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How Brandon Stanton Got 500,000+ Strangers to Pose for Humans of New York

Brandon Stanton’s ability to warm up America’s toughest people bought his book, Humans of New York, to a best seller status – Here’s how he does it.

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Brandon Stanton’s ability to warm up America’s toughest people got his book Humans of NewYork, or HONY, to a best seller status. New York City is one of the coldest cities, with some of the coldest people in it. It’s unlike any southern town where people look each other in the eyes and say; “how are ya?” In fact, little to no eye contact is made at all (unless you’re looking for trouble). People pack themselves into subway carts, getting way more up close and personal than you would on a first date, and even then no one dares to lock eyes.

How Brandon Stanton Got 500,000+ Strangers to Pose for  Humans of New York

Who can blame them? The fast-paced, high-priced city will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not staying on your grind. Warming these people up for a little chat, let alone a smile can get quite tricky, but Brandon Stanton did just that. He cracked the code of New Yorkers and successfully got over 500,000 of them to open up about their personal lives then pose for a photo.

How Brandon Stanton Got 500,000+ Strangers to Pose for  Humans of New York

Humans of New York started out as a facebook page, then slowly went through Instagram, a website, and then turned into the sensational book it is today. The book holds 400 pictures of faces paired with anything from a short sentence to a long story that describes each person’s uniqueness. The editor of Humans of New York, Yaniv Soha, explains that the reason people love Stanton’s work goes beyond the photos and the words written below them; “It’s really about his ability to relate to people and convey what makes them individual.” Yohav is right; people are crazy about the fact that Stanton can stop and connect with strangers… in New York!

People are so curious about Stanton’s ability to connect that he’s asked to speak about it all the time. At the University College of Dublin Stanton gave a speech about how he approaches strangers on the street. He describes his work as taking the uncomfortable and strange atmosphere that’s felt when someone stops and asks to take a photo of you, and turning it into intimacy. “People want to be comfortable to disclose a lot in a short amount of time,” he explains. Stanton said how he spent loads of time worrying about the right words to use when he approached people. However; he ended up realizing that the trick was to give off the right energy.  Stanton insists; “the worst energy you can give off is nervousness.”

How Brandon Stanton Got 500,000+ Strangers to Pose for  Humans of New York

Here are a few pointers Stanton gives for giving off a vibe good enough to make people want to say “cheese.”

  1. Never approach a person from behind.
  2. You have to earn having a calm energy. Unless you practice, you’ll come off as nervous.
  3. Use a softer tone of voice. Stanton admits, his high pitch approaching-voice makes him wince with embarrassment, but he uses it anyway.
  4. Get on their level. If you’re approaching a person shorter than you, crouch down.
  5. Slowly escalate the intimacy. Start off by asking a general question, and taking less-intimate full body photos.
  6. Never start off by mentioning an interview. Once A person is comfortable with a picture then lead into the deeper conversations.
  7. People are more likely to open up when they’re alone and are especially more reserved when people they know are around.
  8. To get a stranger to disclose something exciting and uniquely theirs, ask a bunch of questions.
  9. An opening question Stanton asks that is successful in producing unique and intimate content is “what is your greatest struggle in life right now.”  
  10. Only mention your fame and credibility when you find a person is hesitant.