People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log


Photographing Strangers, Lessons Learned

Unrelated to the People & Place course, I made a new year’s resolution to complete a photographic challenge known as ‘100 Strangers‘. The idea is self-explanatory and more detail is on the linked page, but the important thing about the challenge is that it is a learning project – to help people develop their photographic and social skills by shooting portraits of strangers – rather than a race to collect 100 faces.

I’m currently way behind my own target to finish it this year so I guess it will continue in 2015. I decided when I started the People Aware section of P&P that I should summarise what I’ve learned so far on the challenge, and had in my head that I’d do that at 10 Strangers, a nice round number. Well, I’m approaching the end of People Aware and stuck on 9, so I’ll have to ignore my OCD tendencies and write about the first 9% of my progress :-/

Part of the challenge is about developing the social skills i.e. the bravery to ask people if you can take their photograph! I’m still developing on that score, and won’t write about it here. Instead I want to concentrate more on the photographic lessons that I have learned so far.

Strangers 1-9


  1. Settings all wrong! ISO too high for the light, focal length too wide, aperture too narrow (f/9) so background not blurred out enough
  2. Background way too messy, I should have moved, or asked her to move slightly
  3. I actually really like this one and find it difficult to come up with what I should have done differently… definitely my favourite so far
  4. Indoors so I really should have used the popup flash… instead I soldiered on with high ISO and tried to keep a steady hand… this was the only salvageable shot and the composition isn’t what I’d have preferred
  5. I liked the light on this, but if I had to change anything it would be (as in 2) the background… could have come up with a backdrop that was either plainer / less distracting or more deliberately attractive
  6. Once again I could have positioned myself or her better re the background; other than that, I wish I’d rattled off a few more shots to give me a greater choice of final image (burst mode!)
  7. Again (familiar refrain) I didn’t check my settings first, and should have opened up the aperture wider to defocus the background more; also, completely wrong lens and focal length choice – too wide, distorted features
  8. I didn’t think one was too bad… my social skills were lacking in this one, as I incorrectly identified him as Australian (he’s from Essex) so my banter was a little awkward after that!
  9. I shot this in midday sunlight, and it didn’t occur to me at the time that I should totally have used fill-in flash!

 Learning summary

The first 8 of the 9 pre-date my People & Place studies, so I hope you’ll forgive my technical blunders. The main takeaways from analysing this lot are:

  • Check exposure settings! ISO and aperture in particular
  • The right lens for the job wherever possible
  • Check the background and recompose when needed
  • Fill-in flash for sunny days

Onwards and upwards to the next 91…!