Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sidewalk Studio

Last Saturday I wanted to shoot portraits. Well, I always want to shoot portraits. But, this time I had no one to shoot. I cherish a free Saturday, so I wanted to come up with something a little different. After some thinking I cut off a piece of seamless paper, grabbed my camera and headed out the door to Philadelphia. I stopped on a corner near the Italian Market that was in the shade and had some decent light coming in from one side. Wall. Tape. Paper.

I stood on that corner for about an hour with my camera in my hand and talked to people that walked by.

"Hi, I'm Ryan. I'm a photographer..."

"Hi, I'm Ryan. I'm a portrait photographer. May I take your photo?"
"Of me? No, thanks."

And then someone said yes. Then someone else. And another.

The big problem with asking random strangers to shoot their photo is that you're asking random strangers to shoot their photo.  Unfortunately, everyone assumes you're going to Photoshop their face on a body doing something that your parents wouldn't want you to do and post it online.  It takes finesse to talk to someone and put them at ease in the 10 second window that it takes for them to walk past you.   Knowing that is exactly the reason that I wanted to do this project.

I've always been an introvert when it comes to people I've just met.  When I pulled up to this corner I felt silly. I almost didn't get out of the car.  Then I remembered that the entire reason I wanted to do it was to work on those skills as a photographer.

The first shot was the hardest.  I nervously asked 5-6 people and they all said no immediately.  Then two guys asked me for cab money.  $2 for two portraits:

I'm not a big fan of paying people for their portrait.  I want to be able to talk to them and convince them that I'm a trustworthy guy that just wants to take photos and not a creep with a camera.  In this case, I needed a bump.  And it worked.  After getting a couple of shots my confidence grew.  I noticed people reacting more warmly when I started talking to them because I was becoming more comfortable doing so. 

I'm fascinated with people's reactions when they step in front of a camera.  Some people smile.  Others freeze up.  I didn't give anyone any direction other than to step in front of the background.

Shooting passersby on a street corner in Philadelphia is boot-camp for getting comfortable photographing people.  Grab your camera, man up and go shoot a stranger. 

More to come.


  1. the one with the kid with ice bags is sweet.

  2. Absolutely fantastic. I might have to start a Ryan Scott Fan Club! Great work as usual.

  3. Right on Ryan. Cool idea. Looks pretty shadowless for natty light. Getting comfortable shooting with new people or any person really definitely makes or breaks the photos.

  4. @Nick - The ice kid seems to be a favorite. I asked him to stop and I assumed he would blow me off. He said he had a few more blocks to go but declined a ride. Trooper.

    @Christine - Thanks x 100. I think you ARE my fan club. Always appreciate feedback.

    @Davis - Just threw everyone in the shade so I wouldn't have to deal with the sun. I was uncomfortable at first, but so happy I went through with it in the end. I probably asked 40-50 people and got a dozen or so "yes"s. By the end it was kind of a challenge - the more miserable a person looked, the more I wanted to be able to get them to stand for a portrait. The big dude with the doo-rag yelled "F***" after hanging up his cell literally 15 feet before he got to me. Nicest guy I shot all day.

  5. Just found out you had a blog today, and enjoying going through everything! This is a great set, what a perfect social experiment to see what people do in front of a camera with no direction. And I agree with Nick, the kid with the ice bags is pretty sweet. Keep up the awesome work, I always enjoy seeing your photos :)

  6. Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, NV - Oyster Hotel Reviews
    Casino & Resort is sbobet located in the heart of Las 스핀토토 Vegas, 마라톤 벳 on the Strip, across the street from its sister property, The 바카라 용어 Venetian Resort and Casino, and has a 부산건마