Assignment Two: Portrait of a Stranger


Sometimes we are asked to do things that are a bit uncomfortable (like a vision statement – heh) and face some inner demons. Instead of putting it off, the best thing to do is to face head on.

In this assignment, we are to make a photograph of a stranger. Not a candid, or a ‘street shot’, but a full on portrait. Of course, you may only have a minute or two to make that shot, so being on your toes and ready goes without saying. Some of you may have a bit more time, but there will be those occasions where you only get a few clicks off – so make sure you are ready. I would suggest shooting several people – once you get on a roll, the momentum carries you and it becomes easier and easier to do.


- 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 the Lighting Essentials 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.

Fisherman: Cortez, Florida

It was very cold this afternoon on the docks in Cortez, Florida. I met a pretty interesting guy, and got some images I like a lot.

I saw this gentleman as we were leaving Bean Point on Anna Maria Island. He was grinning ear to ear and I loved that. I simply asked him if I could make a picture with him and he said “sure”!

I put him on the little bridge and used a shoot-thru umbrella with a speedlight at full power just over my right shoulder. The hazy day allowed a little more exposure, and I got three shots off before he smiled, waved and walked away. That’s cool… got my shots!

I just asked him to let me photograph his happy smile - he smiled, I clicked and got a portrait I like.

This gentleman was soaking up some rays on the beach in Bradenton, Florida. We sparked up a conversation with him and his wife and found out that he is a jazz saxophone player from London, and had played for the Rolling Stones and many other rock bands. I had to get a photograph, so I asked – he said “sure, why not” and we went down to the sailboats parked on the beach.

I got a note back from him after I sent him some prints, and he said it was one of his favorite portraits.

I rarely hesitate to ask people for an image. If I am turned down, it is simply them turning down the photograph, not a personal rejection.


This Assignment is due Thursday, January 26th by Showtime: 6:30PM on Vokle. Flickr Tag for this assignment: proj52two2012

Vokle Show Page is HERE:

Audio Critique
Audio 1: Page 1.

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Audio 2: Page 2 to James Scheng

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Audio 3: Page 2 from James Scheng to end (as of the show)

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Last year’s Audio Discussion.
Good insight here.

Books Related to This Assignment.

Author: Don Giannatti

I have been a photographer, art director, creative director and designer for nearly 40 years. The experience both behind the camera and behind the desk hiring photographers has given me a unique set of tools for working with photographers. Project 52 grew out of a frustration with the boards and forums that seem to be more about personalities than the actual work of being a commercial photographer. I am not famous, and I have no aspirations to be... but I know what the hell I am talking about.

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  1. do we need to get any kind of release from the subject to post the picture? I’ve been afraid to take people pictures for that reason.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Helen,

      No, releases are not necessary. Unless you are going to sell the image, it is not needed to show the work. Look at all the millions of pictures on Flickr – if it was needed, lawyers everywhere would be making millions.

      It is considered ‘work product’ and can be used to show what you do.

      However, you cannot sell that image for commercial use. Period.

      Showing it on your website or sharing it is not a problem.

      Glad to have you here.

      Post a Reply
  2. when is this do? how do want it lay out? and what up with the pro setup? are the two groups old 52er and the new batch all working on the same page?

    Post a Reply
  3. Not bad timing for me. I’m off to the SWPP tradeshow this weekend (SWPP is the society of wedding and portrait photographers). I was planning on taking my camera to hopefully shoot a few of the faces I meet. A month or so back I shot a club night, which was mainly stopping people and taking their photo, which was so hard for me to do, but after the first 50 or 60 people that night (it might be hard but when you’re being paid to do it, you best bloody do it) itgot a little easier…

    Only got one question. When you say it must be simply lit, do you mean that you shouldn’t go too far with your lighting? Or do you mean that it must be “lit” since I wasn’t planning on taking flash with me… But I can…

    Post a Reply
  4. When do these skype sessions take place…? can anyone join? will Vokle still be used?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi.

      Our meetings will be on Thursday evenings until the Summer. They may change back to Wednesday at that point.

      Anyone can participate – no ‘sign up’ or ‘registration’ required.

      Vokle will still be used for the regular Project 52. Until a better tool comes along, we will stick with Vokle.

      Post a Reply
      • Do I need to do some sort of friend request on skype or something? You mentioned you were using it in the first few seconds of this audio recording… is that for the “pro” members only?

        So meetings are 6:30PM PST on Thursdays via Vokle?

        sorry for the dumb questions.. I am sort of confused at what exactly is happening haha

        Post a Reply
        • Hi Hock.

          You will not need Skype – we use Vokle for now. See the Flickr site later today for some more info later today.

          Post a Reply
  5. Hey Don,
    hope you don’t mind but I am copying each assignment page and pasting / formatting it to fit onto one 8.5×11 and adding note space at the bottom for ideas, brainstorms, lighting diagrams, etc. The accumulated weekly assignment sheet will become my Project52 ‘yearbook’.

    looking forward to the coming year!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Norm.
      Nope – I don’t mind at all.
      A darn good idea!
      Glad to have you on board!
      – don

      Post a Reply
  6. Hi there!

    I missed out on Assignment 1, I think I’ll do it for myself in anycase for the challenge…do I bother to post it anywhere or not?

    Sorry to look like an idiot, but I can’t seem to find where the “due” dates are? Or is it just 2 weeks to the day of the posting of the assignment?

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Post a Reply
    • Andree,

      You have lots of time… ish…
      Project 1 is due January 18th.


      Post a Reply
  7. what do you mean “should be simply lit”? my english is not so good

    Post a Reply
    • It means to use normal lighting. Like natural lighting, and regular lighting of a room.

      Post a Reply
  8. I am following this, starting one week late, but still, a cool idea and I’m happy to do it. Cool man, way cool. Keep posting the ideas for the week. :-)

    Post a Reply
  9. Can you please clarify the VOKL session?
    1. I make sure I’m on the site.
    2. You put yourself in front of the camera
    3. A discussion takes place regarding the work submitted? This is where I’m confused. Who critiques the work and which work is selected for critique?
    4. Is it like an open skype session where people can talk at the same time or do you direct who is speaking?


    Post a Reply
    • Hi Kevin.

      I am in front of the camera – you are viewing.
      Comments are moderated and we have a screener making sure we get to all the questions.
      I am the one doing the critique.
      You post your images on the Flickr Stream that is dedicated to each of the assignments.
      We view the flickr stream (for now) while I critique.
      Others do their critiques on the Flickr page – and there is a wonderful group there.

      See the individual assignments for links to the Flickr page for the images.

      Post a Reply
      • Is the critique live or can we watch it anytime after it’s posted?

        Post a Reply
        • Yes. The critique is live but they are recorded and can be watched later.

          Post a Reply
  10. This assignment was eagerly received Monday afternoon then I spent five days cowering next to my camera gear. On Saturday, knowing a new assignment was coming down the chute, I threw myself out there. I saw my subject, planned the shot in my head, and viola, a portrait! I wish I hadn’t waited because I wanted to take more stranger’s pictures!
    It is in your head. Most people a glad to let you make a picture.

    Post a Reply
  11. This has been a rough one. I have not found myself anywhere to even ask a stranger for a photo – I may end up skipping this one – for now anyway. hmmm…….

    Post a Reply
  12. Listened to your audio from last year for this project. Don, will you be able to post your releases this year as you did last year?

    Post a Reply

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