Stranger 12 of 100, The Eyes Have It

I’m a sucker for awesome eyes. Often times it’s the first thing that I notice. It certainly was for this stranger, Stephanie. I mean, look at those eyes.

100 Strangers 12 of 100
Stephanie 12 of 100: ISO 100, 85mm, f2.2, 1/1000 sec

Though I’d never met Stephanie before this, she and my wife are Facebook friends. This was also the first time that my wife had met her in person as well. Traveling through Sacramento we decided to arrange a meetup with her and have some lunch. The moment I first saw her the first thing I noticed was her amazing eyes.

All of that being said, this post is more than a simple 100 Strangers entry. It’s about those eyes, dammit. Without using flash or a reflector getting those eyes can be difficult in full midday sun. In this instance I was lucky enough to have a screened cloth hanging above us acting as a sort of scrim. That combined with the lighter wood floor to help bounce a bit of light up helped it to turn out well.

Use what you got.

100 Strangers 9 of 100 Yana

My 100 Strangers number 9 of 100 is Yana:

9 of 100 Yana

Though Yana isn’t a total stranger, I still classify her as a stranger because I’ve only seen her a few times at a store that my wife and I shop at often. We’ve said hello a few time but nothing really extensive. A few weeks ago when we were at the store I gave her one of my cards, told her about the Stranger Project and asked if she would be interested. She was really quite excited about it, but it really wasn’t the time to do it.

A week or so after I gave her my card she reached out to me via the provided email address and asked if I was still interested in doing photos. “Of course,” I said.

We set up a time to meet at a park nearby and we met up there this morning.

To be honest I was a bit more nervous under these circumstances than had I just been able to take her photo completely impromptu.

Yana is an immigrant from Ukraine and has a couple of young kids She likes to take photos herself and has a nice Canon camera.

“What do you like to photograph?”

“I like taking pictures of flowers and nature,” she said. “That kind of thing.”

We took a few shots in the park and then called it good. She looked at some of them on the back of my camera and asked if we could do some formal photos sometime.

“Absolutely,” I said.

We talked about what that might be like; conceptual things, etc.

I’m rather looking forward to doing a “full blown” photo shoot with her.

I took quite a lot of photos and this is the one that seemed to stick out to me the most.

Thank you, Yana for letting me take some photos of you. I’m looking forward to making some more and no longer being strangers.

Technical stuff:  The sun was still fairly low and I wanted her back to it to be able to get a bit of highlight/rim light on her hair. I had her hold a reflector to throw light onto her face. It would have been best to have a third person hold the reflector at about 45 degrees off to the side and up. I’m not too experienced with using a reflector as I’m more comfortable with off camera flash.


Since I took this photo Yana and I have done two shoots since. Thus far it’s been a good experience as we are both learning; she’s learning how to model and I’m learning how to direct someone who has never modeled before. She’s amazingly photogenic and we’ve done some good stuff. I’m currently working on  a post going over our first two shoots. So stay tuned.

100 Strangers 8 of 100 Carl

100 Strangers 8 of 100 is Carl:

8 of 100 Carl
ISO 200, 85mm, f1.8, 1/160

Previously I posted a Stranger photo of Mariah who works at a local coffee shop that I frequent fairly often. During that encounter she spoke highly of the owners of the coffee shop; the husband and wife who own it. She said that they were “the best.”

Meet Carl, the owner of this coffee shop. Though I’ve spoken with him briefly in the past as he rung up my order I’ve never been able to really sit and talk with him; to get to know him a little bit. Today my son and I sat drinking our lattes and having lunch and Carl walked up to our table and asked how we were doing. At this we began to talk and it turned into a nearly hour long conversation.

Carl is an Army vet who has since retired from service. He spent years in service (exactly how long I didn’t ask). He loves coffee and just over a year ago he and his wife opened up this shop. He’s very active in veterans affairs and he has a program in which he delivers coffee to our troops overseas.

We spoke a bit about politics and the role of our armed forces over the past few years. “We really need to just pull out of the Middle East altogether,” he said. “I mean, what exactly are we doing over there?”
He spoke about the action he saw in Iraq during Gulf War version 1.0 a bit among many other things.

The thing that I took away from our conversation is that Carl is passionate about his family, community and country. Being the son of immigrants I think has shaped much of his perspective regarding life in the USA. My wife is an immigrant and I think that as my son participated in the conversation he was aware of that similarity. In fact as we were driving home my son said as much.

When we were wrapping up the conversation, I asked Carl if he would mind if I took a photo of him. Though I didn’t explain the Stranger Project in detail I told him that I loved taking photos of people that I meet and get to know and post them on social media and tell a little about them.

We happened to be in front of a large window that was letting in absolutely amazing light. I asked him to simply stand positioned at just a slight angle to the window and I moved in such a way as to not have other people in the background.

Technical stuff: Because the light was so amazing I didn’t have to really do much as far as post production is concerned. The big thing was that SOOC, Carl’s eyes were way stark and vivid. I actually brought them down a bit because they were just too much. That’s a first; actually pulling back the eyes a bit.

Also, the more that I use the 85mm and get used to it, the more I love that lens. I took a total of 12 shots and didn’t give him any direction beyond having him turn to the window a bit.

Thanks, Carl for allowing me to take your photo. I’m certain we will see each other again as my family drinks our lattes now that we’ve become so acquainted. I’m looking forward to it.

100 Strangers 7 of 100 NutnFancy

AKA Richard.

ISO 100, 50mm, f2.0, 1/320

Richard’s public moniker is Nutnfancy. He has a YouTube channel called The Nutnfancy Project which he’s been running for years. The channel is a gear review channel in which he reviews various things from backpacks to watches, knives, camping gear and firearms. He’s amassed nearly 750,000 subscribers.

I met him at some protests/counter protests at the State Capitol several days ago. Richard was on the counter protest side of the issue. When I saw him addressing the crowd with his bullhorn I knew that I wanted to ask him for a Stranger photo.

When I went to approach him he was filming the crowd with his camera and I waited for him to take a break then approached him. I held out my hand, introduced myself and told him about what I was wanting to do. He was pretty cautious at first.

“Are you with the media?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just a guy taking pics.”

He still wasn’t quite convinced. “What’s your political stance?” He asked. “Are you pro 2A?”

To the average person it may sound odd that he’s so cautious, but when you’re a somewhat public face like he is I think it’s understandable.

After a few moments I convinced him that I didn’t have an ax to grind and he lightened up a lot. In fact he became very friendly and agreed to let me take some photos.

Again, like the previous photos I took at this event, the background was a real challenge. He understood it, too, as I asked him to move a bit to position him. I finally positioned him so that we were parallel to a wall which seemed to be about as good as it was going to get under the circumstances.

I snapped a few frames; some close up head and shoulders and some further away. I liked this one the best because it encompassed some of the environment and crowd but wasn’t overpowered by it.

After I finished taking the pics we talked for a few short minutes about various things; history, government; high level things like that. I wanted to ask him so much more, but I knew that he was there with his camera, too, and wanted to get back to his work.

Technical stuff: ISO 100, 50mm, f2.0, 1/320.

I knew that his hat was going to be a problem with darkness over his eyes so I exposed as far to the right as possible without the building in the background blowing out (ETTR when shooting raw is your friend in these kinds of circumstances) and then pulled it down just over a stop in post (-1.2 in Lightroom). I took a number of photos with various degrees of ETTR and this one was just perfect. SOOC, it was pretty bright, but I was still able to maintain the details.

Before going out to shoot pics at this event I made the conscious decision to go with my 50mm. Up until I took this pic I was really regretting it as most of the pics I had taken up to this point had been head and shoulders/close up shots. The 50mm is not really a good focal length for that kind of portrait shooting because of the perspective distortion that always has to be contended with at short distances. However, for this shot, the 50mm was near perfect. We were both standing on a ledge and I backed up as far as I could for this frame. If I were using the 85 I wouldn’t have been able to get this half body shot showing his bullhorn.

100 Strangers 6 of 100 The Mighty Beard

ISO 100, 50mm, f3.5, 1/500 

In case you haven’t been able to tell based on my last few uploads, I took a number of Stranger Portraits at some political demonstrations this past week.

I followed this particular march to the State Capitol and I ran ahead to the plaza in front to be able to catch them as they came up the stairs. As the crowd funneled in I came across this guy. I was struck by his impeccable grooming (I mean, look at how tidy this guy’s hair is) and, of course, his mighty beard. I’ve been wanting to photograph someone with an impressive beard. In fact I’ve photographed a number of beards, but none of them really seemed to do it for me. Until this guy.

I approached him and introduced myself and held out my hand. He shook it and told me his name, but I don’t remember it. Generally I always carry a backpack that contains a notepad and pen, but on this occasion I didn’t have it on me. This is probably the first time in a year or longer that I didn’t have it on me. It won’t happen again.

I explained the Stranger Project and he happily agreed to be photographed. After I took a couple of shots I spoke with him a bit about why he was demonstrating. I’m hesitant to get into it because of the political nature and my reticence to touch upon it here in this forum. Lets just say that he is a firm believer in his cause. I asked him if he was from Utah and he answered that he was from California. I wanted to ask him what brought him here, but he indicated that he needed to get back to his friends.

Before he left I showed him one of the pics on the back of the camera and his response was, “Wow.”

Technical stuff: ISO 100, 50mm, f3.5, 1/500 second.

I seriously thought about editing the reflections out of his glasses; I’m clearly visible taking the photo, but decided against it because the view in the reflection is interesting; the view of the city in the valley below, the other people coming up the stairs, the crowd behind me. I think it really adds to the atmosphere of the photo itself.

100 Strangers 5 of 100 Ambyr

100 Strangers 5 of 100 is Ambyr. She’s an avid pro Second Amendment advocate. She was with an organization that was counter protesting the anti-gun marches.

ISO 200, 50mm, f3.5, 1/250

I spotted her while she was busily organizing people for their march; talking with other organizers, overseeing the distribution of signs and shirts, and going over maps of the intended route which would lead to the State Capitol where both sides of the issue would gather.

I was a bit hesitant to approach her because she looked so busy. I could hardly imagine getting her to stand still for even a moment, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. With my card in hand I walked up to her and handed it to her and simply asked is I could take her photo and explained why. She smiled and said, “Sure, but it’s gotta be quick.”

The environment was completely chaotic and a little crazy with hundreds of people milling about. My choices for a background were pretty limited so I asked her to stand in front of a large truck that the organization she represented owned. Definitely not the best, but I think it was probably the best that the situation offered.

I took a few pics and asked her just a few questions; name etc.

After just a few moments I could see her eyes shifting around; she really wanted to get back to work, but she didn’t want to be rude. That was my impression. I thanked her with a handshake and she smiled and went back to work.

Technical stuff: ISO 200, 50mm, f3.5, 1/250 shutter speed, Nikon D750.

Like I said, for me, this was a really difficult situation and it really exemplified just why the 100 Strangers is such a good exercise for photographers. Though I’m mostly happy with how this turned out I definitely regretted not having my 85mm lens. I needed to get in close because of all that was going on and there is some perspective distortion. Another thing that I would like to mention is that it’s pretty obvious that Ambyr has experience in front of a camera. I would be willing to be good money on that. She absolutely knew how to engage the lens and she fell right in when I gave her some subtle direction; breath out of your mouth, please. Can you move your shoulder this way? Awesome. Now, can you push your face towards me just a bit? Bam. What normally would have taken several moments to explain she just jumped on and did it exactly how I needed it. Yeah, she has definitely done some modeling.

100 Strangers 4 of 100 Linda

100 Strangers 4 of 100 is Linda. She’s an avid anti Second Amendment, anti gun rights advocate.

I could tell that in her mind she was treading into the belly of the beast and was a bit nervous, thus perhaps a bit overly defensive. After all, she had taken it upon herself to walk among a couple of thousand pro-gun activists with her sign declaring that NRA members are “murderers.” Hundreds of the pro-gun activists were openly carrying firearms.

The event was taking place at the State Capitol; a counter protest to the anti-gun protests taking place on the other side of the building.

After a while it appeared as though Linda realized that the belly of the beast was not so beastly after all. Many of the pro-gunners walked up to her and engaged in civil conversations.

I interrupted one of the conversations to ask her if I could take her pic. She looked a bit surprised, but I quickly explained the 100 Strangers concept and she happily agreed.

After I took this shot she went back to engaging with a particular man carrying an AR-15 over his shoulder. I listened in:

Linda: “We need to outlaw those kinds of guns to save lives. You don’t need it.”

Man: “So no one should own one of these”?

Linda: “Just government. To save lives.”

Man: “Do you know who the biggest mass murderer in history using firearms is?”

Linda: “No, but I’m sure you’re going to bring up some obscure serial killer or something from a hundred years ago. But humor me, who?”

Man: “Government.”

Linda was taken aback by the statement and had no retort.

She looked around, “Is there a water fountain around here? I’m thirsty” The man pulled out a bottle of water from his backpack and offered it to her, but Linda said she doesn’t drink water from plastic bottles.

Linda, I really appreciate you letting me take your photo as you engaged those with whom you disagree. You are an amazing person.

Technical stuff: As you can imagine this was a pretty chaotic environment and nearly impossible to find a background that didn’t contain people. Luckily, Linda was standing close to a wall and I used that to my advantage. Because I used my 50mm I needed to back up a ways to avoid perspective distortion. So I took the photos from 8 feet or so away and cropped in. Since it was overcast, the lighting conditions were nearly perfect.

ISO 100, 50mm, 1/400 second. Nikon D750

Technical asides: As you can imagine this was a pretty chaotic environment and nearly impossible to find a background that didn’t contain people. Luckily, Linda was standing close to a wall and I used that to my advantage. Because I used my 50mm I needed to back up a ways to avoid perspective distortion. So I took the photos from 8 feet or so away and cropped in. Since it was overcast, the lighting conditions were nearly perfect.

100 Strangers 3 of 100 Mariah

100 strangers 3 of 100 is Mariah who works at a local coffee shop slinging lattes. My wife and I go into this shop most every weekend because we like their lattes and because the people that own it and those whom they hire are just awesome people. A few weeks ago when we were having some coffees my wife pointed out Mariah and mentioned that I should ask her for a stranger photo. Agreed; Mariah is not only beautiful, but she also has a distinctly unique look about her.

The problem, though, is that this place is usually quite busy. However this past weekend we managed to come it at a time between rushes. I took advantage of the lull and asked Mariah if she would be willing to do a Stranger photo. She enthusiastically agreed.

100 strangers photo project 3 of 100 Mariah
Mariah ISO 100, 85mm, f2.0, 1/400 sec

Technical asides: I just recently purchased an 85mm lens and the shots I did with Mariah were the first people shots I’ve done with it. Thus far, I think I’m going to be quite happy with it.

Being midday the light was a bit problematic, so we found a shady spot on the side of the building in front of a wall covered with ivy. The ivy covered wall was fortuitous in that not only did it provide a serviceable  background, but the color of the ivy tied in nicely with the color of Mariah’s eyes.

I took a total of 49 shots in about 6 minutes. It seems like a lot, but in situations like this I typically fire off 3 or 4 shot bursts. The reason I do that is you give yourself an opportunity to capture subtle expressions that you would otherwise miss.

100 Strangers 2 of 100 Candice

I met Candice as I was walking out of my neighborhood grocery store. She’s astonishingly beautiful which caught my eye right away. She was canvassing for signatures for a local political cause and asked if I would be willing to sign the petition. I said I would be willing to give her my signature if she let me take her photo.

A short back story of Candice. She immigrated with her family a few years ago with her family from the Ivory Coast to the States.

Candice ISO 100, 50mm, f2.0, 1/160 sec

Technical asides: I’ve taken to always having my camera with me when I go to this particular place as the veranda out front is almost ideal lighting during most times of the day. My goal would be to position the subject so that the background would be the length of the veranda as it would provide interesting leading lines, but at this time it was later in the day and there just wasn’t enough light for what I wanted directly under the veranda. So I had Candice step out from under it and used a bricked pillar as a background.

Candice happened to have a clipboard with white paper in it. I asked her to hold it up and angle it just right to throw a little extra light onto her face. It worked out well.

She is naturally photogenic so she didn’t need much direction from me. The first couple of shots she looked directly at the camera and gave me a big smile. I then asked her if she could slightly turn her head to one side and cut her eyes to me and “burn right through the lens with her eyes.”

Excellent. I then asked her to do me a favor. As if reading my mind she said, “You want me to not smile, right?”


In total, I shot six photos; all of them quite nice, but this one, the very last one, was my favorite.

The total time from when I first saw her to when I shook her hand and thanked her was about 4 or 5 minutes.

100 Strangers

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of photos of strangers, but never anything like what is done in the 100 Strangers Project. In a nutshell, the idea behind 100 Strangers is to photograph 100 strangers. But it’s not as boring or as easy as it sounds. Like I said, I’ve taken quite a few photos of strangers but they consisted of mostly one-off types of shots in which I ask someone if I can take their pic, they say yes, and I pop off a few shots. I’ll mix these types of shots in with your run of the mill street photos because, as I’ve stated before, they result in different types of shots.

But with 100 Strangers it’s a bit of a different approach. The idea is to always get their permission, tell them that the photo is for a photo project called 100 Strangers and tell them what it’s about and then take the time and skill to take an actual, honest to God portrait. The hope is to better develop both technical and social skills. The social skills come in by the fact that you’re also required to get to know a little about each subject and then write about them when posting the photo.

I’ve only done one photo as of yet, and I can already tell that this project is going to greatly improve my skills; you start thinking about things like background and, of course, lighting along with composition; all while thinking on your feet and doing it rather quickly. I’m fairly adept at using flash, but based on what I’ve found on the 100 Strangers Flickr group I’m thinking that a reflector is probably going to be my go to lighting source. I purchased a Lastolite 30″ Sunfire/White reflector which I think will work out pretty good. It folds up quite small and will be easier to tote around than a speed light, stand and modifier.

Perusing through the 100 Strangers Flickr page you’ll see some pretty amazing work. Sure, there are some not so amazing photos, but man, there are a huge number of really great portraits.

Just recently I submitted my first Stranger, Pete:

Pete: 1 of 100 Strangers – ISO 100, 105mm, f4.0, 1/160 sec

I think it’s a good start. I didn’t use a reflector or any modifiers. The background was a bit of a challenge so I had to work around that a bit. I shot ETTR to give myself quite a bit of post production latitude. Still, the particular lens I used wasn’t ideal; Nikon 24-120 f4.0. For dedicated stranger shooting I’ll stick with my 50mm 1.8 as much as possible. But I am really wanting an 85mm prime as I think that would be just about ideal.

Anyway, I think this project is going to be fun and I’m really looking forward to continuing.