Shooting Challenge: (Consensual) Portraits of Strangers

Illustration for article titled Shooting Challenge: (Consensual) Portraits of Strangers

Street photography is an incredible art. You catch someone when they're natural unrehearsed. But street portraits—meeting new people and photographing them in that environment—can be powerful in a whole different way. For this week's Shooting Challenge...


The Challenge

Take a portrait of someone you don't know. Maybe you're seeing them for the first time, maybe they're someone you've spotted day (and only loosely interacted with) after day on your commute. Get their permission (adults only, no pets), and stage a shot in which they're looking at the camera.


The Technique

What do I mean by this? Check out some of the famous photography of National Geographic—guys like Steve McCurry and William Albert Allard. They capture extremely intimate portraits of people around the world. And the fact that they're consensual adds a different sort of honesty and vulnerability.

Beyond your subject, don't be afraid to let their environment do some of the work for you. Use a wider shot and stage them where they work or hang out. It doesn't need to be a tight crop unless you want it to be. Oh, and be sure to get permission from the subject (though, you'll need it to set these photos up), and let's leave minors out of this.

The Example

Our lead shot is by flickr's Okko Pyykkö. OK, so it's of this father! (Look, Nat Geo stuff has crazy-restrictive rights!) That said, Okko's work—a really clear and engaging portrait—is something I believe you're capable of capturing with a stranger.


The Rules

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos must be taken since this contest was announced (read more on that above).
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 970px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. I know that your photo may not fall into those exact high rez dimensions, so whatever native resolution you're using is fine.
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)
8. You agree to the Standard Contest Rules - though we DO accept non-US resident submissions.
9. If the image contains any material or elements that are not owned by you and/or which are subject to the rights of third parties, and/or if any persons appear in the image, you are responsible for obtaining, prior to submission of the photograph, any and all releases and consents necessary to permit the exhibition and use of the image in the manner set forth in these rules without additional compensation. If any person appearing in any image is under the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence the signature of a parent or legal guardian is required on each release.


Send your best photo by Monday, April 9th at 10AM Eastern to with "Stranger" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameStranger.jpg (970px wide) and FirstnameLastnameStrangerWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

Mark Wilson is the founder of Philanthroper, a daily deal site for nonprofits.


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Did not agree just bc i clicked

I realize that for purposes of this contest you want the consent of the subject. However, you really don't need their consent to take someone's picture as long as they're in a public place and have no reasonable expectation of privacy. One cannot peep into another's window and take a shot at their home but on the subway, bus, sidewalk, or at the mall any picture taken is fine. Sometimes the police would rather you didn't shoot them (pun intended), but they are dead wrong (Ok I'll stop with that).

When I lived full time in New York I would often take pictures on my lunch break. If someone asked me to delete their picture I would. Once, a guy got visibly upset and a little aggressive. It turned out after speaking with him that he was an Iraqi war Veteran and potentially suffering from a little shell shock or whatever they're calling it these days. For whatever reason he didn't want his picture taken. So I thanked him for his service and showed him my camera display as I deleted his picture. Offered to buy him lunch too. Usually it's a good idea to spread good karma if one can. It can't hurt to be kind anyway.

I've met a lot of famous people, some from tv appearances and others from just being in the right place at the right time. Ethan Hawke stands out as the prick of the century for not wanting his picture taken. I respected his wishes, even though he was at the chelsea cinemas, I waited till he got off his cellphone, and he acted like a douche. Usually I'm happy to just say hello, but I had my camera with me that day and he didn't want his pic taken so I respected his wishes. It was a little canon point n shoot, not my DSLR, so he really should have been a little nicer.

I did GMA some years ago, and the GoGos were performing. As they came out, someone shot them with flash. Jane Wiedlin started yelling at the person for blinding them before a live performance. I had a disposable camera with me and was thinking "oh crap". On commercial, I pointed to my camera. She walked over (I was right next to the stage set up), said I was a sweetheart for asking and I could take all the pics I wanted, then proceeded to get all the band members to pose for and with me. I also got Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer and that rotund weather guy, I forget his name.