Shooting portraits of strangers

This was quite a discovery: Danny Santos has been shooting portraits of complete strangers on Orchard Road, Singapore. The story was featured on JPG Magazine with some beautiful examples and that post pointed to his Facebook album, which pointed to his blog post about it. This phrase he wrote made me think: “Suddenly, strangers were no longer unwitting victims subjects, they were now willing participants … and that gave different life to the photograph, and a new awareness and dimension to my idea of shooting in the streets.” Touches a weak point of mine: asking strangers for permission to photograph them.

Shooting portraits of strangers
Shooting portraits of strangers

What I like a lot about the photographs is their shallow depth-of-field. He talks about his material: a Nikon D300 with a 85mm f/1.4 lens. That’s a $999 lens, so one can expect some good results.

Let’s see what that looks like in my depth-of-field calculator: there is one picture on his blog that shows him taking a picture of someone at +- 2m away, so let’s use that as distance. If we fill in the right values (1.5 crop factor for a Nikon D300, f/1.4 aperture, 85mm focal length, 2m distance, 3:2 aspect ratio) we get this:

Depth of field calculation
0.019 mm Circle of confusion
1.99 m Near limit (anything closer will be too blurred)
2.01 m Far limit (anything further will be too blurred)
2.8 cm Total (1.4% of the subject distance)

portraits of strangers: depth-of-field

Only 2.8 cm of sharpness, that’s shallow! You see it in the background of the pictures: hardly anything recognizable, but a nice creamy bokeh. Take a look at this picture: her eyes and mouth are in focus, but the hairs that cover her ears are already a bit blurred. The background is white and green, but it’s hard to say what exactly.

Stranger #7 by danny st., on Flickr
Stranger #7 by danny st., on Flickr

I found it a very inspiring project with admirable results. Check out all his photos on Flickr!

💬 photography 🏷 portrait 🏷 singapore