When approaching strangers it’s important to accept a refusal for what it is. Not a personal rebuttal, insult or negative reaction to you as a person, but an indication of how your potential subject feels on the day in question. It may be that business is bad, that they are unwell or that they’ve just had an argument with their partner. Alternatively, they may never have had the good fortune of being photographed in such a way to produce a pleasing likeness. How would you feel and respond in similar circumstances?
When approaching strangers it’s important, except in the case of cultural sensitivities (either yours or theirs), to ask for permission in a clear and straightforward manner. You may find it helpful to state your name and the reason for wanting to make the picture. It’s always a good idea to include a compliment as part of your request. For example:
Hi, my name’s Glenn. I’m on holidays and noticed the wonderful hat you’re wearing. We don’t have anything quite like that where I’m from. I’d really appreciate it if you’d allow me to make a photograph. Or, alternatively,
Hi, my name’s Jenny. I’m a student photographer studying at the @#$% Institute of Photography and this week’s assignment is to photograph artists and their artwork. I noticed your gallery from across the street and now that I’ve seen your exhibition I’d be honoured if you’d allow me to photograph you with one of your paintings.