I have been busy on my 100 Strangers photography project. Those La Cueva Snowqueens kickstarted it, and I’m already 1/5th of the way into the endeavor. I’m hooked. For now, I have decided to slide my strangers into the blog feed, in addition to carving out a page placement that can be linked to at the top of our blog menu, between the HOME and ABOUT sections. You can read more about it here. You can jump ahead and see everyone I’ve snapped so far, here.Why am I doing this? 100 Strangers is forcing me to improve my portraiture skills. I don’t need help in building rapport with strangers. That’s the easy part for me. The area where I expect to grow most is in setting up and making the right shot, and most importantly, providing direction to the subject. While it is one thing to catch amazingly candid sights observed on the street, it is another thing to ask for permission and make the image happen with a modicum of intervention, all without the portrait looking pretentious.
Some of you reading this will have started or finished such a project as this. You may have drawn a line in the sand about whether or not these stranger subjects should smile, and beyond that: bare their teeth.
Let’s get this out in the open right now: it takes genuine skill to get a complete stranger to warm up, be relaxed and smile without forcing it. Some photographers have all the technique in the world yet they have personalities like cardboard. The subjects may also give them a cardboard expression in return.
I’m happy if a stranger in front of my camera feels comfortable enough to release a naturally occurring smile. Just as I will accept it if the stranger wishes not to look directly into my camera. As a photographer, you have to respect that individual on the other side of the lens.
Yes, the drawback to capturing a smile is that the subject’s eyes do narrow. On the other hand when a person smiles, it’s also possible to enjoy some character lines around the mouth and eyes. A closed mouth with an upwards expression, like I captured with Russell, is probably the happy medium. And of course, “in between” shots can provide some magical image making, too.
This picture is 6/100 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page. Stay here for his story:
Russell is from Kansas City. He drove in to Albuquerque to spend the weekend visiting family. I met him before the start of his grandson’s soccer match. We were both standing on the sidelines while the players’ cleats were being inspected by the referee; before the coin toss. He complimented me on my sun-hat. I replied that I, too, liked his cap, and his distinguished moustache. With our mutual admiration established, chatting was easy and we learned that my son and his grandson were teammates.
I explained how I was at the beginning of a photographic challenge to meet and capture the portraits of 100 strangers. Would Russell like to be my sixth? He agreed immediately.
A note about the light situation: we were outside in cloudless weather during the noon hour; the match began at 12:30 PM. With harsh, high-contrast overhead daylight hours in New Mexico, I usually move my exposures to the left of the metered center, from 1/3 to a full stop. It helps deepen light colors and avoid a total wash out of highlighted areas. Many people will tell you to avoid shooting in this hour. I just roll with it if I can’t control an event schedule. There were no trees or shade structures to provide us with filtered light or shade. A light diffuser/screen would have been handy for portraits, though I didn’t have one. What I did have is an external flash to act as a light modifier. I am relatively new to use of fiil-flash, but enjoy use of this tool in my photographic repertoire.
For spectator duty, Russell was carrying a portable camping-typed chair. He had it slung over his shoulder. The arm, which crossed his chest to hold the chair, covered a royal blue T-shirt which read, “Proud to be an Air Force Dad.”
I made a total of 4 shots. First, was an image without flash. Russell’s cap brim gave off too many dark shadows over his face. So next I went to my external flash to fill in the cap shadow. Russell was wearing eyeglasses so I made an additional shot to manage the glare on his lenses. I accomplished that by changing my own position slightly. Finally, I shot again when it seemed the elements had come together.
In the glare of the afternoon sun, which I have already mentioned, the view of my LCD panel on the rear of my camera was hard to read. Back on my home computer screen the best shot was also one that rendered some of his chin whiskers slightly washed out. I was annoyed by this, but still proud of my final result.
As we finished the session, he introduced me to a niece who was standing on the sidelines. The game was about to begin, and he had just enough time to explain why he had posed for me. Russell said, “I’m going to have my face on the internet. Isn’t that exciting?”
I sent him an email with an attachment of the final photo, in high resolution for him to print it out. I gave him links to find the file, too. I never did hear back from him via email. It was charming to make his acquaintance.