Saturday, 8 September 2012

2 Rules, 51 Faces, 16 Months and 2 Cities.

As some of you may have (but probably have not) noticed, this last week saw me passing the midway point of my 100 Strangers project - so it seems like a good point to go back and look at what I've done so far. Over the last 16 months I have spoken to more strangers than I probably ever expected to in my whole life, and each has been interesting in their own way - at least enough for me to want to get a photo, and sometimes enough to hold onto me for hours in conversation. In this post, I intend (but could well go off topic) to have a look at some of my favourites so far... whether that be due to the background story (for example, one anonymous stranger who I found out only had months to live), the quality of photo, the beauty/masculinity of the subject or anything else that makes them stand out to me. I should probably also point out that if you are one of my strangers and don't feature here - I actually like all of my photos, but couldn't put them all in the post!

A good place to start, would probably be with my first ever stranger... which I look back at now and wonder what on earth I was thinking, camera-wise (eyes underexposed, poor vignette added...), but I had to start learning somewhere...

Canon 450D, 17-85mm @ 85mm, f/4
I remember how I had walked past a number of people before my first stranger, all who I would have liked to photograph but never dared - so in the end I had kind of decided I would photo the next person I saw who didn't look too busy... turned out it was a good one. Whilst I'm not quite as nervous as I was back then anymore, it is still pretty close - although it is the mixture of nerves and excitement before (and hopefully after) which makes it so fun. The 1 in 10 or so who turn me down or completely ignore my advances are more than compensated for by the many nice folk who let me follow through with my somewhat odd request.

So, moving on... 

No.6 - Canon 450D, 50mm @ f/2.8
No.11 - Canon 450D, 50mm 1.8 prime @ f/2.8
These two were some of the first photographs I was truly happy with. The focus, depth of field and skin/beard texture are everything I had been aiming for from the outset - all of which were helped immensely by my purchase of the 50mm 1.8 lens, which is by far my most cost effective lens in terms of hours of use versus the tiny £90 cost. No.6 was a specific favourite as he is probably one of the 'coolest' people I've met - very manly and managing to pull off that amazing hat.

No.15 - Canon 450D, 50mm @ f/2.8
No 15, above, was and still is one of my favourite photos for similar reasons to No.11 (minus the beard!). This was my second stranger after moving to Sheffield and it was after this that I definitely felt my portraits were improving - which was one of the main motivating factors behind doing this project. I was paying much more attention to light, what buildings would reflect where, what might be distracting in the background etc... obviously, as you'll probably see in later photos, most of these factors are often out of my control as I'd much rather get a stranger that stands out in poorer conditions than miss them altogether. But always good keeping these in mind and knowing when to just turn a stranger on the spot.

No.21 - Canon 450D, 50mm @ 2.8
No.21 is a favourite because he is by far the most friendly man I've met, twice! I first approached him because he looked very stern and imposing, but I couldn't have been more wrong upon speaking to him and we chatted for a good 20 minutes. I have since bumped into him in town again, and again he had loads to talk about and we chatted for another hour - as far as I remember, we talked about everything from physics/cosmology to our mutual atheism, to photography, to the peak district and York - all of which are obviously topics of interest to myself, but he was astoundingly knowledgeable about also. I'm pretty sure he is exactly the person I'll one day turn into.

No.26 - Canon 5D MkII, 24-70 @ 70mm, f/2.8
Finally I went and spent a fortune on my new camera, and again I couldn't be more pleased. From this point on I use a combination of the 50mm 1.8 and the 24-70mm at 70mm, f/2.8 - both of which are equally spectacular lenses. My usual rules, stolen from Danny Santos (I think), are that I ask the strangers not to smile and to look into the camera... although, as usual, there is always a time to break these rules - and this is definitely one of them. I don't think I really need to say why this is a favourite - it kind of speaks for itself.

No.29 - Canon 5D MII, 70mm @ f/2.8
No.29 is again a favourite because, not only does he look very cool, but I am personally pleased with how the photo has come out. This is, again, the type of photo I would aim for them all to be.

No.30 - Canon 5D MkII, 70mm @ f/2.8
No.30 is one of my favourites, purely because of her eyes. I wouldn't want to come across as unprofessional or anything, but I think she has among the most amazing eyes I've ever seen... surely you all agree?

No.35 - Canon 5D MkII, 70mm @ f/2.8
No.35 is, again, a favourite due to being pleased as to how the photo came out. I spotted her a long way off and after one of my bigger chases down the street was very pleased she agreed to it. I have since spoken to this stranger after she added my Facebook Page and I am hoping, at some point, to organise some form of shoot to get more photos of her... which I know she is happy to do - I just need to find some time!

No.42 - Canon 5D MkII, 70mm @ f/2.8
I'm sure you'll all recognise No.42, Xenia, as I have since taken loads of other photos this young lady.
(You should be able to see them all here or you can see a good selection on my Redbubble or 500px accounts.) For any of you who weren't around when this photo was taken, I should probably explain a little about one of the biggest coincidences of my life...
I spotted No.42 wandering around York eating ice cream, and she was kind enough to allow me to interrupt her snack for this photo. As usual, I got back to my computer and uploaded it to my Facebook Page only to find she had already become a fan - so I had a quick check of her profile pics to make sure I was right, this new fan was my stranger and quite unbelievably - I recognised her... from a photo I had seen about  a week earlier on 500px by a London photographer called Lisa Lobanova. So, overall... I spotted a girl from Russia, in York, who a couple of weeks earlier had been in London to be photographed by a photographer I would later come across online and not only come across her picture, but remember it for a week to realise it was my stranger. This alone surely makes the photo worthy of inclusion in my favourites list - and I was very fortunate to meet her and have further opportunities to organise my summer evening shoot with her.

No.50 - Canon 5D MkII, 70mm @ f/2.8
Finally, stranger No.50. This stranger busks in Sheffield by charging whatever you're willing to pay for balloon hats/animals... and I broke two 'rules' to photograph him. Firstly, he is smiling - but that seems more than fitting for his circumstance, and secondly, this is the most sunlight I have ever allowed on a stranger. Until him I have been very strict to only shoot either in the shade or with a good amount of cloud cover in order to make the portraits as soft and even as possible - but again, this stranger was certainly worth the change! Needless to say, I spent the next hour searching for more strangers with a lovely balloon hat on.

Throughout the last year and a half, the things that I have most enjoyed is finding out just how nice, and friendly, most random people in the street are... and I honestly have no idea how I'm going to force myself to stop once I reach 100... although at least I should have at least another year before I really need to worry about that. Which links in nicely to another point, I never realised at first, but it turns out I am much more picky than many of the other people I've spoken to who do this project - I can spend 3 hours in town some days and come back with absolutely nothing, so those who have made it onto the sensor of my camera should realise just how lucky they are...

I hope you all enjoyed this little review, even though they are all photos you've seen before - it certainly seemed an appropriate time to have a quick look over it all.


  1. Love your portraits - every bit as good as your landscapes!

    1. Thank you, you lovely anonymous person - glad you think so!