I have been lurking in the forums for a while reading different projects here and there, and I thought I might talk about how I go about asking complete strangers for their portrait.
A while ago I came across a great photography project called the 100 strangers project. Without really knowing what to expect I dove into the project and haven't looked back. In this small walkthrough, I will talk about what the project is about the benefits of this project, who to approach and several tips and tricks how to get started.
I have photographed more than 300 strangers and will continue doing so as I love meeting new people and the experiences I made during my projects. But the most important part is to share what I learnt so that other people can enjoy the fun in taking pictures of strangers.
The focus of this small walkthrough will be less about the technical side of taking the pictures and more about how to approach strangers, how people react and how to deal with rejections.
There is a great flickr group dedicated to this project with members who are passionate strangers photographers who will help you and motivate you throughout the project: Flickr: 100 Strangers
100 Strangers Project
enjoying the sun 92/100 by xtarsy, on Flickr
Take at least 100 photographs of 100 people you don't know. Approach anyone or a group of people, ask for permission to both take a photo of them Get to know your stranger/s. Who are they? What is their life like?
Step out of your comfort zone and into a new level of portrait photography. Start by taking 100 portraits of people you don't know, total strangers. We welcome both beginner and advanced photographers. You may be new to photographing strangers or already have experience with this type of photography. Regardless, everyone is encouraged to take up the challenge.
The project is quite enjoyable and will definitely improve your photojournalistic skills. During the process you might just gain a new appreciation for those around you and enrich your everyday experience . You may even gain a few new friends along the way.
As you progress with the project it will be critical to share your experiences. This may be a story about the stranger you just met or how you felt making the approach. You may have, for example, tried a new approach, used a new photographic technique or equipment. You are learning by doing, so share with us what you’ve learnt while taking on the 100 Stranger project.
The 100 strangers project is completely different than other projects out there like the 365days challenge and the 52weeks project. In this project you will be forced to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself not only by taking portraits but also in learning how to communicate and interact with complete strangers. This project offers a great stepping stone in understanding more about how other people think and most importantly how you perceive the people around you.
Here are some quotes from people I know who have done this project and what kind of impact it has had on their lives:
The beauty of this project is that forces you out of your learned behaviours and pre-conceived thinking which make us withdraw from human interaction and connection.
In a world where almost everyone is too busy to stop and talk face to face and prefer communicating through some sort of electronic device, this project creates the ideal set of circumstances to breakdown these barriers.
Personally I have definitely changed as a person. My wife is constantly pointing out the positive differences in me over the last year of doing the project. I've met some amazing people and become friends with some which has enriched my world.
My outlook on society has been challenged and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. ~ gtpeteHow to get started: How do people react?Of all the things i have done since picking up a camera this project has had the most impact on me. I have always been a people watcher and I knew that my photography would always have a human content, I'm not interested in photographing flowers or landscapes much. 100 Strangers has helped me to look at things more closely from the people I shoot to the editing I choose including techniques and who to leave out.
The real impact for me however is that the project has helped me re-connect with people in everyday life. After spending a number of years working in a customer facing sales role my view of people had become sour and judgemental. I had began to dislike, distrust people and to be brutally honest become depressed. I am not claiming that this project has cured me but it has forced me to re-connect with people and more importantly it has helped me like people again. A number of my strangers I now count as friends and in general the people I have met have been fantastic. I have met a wide variety of people doing this project from cage fighters to pensioners and models to homeless people.
I don't understand why anyone interested in photography. Would not want to take part in this. I do understand the difficulty in approaching strangers but the rewards on all levels are worth it. ~ digitaldorman
It is one of the hardest things to do. To just approach a simple stranger, a person who you have never seen in your life and ask him if you can ask him.
At the beginning you will feel nervous you won't know what to ask and you will a lot of second thoughts concerning the project.
Be friendly, smile and be polite. Be up front and explain that you are taking part in a photography project. Once the person agrees I normally compliment them on whatever aspect of their face/personality has drawn me to them. I also explain that I am trying to get a cross section of people. If someone does not want to have their image taken simply thank them for stopping and move on to the next person. I keep cards in my pocket with my contact details on and often have my set pre-loaded on my phone to show people what I am doing.
people will think the following;
What is it for?
Where will the image go?
Is there a charge for this?
So be prepared and answer honestly. You want their image and they don't wan't to look like a fool so sell yourself and the aim of the project and have fun with it. The more you do the less you will feel like a pest. I now expect people to say yes when I ask them and if they are unsure i handle their objections and chat with them in a relaxed and polite way. This project is about interaction as much as photography.
How to overcome my fear
This is one of the most common questions I get and no matter how you answer it, it will not make your fear go away. Everyone who started the project had the same problems.
It is important to understand what makes you scared and realise that the fear is irrational. It could be that you are scared of rejection or maybe scared of what people around you might think of you.
The disappointment you feel at not approaching someone today is about a thousand times worse than the feeling of approaching someone and being told no. It may not seem like it before you take that step, but it is. Believe it or not, you'll feel a great sense of satisfaction in just having asked, even if you're turned down (at least that's my experience).
Look for someone that you find interesting who has put himself or herself in a position to be approached (vendor, busker, charity solicitor and so on), say hello and make your pitch: "Can I take your picture, I'm working on a project taking portraits of strangers and I like ... (your look, your hat, your beard, tatts, the people at this event, the people in this neighborhood, whatever) ..." Be polite, be direct, I usually have my camera over my shoulder and visible. I learned early in my project to ask to make a portrait early in my pitch so that the subject was not left wondering what I was up to, rather than start with a long explanation of Flickr and the 100 Strangers project before asking to make the photo. Relax and don't rush - something I'm still working on. There is plenty of time to explain the project as you make the portrait. You'll be surprised how often people say yes, and the ones who say no will most likely be nice about it "no thanks ..." or something similar. I've never experienced hostility in a rejection.
32 in an other place by xtarsy, on Flickr
I saw her a few streets away pushing her bike and her hair blowing in all directions from the light breeze. I started walking faster trying not to appear like a stalker. Anyway luckily she stopped and started locking up her bicycle against a tree. I made a large detour around her so that she could see me coming, this is something I have also been doing, because my strangers are more prepared when they see me coming. We talked a bit though not long as she had an appointment and was going to visit one of the exhibitions of the art basel. So I did my usual talk to which she agreed to let me take her portrait. She just pushed all her hair out of her face when the wind came back with a revenge and messed it all up again. It created a great effect and took the shot telling her it looked so much better and natural with her hair covering her face partially.
With a smile on her lips she thanked me and we both parted.
I am getting more and more rejections lately, but it isn't bad. The reason is because I am really pushing my boundaries asking people who are in a hurry or are in a situation where taking a portrait might not be convenient.
33 it just happens by xtarsy, on Flickr
Very pleasant encounter. From this encounter i learnt a very important lesson. As soon as you see a subject go for it without second thoughts. There were to this day much to many occasions where I let a great subject slip by because I hesitated a few seconds too long.
I was walking down the street and I had just photographed my last stranger when I saw this glimpse of blue across the road. I didn't leave myself any time to think but just dashed over the street, luckily it wasn't a busy day. Out of breath I approached him and his wife and asked if I could take a portrait of him because he had so much style. With a radiant smile he just said yes so I took the shots before I even had to explain what the project was about. After I took several shots I then explained what the project was about.
He and his wife were at the Art Basel in Basel and were delighted to tell me about it.
We then said our goodbyes and both of them thanked me for making their day by asking for their portrait.
I saw then an hour later at the tram stop and we talked a little bit more.
This is one of my favourite portrait that I made from the personality to the style. I have no problem anymore approaching those people that I believe have a great character and personality. It is funny because at the beginning of my first project I always tried to approach easy subjects people whom I believe will just say yes because they don't have anything better to do.
The changes I have experienced during the project are beyond my wildest expectations. At the beginning there were a lot of thoughts that collided with starting the project. I was wondering what people would think of me, that i was socially not acceptable to go around the town galavanting and taking portraits of people, and many other negative connotations.
All of these things were holding me back from really doing what fascinated me... taking portraits. It took a great amount of courage to go out in the street one afternoon after I was browsin the 100 strangers flickr project gallery and go ask my first stranger for a picture.
A lot of thoughts were going through my head at the time: "What the hell are you doing?"
"No one will even agree to have their portrait taken"
"You will look stupid if the person says no"
"People will think you are strange"
... and many more thoughts. But nonetheless I still managed to gather up the needed courage to ask my first stranger for a portrait, and to my astonishement she didn't run away but agreed. Yes!
From that point on it has been an epic trip with great encounters and experiences I will not likely forget.
How did the project change me?
I will highlight the aspects in my life that have improved since I started the project.
- I am much more social, and start talking with complete strangers with no reason at all. Just because it is fun.
- I judge people less for their appearance and more for what they say.
- I have a deeper understanding of how people think.
- I learnt a powerful lesson. "The feeling of missing an opportunity is worse than a stranger saying no to a portrait"
I just got my mini cards from moo for my 100 strangers project and thought i might share them.
100 strangers Moo Cards by xtarsy, on Flickr