Strangers

# photography

On Sunday, I confronted one of my greatest fears: photographing strangers.

A woman in a leather jacket

The winter sunlight in Glasgow creates a permanent sunset feeling. It was midday, but the faint sunlight painted everything gold. I took the subway to the beautiful West End.

I planned to walk up Great Western Road — a straight line from one subway stop to another. Great Western Road is on top of a hill, so it gets good light. I would stay on the north side of the street, where the light would be stronger. As I walked up the street, I would stop oncoming pedestrians and ask to take their photos.

A couple standing on the sidewalk

The first photo was terrifying. “Excuse me, I’m a member of a camera club, and I’m learning street photography. Could I take your picture?” They were tickled and they obliged me. I forgot to set my exposure, and my framing was off. But I got a photo.

A man standing on the sidewalk

Right away, I felt more comfortable, and I started asking almost every person I passed. The first four or five people were all completely friendly. As I shot, I started getting a handle on the basics.

Two man standing on the sidewalk

Most people were quite business-like. As soon as I took a photo, they nodded and kept walking, leaving no room for re-shoots or chit-chat.

Eventually, I encountered a few people who said, No, but most people said Yes. A few said Thank you.

A man standing on the sidewalk in a soccer uniform, holding a soccer ball, looking at the camera

Most people didn’t pose much. This man barely stopped as I asked the question. When he realized what I wanted, he stopped, stood tall, and looked straight at the camera. Then he immediately kept walking.

A man with white hair standing in the street

This is one of my favorite photos from the day. This man seemed resigned when I asked. He made no attempt to pose, and casually looked around as I framed my photo. I waited for his gaze to fall into the distance.

A young woman standing in front of a greenhouse

This is Camila. For almost every photo, I stuck to my quick speech, Excuse me. Hi there. I’m a member of a camera club… When Camila walked past, I tried something more concise.

Can I take your picture?

Uh, what for?

Oh, sorry! I’m a member of a camera club…

I explained my project to Camila, and she asked some questions about it. It was one of the only actual conversations I had among twenty interactions with strangers.

The exchange confirmed my theory: people need to know why you’re taking the picture. Most people didn’t even seem to absorb my explanation, but the fact that I had one sufficed.

A couple standing in a park

This couple was really friendly, and they were the only ones who asked for my Instagram handle.

A man in a wool coat standing on the street

Great Western Road runs from the art school to the university. I figured that people in the university area would be a little more laid-back than the rest of the city. On my way home, I decided to keep photographing people in my own neighborhood. I was really happy to discover that people were just as welcoming.

An old couple standing in a doorway

This couple gave me my favorite couple of the day. They were very kind and encouraging.

A young man standing on a footbridge

I shot almost a full roll of film on strangers, and at the end of the day I felt great.

Traveling, I meet lots of new people. I also spend a lot of time feeling isolated. When each of these people let me photograph them, they gave me their trust. That feels like an uncommon and wonderful thing between strangers.

Overall, this was really challenging. Even after approaching a stranger on the street with an odd request, you still need to consider framing, exposure, facial expression, converging lines, your position relative to the subject, and the subject’s position relative to their surroundings. I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned a lot too.

© Sam Littlefair, 2023