40 Strangers

40 Strangers

One of my objectives at the Jay Maisel workshop was to shoot people…lots of them.    I stopped lots of people on the street everyday and shot their portrait and heard their stories.   I have posted a lot on here about photographing people and someone always says ‘it is easy for you, you live in Japan, people are more accepting…and if you lived in the US…’.   I didn’t have any context as I hadn’t really shot people in the US so I couldn’t say a lot.   I couldn’t imagine it was really that different in the US but I really wanted to test this theory while I was there.  I shot a lot of people when I was in Boston but really wanted to push it while in New York City.

After my week in New York City I have to say it is all about the approach.   If you try to shoot from afar or if you are uncomfortable they will be.   If you just walk up and put your camera in their face you probably won’t get a great reaction.   I found the direct and honest approach to work for me.   My typical approach was to walk up to them with a big smile and say ‘Hi, I’m Dave and I’m taking a photography workshop and you have a [great look] [cool glasses] [great style] do you mind if I take your photograph?’  At the same time I would hand them my card and say ‘I’m pretty good, if you drop me an email I am more than happy to send along a copy of the photo to you’.  Usually people would say ‘sure, what do you want me to do?’ or ‘how do you want me to pose’.   I didn’t keep track but probably 9.5 out of 10 people said sure.   A lot of people were genuinely happy that I found them interesting.   Many photographers won’t approach someone out of the fear of rejection.  I assure you the rejection rate is significantly lower than you might be thinking.

Now that you have stopped someone, now what?   A lot of people will rush to take a photograph as to not bother the person.  It’s best to make sure you are calm and just focus on getting a good picture of the person.  If it takes 60 or 90 seconds it isn’t a big deal.  You have already stopped them.   They already agreed to let you take their photo.  Now your job is to give them a great photo they will want to show their family and friends.

I stopped about 100 people or so on the street…here are my favorite 40 strangers…

If you like what you saw today…please click one of the icons below to share it with your friends.


  • http://www.ek1studio.com Romer

    I like your post Dave! (as i do with your other posts). I do have this fear right now. Every time I go out with my camera, I do find interesting people. The problem is I couldnt take their photo because Im afraid to ask. Maybe someday I will have that courage to ask and if I get over my first try, maybe the next one wont be that difficult. great post, i will keep following you!

  • Chris

    Great work, love them all!

  • Jack

    Hi Dave. Just wondering how you keep track of which picture belongs to who if they email you for their photo? Do you keep track of the frame number you shot and write down the name of the person somewhere else?

    Love your photos and your blog!

  • Colin

    Nice, this is something I have been keen to try as well. My question is same as above on how do you keep track of image to person and in addition what about getting releases to show/publish their photos?

  • http://my2ndheartbeat.wordpress.com DAP

    GREAT WORK! Beautiful!!

  • http://sherryxie.wordpress.com Sherry

    I have problem asking people like that; guess I’ll need to practice that some day. :(
    I find it interesting that most of people do not smile in the shots.

  • http://foxdroppings.com David Fox

    Wonderful array, Dave. EVERY shot has drawing, enchanting, appeal.

  • http://celesta.smugmug.com Celesta

    Wow… A real wow! :) So great. These people are all beautiful in their own way. Great job!

  • Dave

    Thanks Celesta and David… Sherry Thanks. I asked a lot of them to not smile and just look at me or give a dead pan stare. A lot people jump into big birthday smile when you go to take their photo.

  • Dave

    Colin – I just tell them to send me a reminder about who they are when they email me. People are usually descriptive enough I can figure it out. I don’t need releases to publish on my blog. You need them if you are going to use the images to sell something.

  • Arefti


  • Mart

    Nice collection Dave!
    I really like how you used the backgrounds and bokeh add more texture to what would otherwise be a run of the mill portrait.
    Great work!

  • Rick

    Great work, thank you for showing!
    Why are none of the images in the vertical format?

  • joanlvh

    I like these 40 pictures and really enjoyed your description and photos from the Jay M workshop. now that is something I do not have the courage to do, take a class from a super master!

    I received a Shoot Tokyo shirt, it is great and part of the thrill is the envelope with all the Japanese writing and signage. thanks

  • Dave

    Thanks Mart. I was trying to balance bohek but using a smaller aperture than I normally do.

  • Dave

    It’s a bad habit of mine Rick…I need to do both vertical and horizontal.

  • http://vide-greniers.over-blog.net/ franck

    vraiment très jolie +10 :)

  • Bob W

    I really liked all of the pictures. Particularly the one of the two girls wearing sunglasses.

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  • http://Seattlesteve.me Steve

    Great collection. Walking up to strangers and asking for a portrait can be tough sometimes. I like the idea of not shooting in a rushed manner and possibly walking away with a poorly framed or focused shot. I need to give this method a try.

  • Warren

    Great portraits, Dave. Do you use the same approach with Japanese people and are you equally successful in getting them to pose? From other great photos of people scattered around the site, I’d assume you do, but are there differences in the way you approach them?

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com Dave

    Steve – It took me a while to get the courage and confidence but I can get pretty good portraits now. One trick is preset your settings/exposure so what you need to worry about is background, focus, etc. My $10 Headshots Project really helped me with portraits as well. I should do a post on stopping people and taking headshots.

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com Dave

    Warren – I actually do. I take a very friendly ‘do you mind if I take your photo’ approach and it seems to work for me. With Japanese people you often have to ask them to put down the ‘peace’ sign as it seems to be an involuntary reaction to the question ‘can I take your photo’? I actually did this 40 Strangers post as everyone said you can only take photos like you do because your in Tokyo. That will never work in . I have done in now in about every city I have traveled to and never had a problem. I think approach has 99% to do with it.

  • Fabrizio COCCHIANO

    Hey Dave! Really loved the serie and particularly enjoyed the variety of your subjects.
    Gear question: all of your images are perfectly exposed…was this all natural light? Did you use reflectors?

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com Dave

    Thanks Fabrizio – I don’t use reflectors or anything other than my camera. I try to make sure people are not in mixed light and that they are facing the light to fill they face’s shadows with light. I am not shy about moving a subject around to make sure I am getting the best exposure.

  • Eddie

    Hi Dave. Awesome! I really like the diversity of people. Just a quick question. When shooting portraits, do you prefer landscape orientation, and why?

  • Rosa

    Great work !
    Did you know that the gentleman in photo # 15 is G. Bruce Boyer , former fashion editor for GQ and Esquire ?
    Which lens did you use ?

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com Dave

    Rosa – I didn’t know that. Thanks for letting me know. I just stopped him in NYC and took his photo. I used my 50mm Noctilux.

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