It's Week #28: Portrait of a Stranger

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Week 28: Portrait of a Stranger


Photo by: Candi Campbell –  Week 33: Portrait of a Stranger (2016)

Photographing a stranger is probably one of the most nerve-wracking (well, at least for me it is)…but also one of the most rewarding experiences of a photographer. By nature, we photographers are often introverts. Observing life around us is much more comfortable from behind the camera.

But think about it for a minute… You, as a photographer, have this amazing power to show the rest of the world the beautiful but often hidden qualities of the world around us. And, what’s more, beautiful than our fellow human beings around us, passing by on the street. All you have to do is gather the courage to ask a stranger if you could take their photo, and you can bring to life amazing emotions and diversity of everyday human life.

Listen. If you are like me, and your palms start to sweat just thinking about this challenge, then just trust me: You can do it. Just try it. Go up to a person and explain 52Frames to them and about the challenge and how about you are soooo nervous about it. They’ll love it and appreciate your honesty. Worst case scenario is they decline, and you ask someone else.

So be brave creative Framers! Go out and connect with an absolute stranger and then show us and the world the power of the human bond in your masterpiece.

Tips and Tuts for this week:


  • Ask someone if you could take their photo – Yes, don’t overthink it. Walk up to someone and simply ask them if you can take their photo. There’s no magical formula of the perfect combination of words, and in general you will find that strangers are very friendly people. Talk about this project, mention their hat/mustache/shirt/eyes were just so cool/pretty/interesting that you wanted to take their photo.
  • Ask the next 3 people you pass by – sometimes setting a mini challenge will help you focus. Another is trying to get 5 “no’s”. Not as easy as you would think.
  • Phone-a-friend –  Take a friend, spouse, child, fellow photographer or maybe even the dog with you. They can either help you to initiate that first interaction with the stranger or act as encouraging cheerleaders.
  • Compose first – Find an interesting background. Maybe you can scout a spot with excellent light as well…now you just have to wait for an accommodating stranger. Or, ask if they would mind to walk to a more suitable location (strangers are often more helpful than we think would be.)
  • Mind your background – Take care that no building, tree or lamp pole “grow’ out of their heads (when something is directly behind/above your subject).
    A shady background usually provides soft and even lighting and will prevent squinty eyes, even during the middle of the day.
  • Prep your settings – Take a few test shots first and make the necessary adjustments to get the look you want. This way your subjects don’t have to wait too long for you to get the perfect shot, you can just pick up your camera and shoot.
  • Be cool Honey Bunny – Don’t be so nervous that you forget your composition rules! Make sure the subject’s face and more specifically, the eyes, are in focus. The eyes should ALWAYS be in focus! Place the subject’s eyes around the “upper third line” for a stronger impact. Be aware of “floating head” where only the face is in the frame. When you include part of the shoulders in a shot, you ground your subject better in the frame and also provide enough headspace.
  • Bring business cards – A nice thing to do is give your stranger your business card, so they can contact you to get a copy of their photo. Alternatively, you can write down their contact info and send them the photo once you’ve edited it.
  • Internets – Brandon Stanton of HONY (Humans of New York) arguably does it best. Check out this great video of him explaining how he approaches strangers. Other articles can be found herehere, and here.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out our “Portrait of a Stranger” albums from 2016 and “Street Photography” from 2015! And of course, The Googles! Oh you sweet Googles. 


Extra Credit: Volunteer!

For some extra credit joojoo, get your photo through a volunteering experience. This can be volunteering at a soup kitchen, a visit to a nursing home, or helping out at your local house of worship, etc.. This challenge is inspired by Amber, a fellow Framer who went out last year and got her “stranger portrait” photo by sitting and speaking with a group of homeless people in a park in her neighborhood. Amber then came back with a wagon full of coats and blankets for them. She originally just wanted a photo, but ended up getting so much more from the experience, and has since returned numerous times to sit and talk with this group of people.

**Please be careful if you are approaching strangers in difficult situations, as you never know what state they may be in. Take caution, and make sure you are with a capable friend, animal, or otherwise if you are venturing into unknown territory.

Check out The Googles for more inspiration!



Remember, it is not necessary to keep this Extra Credit challenge in mind while shooting. It’s extra credit!
*Please note!! You can only submit ONE photo per week, for the week’s challenge. This photo can include the “Extra Credit” part of the challenge, or the “regular” challenge, but you can never submit more than one photo!

Past Challenges 2016

Past Challenges - 2015