Random Thoughts on Meeting Strangers…

…and Taking Their Pictures

I used to do this a bit. I used a website, modelmayhem.com, to procure models. The website ostensibly connected talent with photographers, people whom, presumably wanted to take pictures, and have pictures taken of them. Despite this, about one-third of the models I set up a shoot with flaked out.

So when I put up a random tweet soliciting for portrait volunteers I did not have high expectations. I was not expecting volunteers to start responding pretty much immediately. And I certainly wasn’t expecting so many that I can’t reasonably get to them all in the time that I am here in Edmonton.

Image of tweet soliciting for portrait volunteers. Text reads: "Still looking for someone brave willing to pose while I'm here in Edmonton to get this project started. If nothing else, you'll get yerself a bitchin' new profile picture 

Here until the 22nd..."
My pitch

There are two sides to taking portraits of people. First, there is the technical side. Aperture, shutter speeds, ISO. Flash power, flash to subject distance. Inverse square law. When light is involved, physics is involved. I am competent on this side, but not great. I am still learning, and hopefully improving. It can be difficult to visualize how a fraction of a second long burst of light will affect a photograph. How it will battle with the available, ambient light. It can be overpowered by ambient, it can overpower the ambient, and it can be balanced on a continuum.

The second side is the human side. And this is the really difficult side for me. I’m an introvert, so talking to people can be challenging for me. I seem to be doing better at this as I get older, but it is still difficult. For great pictures, you want to put your subject at ease. Make them comfortable. Create a place where they can be themselves. This is the side I struggle with, and the side I assume I will always struggle with. I once chatted with a photographer who claimed to get drunk to help facilitate this. That’s not really a sensible or healthy solution, so I suppose I will just muddle on.

I set up four shoots for an afternoon. As I am in Edmonton, where I lived for years, I brought along my good friend Hugh to assist: hold the light stand, but more importantly, talk to the subjects. Hugh is a talker, and extrovert. He is considerably better at this than I, and so he is a welcome asset. I am going to have to figure this out myself though. Hugh cannot come with me across the country.

Jason and Michelangelo

Jason was my first shoot. I met him at Norwood School, a handsome historic school that I thought would make a nice background. As it turned, the school did not really figure into the shots other than providing a nondescript brick wall. It was clear that Jason was excited for the shoot, and excited for the pictures. This made it easier for me. We did a couple setups on the front steps, and a few more around the back in the shade. My light is not powerful enough to combat full sunlight, so whilst the front shots are nice, we had to go around back to get shots with a bit of drama to them.

Photo of Jason and his dog.
A fine shot, but a bit ‘on the nose’ for me. Not much drama. One of the few where Mike (the doggo) is addressing the camera.
Photo of Jason and his dog.
Probably my favorite of the shoot. The juxtaposition of their gazes is pleasing.
Photograph of Jason and his dog.
Around the back. More drama. The wall starts playing a role.
Photo of Jason and his dog .
Unsuccessful. The eye is tugged between Jason and Mike, refusing to settle.


My shoot with Swati had perhaps the worst location. I wish I put more time and thought into it, but I just could not come up with a good spot that would not require too much travelling for Swati. We ended up on a bank, at the top of a ravine. The full sun ensured the pictures would not be great. So: in an effort to salvage the shoot, I asked if all involved would be willing to trudge down the hill in the ice and snow to find a bit of shade. The forest in the background became rather pedestrian. Insignificant. I used my camera settings to minimize it so far as that it may as well been a tattered seamless painted backdrop.

Swati, on the other hand, was 100% a pro. Despite her protestations about being ‘awkward’ Swati is an absolute natural. One of those very special souls that cannot be contained. Ridiculously photogenic. I did have to suggest to her at least once that keeping one’s eyes open makes for better photographs, but for the most part, the lesser photos I got from this shoot were my fault, not hers.

Photograph of Swati.
Swati’s omnipresent smile lighting up the day in competition to the sun.
Photo of Swati.
The smile gets larger!
Photo of Swati.
Could she be any more ridiculously adorable?
Photo of Swati.
One of the few shots where I meaningfully used the background. Just a nice, standard 3/4 length portrait.


We met Chris not far from where we met Swati, in another natural location. Finding some nice colourful graffiti under an overpass, however, we immediately pivoted to more of an urban look. Chris was also clearly excited about the photos. We discovered some common ground, as both of us had explored and played in the ravine as children. Chris is another of those people that I surely would have been good friends with had we crossed paths earlier in life. He also seems to me an outgoing spirited fellow, which makes my job as a photographer easier. He wore a special t-shirt that a friend of his had made special, so I made sure to get a couple shots that featured it well.

Photo of Chris.
Chris and his tshirt.
Photo of Chris.
Another great smile.
Photo of Chris.
“I pulled a fish from the river and it was this big if it was a foot I tells ya”
Photo of Chris.
A play with light and shadows.


Our final shoot of the day, and the first to eschew the totally coincidental yellow theme of the day. By this time it was getting late, and we were losing daylight. The location was a simple alley behind some shops, and the bollards and palettes that come with it. Sheena struck up a dialogue with my friend Hugh, and I just let it go naturally. As they talked, and Sheena looked towards Hugh I moved around and just took pictures seemingly unnoticed. Got some candid shots, rather than posed. I moved up and down, looking for interesting angles. This worked well, but near the end I asked Sheena to address the camera, just in the interest of completeness. I am quite pleased with the results. For all the shots I took that day, Sheena’s seemed the most ‘real’, whatever that may mean.

Photos of Sheena.
Sheena sees the light.
Photo of Sheena.
Talking with Hugh…
One of the only profiles I did on the day.
Photo of Sheena.
Another great smile.

6 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Meeting Strangers…

  1. sahlgoode says:

    Excellent! Your write ups are excellent. You definitely should consider a book to go along with this project.

  2. Claire says:

    Some really great work here, can’t wait to see more Canadians

  3. Janice Phillips says:

    They are all so different and all wonderful! Swati lit up everything around her, what an excellent model! Love the B&W of Sheena! The 2nd one of Chris is my fav of that set. As well the 2nd one of Jason and Mike is fabulous! Great shoots, looks like fun!

  4. Cheryl Lynn Millar says:

    Great photos and write up. An excellent start to your adventure!

  5. Sandra Boos says:

    You have a rate talent. Looking forward to more!


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