Back in 2008, I started a personal project called 100 Strangers. There used to be a website about this project, but it doesn’t seem to be around anymore.
Anyway, the goal was to photograph 100 Strangers – people you just met on the street, workers that came to your house, new people. The goal was to take you out of our comfort zone and engage with people.
When I started, I gave myself a few elements for my portraits:
- They had to be in B&W
- I’d put a white frame around them for consistency (though as you can see from the ones posted here, that element evolved a bit.
- I’d have to learn a little bit about my subject – not a snap from far away or just a hasty photo.
One lunchtime I was in New Brunswick and came up Agatha and her friend having a smoke break outside a building. I had been considering this project but was nervous: Once I started, I’d be all in – couldn’t quit it. I didn’t know how hard or how easy it would be be.
Anyway, I remember I had my “Nifty Fifty” lens on my Canon 20D and was just out photowalking. I got to chatting with Agatha and her friend, and the project came up, since it was on my mind. I asked them both to do portraits and away we went.
I stuck pretty well to this formula. I’d have my good streaks and down streaks, but made portraits of people all over the world.
I was thinking about this recently because of a Facebook friend I have, Tom Darin Liskey. Tom’s a renaissance man: Writer (he spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil and has had his fiction and poetry published in a number of places), photographer, speaker, family man. He lives in Texas now. I can’t quite remember who or why we became FB friends, though I think it’s because all the other writer friends I have led me to him.
Anyway, while his writing is sharp, his photography is beautiful. He has a number of spiritual-related projects he’s working on, and also photographs many people he meets a long the way.
It was in one of those posts that I mentioned 100 strangers. He wasn’t familiar with that project, which is why I looked for the website again. Tom is doing 100 Strangers without knowing he’s doing it. He’s out there meeting people, and taking some beautiful environmental portraits of them.
He has a fantastic touch with color and, though shooting on the street, keeps his backgrounds free of distractions. A “clean” background as I like to say.
It’s not easy walking up to a someone you don’t know, engaging them in conversation and getting them comfortable in a short period of time to be able to take a nice portrait of them. I know this project definitely helped me with taking portraits.
Tom is multi-lingual and multi-cultural and I believe that helps him with his portrait taking. I’m assuming he as a gentle personality, too. Someone with a big huge personality may be great in the studio, but it may be a bit too much out on the street (though, I guess, yes, you can’t be passive when doing stranger portraits. You’ll never get any.)
Tom already has a nice way with people, a way to get them comfortable quickly and get nice images. Check out his work and enjoy it. Follow his work on Instagram.
And, with 2018 coming up, perhaps you are considering some photography-related goal-setting. I say, consider a 100 Strangers project to take you out of your comfort zone and get better at photographing people. You don’t have to set a time limit to be done by – heck it took me a few years to get up the courage to ask 100 people for a portrait. But try it. You may like it. And I’m sure it’ll make you a better photographer.
If you’re already doing (or did) a 100 Strangers, let me know in the comment about it. Was it hard for you? Did it help you? What other photo projects (A 365 project, a 52 week project, etc) do you think it would be good for people to consider to stay on track, motivated and inspired? I’d love to hear about them.
© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2017