I started my 100 strangers project as a means to improve my portrait photography and, more importantly, because I thought it was cool. Inspired by award winning photographers like Steve McCurry and newer photographers such as Danny Santos who did his own stranger project, I decided to have a go myself. I mean how difficult could it be to ask a random person for their photograph. It should be easy right?
Well, not for me. I didn’t want to take just average snapshots but to make portraits of people that revealed something about that person. And it took time for me complete the project, over 2 years in fact. This was partly due to having the free time but also because I was patient and wanted to learn.
I found and joined the best group on flickr, 100 Strangers, and got out there and started to make street portraits. Having completed the project, I wanted to share some tips and thoughts on it. I originally envisaged one post of tips, but when I started putting the metaphorical pen to paper, I realised that there many considerations which go into making a portrait. I have therefore opted to split this up into a number of posts so that I can give each section the attention it deserves. For this post I will concentrate on getting started and some tips on gear.
Like Nike says, Just do it.
For some people asking a random person for a picture is easy and for some it’s difficult. Either way you will find out quickly that it’s exciting, exhilarating and gets the heart pumping. As soon as I had had my first successful stranger interaction, I knew that it would be addictive and I would be completing the project come what may.
I will go into more detail about approaching strangers in the next post but for now all I will say is “What are you waiting for? Get out there and start shooting!” When you first start there is a danger that you might overthink it. It’s probably best to just concentrate on getting used to asking strangers to begin with. There are so many elements to taking a photo and if you concern yourself too much about this you may never get started. Better to just bite the bullet and get going, you can then concentrate on improving one thing at a time.
What do you need to make stranger portraits? When it comes to camera equipment and gear I will focus on just the essentials in this post. You can have as much or as little as you want, but when getting started, I believe that you don’t want to worry too much all the different gear as this could bog you down. The key for me when it comes to gear and street portraits is portability.
All you really need is a camera
With that in mind all you really need is a camera. “Is that it?” I hear you ask. Well almost. Whilst any camera will do to make portraits, investing in a good camera (like a DSLR or mirrorless camera) and a portrait lens with a wide aperture will really take your portraits to the next level. This will ensure that you can create a shallow depth of field that will make your subject pop. I personally started with the entry level Nikon D3100 and a borrowed 35mm 1.8 lens before buying a cheap 50mm 1.8 lens. The combined cost of this was less than £500 when I bought it and you could get something equivalent for even less now.
But a reflector helps too
Having said that, one other piece of equipment that really helps is a reflector. You can use a reflector to shape and direct the light falling on your subjects, make your subject pop from the background, and make the eyes sparkle by adding some pleasing catchlights to them.
As you are most likely to be doing headshots they do not need to be big. A quick search in Amazon will give a variety of options. Lastolite do some great reflectors of all sizes but you can also get much cheaper and equally good ones from other suppliers.
I didn’t start with a reflector straight away but as soon as I did, there was a big jump up in the quality of my portrait photography.
Gotta bag it up
The final thing you need is a bag to carry it all in. As you can see the get up is very light and therefore the bag doesn’t need to be big. That way if you want you can always have it on you and if you find that perfect stranger you will be ready.
GO OUT AND HAVE FUN
So there you have it, a quick piece on starting out and the equipment you need to get going. In the next piece I will go into further detail on finding and approaching your stranger. In the meantime, if you have any questions please feel free to ask me any questions on in the comments below. Please share your own stories and tips on getting started and let us know what you think is the essential gear for street portraits...