based around that," he explains. "The aperture always stays at f/2.8 or f/1.8, depending on the lens. The next priority is ISO, which I try to keep at 100, and I adjust the shutter speed accordingly. In broad daylight, I'm probably at a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec with ISO100 and f/2.8, and then, as the day gets darker and darker, that shutter speed gets slower."

To complete his street portraiture kit, Kym added the portable Canon SELPHY Square QX10 to his kitbag, so he could capture, print and share on the go.

How to choose your subjects

A man with a neat white beard, wearing a leather coat, tinted glasses and a tweedy hat, sits on a bench side on to the camera.

When Kym gave this man his printed photo, he replied with a simple, "Good. Nice!" which amused Kym. "I was drawn to the man because of his beard and hat," he says. "He just looked mysterious, as though he had stories to tell. I'd love to do this photo in black and white." The Canon SELPHY Photo Layout app gives you the option to convert a photo to black and white before printing. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 at 51mm, 1/250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1250. © Kym Moseley

A woman with long blonde hair, wearing a bright red coat over black scrubs, stands alongside a black iron fence, looking at the camera.

Kym remembers noticing this woman's scrubs first and then observing her as she was talking to her friend. "She seemed very chatty and animated," he says. "It was interesting to see her response – you could tell she wasn't feeling at her most photo-ready in her work scrubs." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 at 40mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1250. © Kym Moseley

Walk into any town centre and you'll immediately notice that there are plenty of options when it comes to people to photograph. Whatever it is that draws you to a particular person is unique to you; choosing a subject is incredibly subjective.

Kym starts by looking for people who seem like they might stop. "People who are clearly rushing or wearing headphones are usually a no for me," he says. "I don't want to disrupt people.

"When I started, I tried everyone, so I've figured out how people look when they're likely to stop," he continues. "The second thing is they've got to have some kind of unique physical trait. They should look interesting to me – there must be something that sticks out. I spotted this white guy with a ginger afro and he was approaching a dark green tree and I just had to stop him. I knew the dark green and his hair would pop, and I was right; that video got about 300,000 views."

In essence, you have to find what interests you. For Kym this "doesn't mean conventionally attractive; it's got to make me feel something".

How to approach strangers

A man in a striking patterned jacket and dark hair in a bun stands with his hands in his coat pockets and his head turned to the side.

Kym is constantly on the lookout for portrait opportunities. "I loved this guy's jacket and his hair," he says. "He looked approachable and, more to the point, like he was waiting for someone, so he couldn't say he was rushing off somewhere." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 at 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO500. © Kym Moseley

A young woman with long brown hair wearing a heavy overcoat and with large headphones around her neck smiles cautiously at the camera.

"What made me stop was this girl's demeanour," says Kym. "She seemed very approachable and I suppose she looked shy and timid and I was drawn to that. I wanted to bring her out of her shell." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 at 67mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1250. © Kym Moseley

Before approaching people, Kym suggests getting mentally prepared by telling yourself: 'It's not a huge deal for anyone other than you. No one thinks you're as weird as you might think you look!"

After identifying a potential subject, he usually introduces himself by saying, "Hi, I'm working on a project, it's about photographing strangers. Do you have two minutes to take a quick portrait?"

"I know that line is the best way to put someone at ease straight away and have them interested enough to help you out," he explains. "If you stop someone and you're tripping over your words, they'll lose patience and walk off. If you're shy, work on faking it until you make it. That's something I did at the start, and now I'm much more confident. Approaching people comes more naturally. If they're on the fence, I'll say, 'I can email you the photos at the end,'" he adds.

How to interact with your subjects

A smartphone showing the SELPHY Photo Layout app and a printed portrait photo are laid out on a wooden table, shot from above.

The Canon SELPHY Photo Layout app is compatible with the Canon SELPHY Square QX10 and the SELPHY CP1300 portable printers and enables you to print directly from your smartphone. It also offers multiple layout options, so you could add more than one portrait to the same sheet of paper.

Some street photographers will direct their subjects while others favour a more candid approach. Kym prefers to keep instructions to a minimum. "I try not to give too much direction as I don't want to take up too much of someone's time," says Kym. "I give some feedback but tend not to be too specific. I might say, 'let's try something else' if it's not working, but I don't ask for specific things, such as 'place a hand here'. I just ask someone to walk from A to B and use burst mode, or I'll make a fist and ask them to follow it so I can get them to face a certain way without touching them. I learnt this from doing wedding photography."

The impression you make is hugely important and can even lead to future opportunities. Kym remembers a time he landed a job after approaching a stranger to photograph them. "I once stopped a man who was wearing an amazing suit and it turned out he had his own tailoring business and needed a videographer. He took my details because he liked the way we had interacted during the short time we spent together."

Printing and sharing photos

A SELPHY Square QX10 sits on a wooden surface, a photo print sticking halfway out of it.

The portable Canon SELPHY Square QX10 comes with a handy USB charger and prints long-lasting 68 x 68mm photos in rich and vibrant colours.

A hand holds up a small printed portrait of a young man wearing a striking patterned jacket with his head turned to the side.

You can print 20 sheets per full charge, so if your subject seems unhappy with the first attempt, you can always try again. "If I can tell they don't like it, I'll see if we can do another one," Kym says.

After a photo has been taken you never quite know how someone will react. Kym has had his fair share of both positive and negative reactions. "I always show people the image on the camera screen first and I'll offer to send them the photo," he says. "I'll ask for feedback, too. It's all about honesty for me."

Having the SELPHY Square QX10 with him added another dimension to Kym's pitch because he could give his subject something to take away with them. "The SELPHY Square QX10 printer was really quick considering it's printing a photo," he says.

Kym transferred the photo from his EOS R6 to his smartphone using the camera's built-in Wi-Fi and then uploaded it to the SELPHY Photo Layout app for printing. "The whole process takes about 60 seconds," he says. "It's amazing to think I'm able to print a good quality image without cables or an office, or without asking people to meet me somewhere later to give them a photo," he says.

Hopefully Kym's tips and advice have given you the confidence to get out there and have a go at creating your own street portraits – you never know what you might be able to achieve. Don't forget to share your results with the hashtag #FreeYourStory, tagging @canonemea.

Written by Natalya Paul

Related Products

Related Articles


    Street portrait tips

    The best advice for standout street portraiture, from pro photographer Julian Love.


    How to shoot your friends like fashion models

    London-based fashion and beauty photographer Jade Keshia Gordon offers 6 simple tips for creating more stylish social media shots.


    The perfect lens for portraits

    What to consider when choosing a lens for portrait photography.


    Queer portraiture with feeling

    Non-binary photographer Louis Painter on photographing the queer community.