Project 52, Assignment #2 Photograph a Stranger: and Selina Maitreya Interview

Audio from this past week’s discussion. This is from the Friday afternoon chat.

I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss the upcoming Clarion Call 2011, a free teleseminar for photographers, with the talent and brains behind it, Selina Maitreya. You can listen here on the page if you like, of see the link below for going off to TinDeck to listen there. Please feel free to embed this info into your websites/blogs.

Download it here.

I am honored to be in such great company, and am looking forward to having a terrific amount of information for you all on that day. Mark your calendars and stay tuned. Clicking on the graphic below will take you to the sign up page – and signing up and listening is free. We all are pulling for your success, so take the opportunity to get some great information.

Wednesday evening, January 12, 2011, 6PM PST. We discuss the new assignment, photographing strangers, and review assignment on Vision Statements.

Lighting Essentials LIVE for our UK and European followers will be Friday at Noon MST. Adjust accordingly, but that should be evening for you all.

Information regarding Project 52.
I have been asked if it is too late to join in. No. Join in at any point. Becoming involved and having a great experience with each and every assignment is the point. Learning and progressing is the point. Making photographs, learning about the business and feeling more confident is the point. Not whether you did one thing or another, but that you did it period.

This is the halfway point of the first Project 52 assignment – a vision statement (mission statement). There are a bunch of them already at the Flickr page. Upload yours there for discussion. We start to discuss them this week, with plenty of time for you to adjust and rework it as we move forward.

Remember, the point of this ‘vision statement’ is not something for public consumption – it isn’t a ‘tag line’ or something for your business, it is for you. A way of pulling your vision from your heart and mind and giving it a dimension. It is what drives the consistency of your work.

Of course we all want to make good, even great, pictures. And we want to be rewarded. We also want to make photographs that work for us on a personal, aesthetic plane. Images that mean something to us.

Here’s mine: “I make photographs that reveal the moments between, with an emotional and graphical environmental experience.”

Does that mean I won’t take photographs of food? Or cars? Nope… love to, but they are the wonderful ancillary to the work I want to do and be known for. And that little sentence, that little vision statement, drives so much of my work. Some examples below.

On to the Project 52, Assignment #2

Assignment #2:
Photograph a Stranger.


  • The person should be unknown to you.
  • It can be a street portrait, studio portrait or environmental portrait.
  • The portrait should be simply lit.
  • Tell us a little bit about the person – through the image and the caption.
  • Tell us how you approached and worked with the subject(s) for the project.

Photographing someone you don’t know can be a scary proposition for many of us. I am fairly shy, or at least not that comfortable with walking up to someone and striking up a conversation. I usually will not do that.

UNLESS… I have my camera around my neck or in my hand. When I am ‘a photographer’ I can easily and without hesitation walk up to people and ask to make their picture. I do it a lot, actually.

You see, the camera gives me cover. The camera makes it about the photograph, not me. The camera is both a shield and a passport to meeting people.

In the photograph that is the cover shot of this post, I saw this guy sitting on the cold pier with his 6-pack and I walked right over to him. I smiled and introduced myself, told him I liked his beard and his lunch and asked if I could make a few photographs. He smiled and agreed and I brought some lights over and set them up.

All the while we were chatting about the weather and how it had affected the fishing that week. He told us about having three boats sink under him and how he had great respect for the sea.

I got my shots, and met a very cool guy. It also gave me an idea for a project we are doing at the end of this year.

Here are some links and videos to get your imaginations going. (Oh, and to that little voice that holds you back from walking up to someone you don’t know… tell that little voice to go away, you are a photographer and this must be done. Period.)

Here is Lee Friedlander’s wonderful book: America by Car:

There are many portraits of strangers interspersed with the shots from his car.

Watch Mark Cohen at work:

Not my style at all, but he gets some pretty interesting photographs. If this kind of portraiture appeals to you, here is how Mark does it.

Here are two videos of Joel Meyorowitz:

This photographer set out to do 100 photographs of strangers:

Photographer Zack Arias talks about photographing strangers on this post.

One of my favorite photographers is Eliott Erwitt. See his work here. Lots of photographs of strangers with a very humanistic and humorous approach.

Here are some wonderful portfolios and videos by photographers shooting portraits of strangers.
Dawoud Bey
David Eustace
Richard Rinaldi
Sylvia Plachy

One more for this post… more to come this week.

Robert Frank photographed the people he met… strangers. His book, “The Americans” was a landmark collection of photography and he influenced countless photographers in the ‘street’ photography genre. Here is a link to his images and this is the book to add to you collection of important photographic books.

Discussion in the comments. Hold the posts of images till this weekend. I will create a new post on Flickr for them.

Please encourage friends and colleagues to join us for this project. They can join anytime, and take advantage of all the discussions.

Follow me on Twitter and visit my Facebook page and be sure to check out the workshop schedule at Learn to Light.

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  1. 2 questions for you about this. 1) I actually had the chance to do something like this last week at a public event (and even though I’m very outgoing, it’s still hard for me to ask random people if I can take their picture). Can I use one of those photos, or would you prefer something taken during the assignment period? 2) I’m assuming the point of the assignment is to get us to talk to people we don’t know and try to get comfortable with that, so can I assume pictures of strangers taken while they’re in a parade wouldn’t count since I didn’t actually talk to them?

    Thanks for doing this, it’s really been making me think so far.

    • I would prefer you do a new one with the parameters in mind of telling us a bit about the people. I also agree that the parade shots are a little too snapshotish… I want you to interact with the subjects in some fashion. Glad to hear you are on board.

      And yeah, it wasn’t easy for me to walk up to strangers when I first started this. Much easier now (remember, the camera is your ticket in and your shield from disappointment). If someone refuses, they didn’t refuse ‘you’ they refused the camera. Whole different mindset.

  2. There’s an interesting video on street portraiture by Clay Enos that I found on the Strobist blog about a year and a half ago. I haven’t watched it in ages (and can’t watch it again right now since I’m at work…), but the post reminded me of it, and I thought I’d post a link to it here to share (and to remind myself to watch it again later tonight):

    • Thanks Christopher. Good video.

    • Thanks Greg. Good recommendation.

  3. When you say the picture should be simply lit, is artificial lighting a requirement? or is natural light acceptable?

    • Nope. I will only stipulate lighting source on a few shots where it actually matters. I consider all light ‘lighting’. From natural to giantassstrobes, it is light, and we use it in myriad ways.

      That is to say, yes, natural light is totally acceptable.

  4. …and ask for a model release? Asking to take a stranger’s portrait is one step, asking them to sign a model release is yet another….and an aspect of photographing strangers that gets little to no coverage at all. Does anyone here ask for a release? Do you get full name, address, phone number? Email? Do you ask for a commercial/editorial release? I have my subjects sign a release for editorial and my own self-promotional use — and specify no other commerical uses. People seem at ease with that…some people are very wary of signing anything, others specify their real names are not used, some are more than willing to sign anything. I feel like taking them aside and telling them they should be very careful about what they sign (but only after they sign my release!).

    • Does anyone here ask for a release?

      I didn’t usually. I am not interested in stock work. If it is a personal project, I simply don’t bother. I will not be publishing it third party, so not needed.
      However, I am getting releases as much as possible these days. For this project and many others that I do, I am not necessarily asking for a release.

      Do you get full name, address, phone number? Email?

      Yes and Yes. I am using the iPad, iPhone and Android releases from Easy Release.

      It is very very convenient.

      I have my subjects sign a release for editorial and my own self-promotional use — and specify no other commercial uses.

      Ahh. Yep, that is what mine is on my devices – AND the little tablet I keep with me in the camera bag. Editorial / Educational use only and no third-party sales. Very simple release.
      Great minds and all, eh?

      I always tell them what I am doing first, and that I would like them to sign a release for educational use only. They are very amenable to that usually. I probably have less than one in ten turn me down.

      Must be my youthful boyish charm.

  5. Could you put the due date in the assignment description?

  6. Re the weekly video chats on Vokle — are there going to be transcripts, downloadables, YouTube postings or whatnot? I couldn’t watch the 1-12 chat because I was away from my computer, and Vokle isn’t iPad-friendly…

    • Audios for the weekly chats are available the next day (or so) on the page. First one is on the Assignment 1 page.

      The one from last night will be going up sometime today.

      I am only doing audio for the Wednesday chats. Subjecting people to my mug too often causes some seriously terrible twitches and seizures.

  7. Don,

    OK to have my wife used as a lighting assistant?
    Don’t want to get outside the parameters. She helps me with regular work, especially weddings ?

    • Yep.

  8. Okay, so we’ve got the new dedicated Project 52 site… individual per-assignment posts on LE, each with a discussion thread… the Flickr group for posting assignment pics and commentary… plus a Facebook page, Vokle, and I’m not sure what else.

    Not trying to be kvetchy, but this “platform proliferation” honestly has me confused. I’m sure it’s all going to get consolidated and rationalized eventually, but for now…

    — What’s the best place for finding out each new assignment and discussing it, if applicable?
    — What’s the best place for finding out where to see posts for the current assignment?
    — Where should we look for the schedule of Vokle chats?
    — Where should we look to download the audio versions of past chats?

    Sorry if I’m being obtuse — but as P. J. O’Rourke wrote, “Sometimes intelligence is useless until you shine the cold, hard light of stupidity on it.”

    • Forget Facebook for the time being.
      Flickr IS the posting place until further notice (working on a deal with another company).
      The website is the stand alone platform, but the posts will also appear on the LE blog every monday. You can choose one or the other.
      The point of the website is that it is totally devoted to the project and will be a huge legacy document for what we do. The blog has other things going on, and will also have features that are not pertinent to the current assignment.
      All audio that I record will be on both, the LE Blog post page AND the website.

      Consolidation will come, but we are good for now.

  9. Cool! (He says with visions of creative lighting dancing in his head? and a day off tomorrow…)

  10. I’m a bit slow too;). The assignments are typically due on or before each Sunday, and the weekly chats are to critique the previous week’s assignments & discuss the next assignment? What day does this chat fall on, or does that vary?

    If I’m not confused, Week #1 is done, #2 is due before 1/24? I’m just a bit confused on the chat part of it.

    Thank you!

    • Hi and thanks for participating, Paris.

      The assignments have a two week window unless otherwise stipulated (and that will only be a few thrown out as challenges).

      So an assignment given on Monday is due at Midnight, two Sundays from then.

      Chats are during the week and will discuss a little of the current assignment for that week as well as answering any questions about the previous weeks assignment. It kind of overlaps as each assignment has a two week window.

      You will be able to see everything at the site. Audios, videos and assignments are all there.

      Hope that explains it a bit more.

  11. Are the recordings for week 2 available yet? Any idea when they will be? Oh, and the release that was mentioned Friday? Thanks.

    • Yes.

  12. A reminder to tag the photos on flickr might be helpful…

    • Agree. Done.


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