Photo: LongJon/Shutterstock

How to Approach Strangers for Interviews

by Joshywashington May 10, 2010
Stop being afraid to ask strangers permission to film, photograph or interview them and start creating travel media with confidence.

FINDING THE CONFIDENCE to approach strangers for their story, their photo or permission to film can be a challenge.

There are many emotional and mental stumbling blocks that can prohibit you from approaching strangers for your travel media.

You may not want to be rejected or bother anyone. You may not want to interfere or draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you are questioning your ability to assert anything meaningful.

These are some of the foibles I may encounter when creating media that involves interacting with other people on camera. But they can be the same fears that are associated with shooting photography or gathering a story.

I had to face some of these feelings of uncertainty head on while filming this video for MatadorTV.

Some tips to help overcome fears of approaching people


Have a pitch. Know what you are doing, what you hope to achieve and how. Practice explaining it out loud a few times before you talk to any strangers.

If you want to film, photograph, or interview someone and are not feeling particularly confident, my advice is to approach everyone and do it with as little deliberation as possible. That’s not to say don’t know what you are going to ask this person. Rather, don’t give yourself time to get in your head and let the moment slip. The more you randomly stop strangers and the easier it will become until you can’t be phased.

Sometimes I am feeling sheepish and that is when I know I need to jump in feet first. What is the worst someone is going to do? Walk away and leave you alone? That isn’t all that bad.

I will stand and either wait for someone to see me – ‘Excuse me, can you help me with my video?’

Or approach everyone person that passes – ‘Can you help me with my travel vlog?’


Don’t be ashamed or apologetic for your project or craft. Don’t apologize for stopping someone or for taking their time.Instead, thank them. Don’t denigrate your project or creative process; praise it and get people excited about what you are doing.

Your article, video or photography is something to be proud of and thinking this way can allow you to feel more confident approaching your subjects.

I think people want to believe you are an amazing artist or are working on a compelling project. Move with courage and grace and you will be given the benefit of the doubt. Everyone knows it takes a certain gravitas to interact with strangers in pursuit of a creative endeavor, I think you will find people to be overwhelmingly supportive.


People are good at following orders.Once you have your participants in your sway you are in charge; step off the curb, into the light, hold this mic, you’re doing great. One more time, a little louder this time, don’t be afraid to smile…thank you very much.

Know what you want from people and let them know as confidently and succinctly as possible.

“ I am going to ask you one simple question, whatever comes to your mind, no matter what it is, is OK. Are you ready for the question?”


“I am really interested in what you are doing. Do you mind giving me a little explanation on camera?”

Once they agree to participate they will be looking to you to help them give you what you need.


People are compelling. The way folks think and act across individual and cultural lines is the stuff of endless tales… don’t think you can ever improve upon the perfect synchronicity of life. Sure, you can try and point it in the right directions, but at the end of the day, heart breaking truth and profound joy or subtle courage comes with perfect grace from nature and the nature of humans.

Let people be themselves. Praise and celebrate their individuality and they will perhaps open up and share some of themselves with you and your art.


As strange as it sounds, many people are afraid of their own existence. Documenting a person’s existence through film or photography plays to that fear. Many people fear that they will not like how they look, sound, act and respond on camera. They don’t want that mirror held up.

I think the easiest way to dispel the this fear in others is to give them permission to be exactly how they are. You must make sure they know you are coming from a place of non-judgment. Tell them that how they look and sound are perfect, and assure them that you will not make them look stupid on camera.

Easier blogged than done, I know. But in order to get more confident approaching potential subjects you have to practice! So get out their and start today!


Do you feel confident approaching strangers? Does it help to have a partner with you? Perhaps it is easier when you can hide behind the lens …

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