Talking to Strangers
Asking permission to take a photograph of a complete stranger is not one of my strong suits. Somehow I’ve got this vision in my head of people grabbing their children and running in horror from me. Highly unlikely, but the thought of an uncomfortable rejection usually prevents me from asking.
During our last day in San Francisco, we were enjoying lunch and discussing what our favorite part of the trip had been. We packed a lot into a short amount of time, and it was all great – but nothing in particular was standing out. During this discussion I noticed that two of our servers had really impressive tattoos. Very colorful full sleeves on both of them. My camera was sitting on the table and the restaurant was pretty empty. No excuses to be had so I just said “Those are great tattoos. I’m a photographer – can I take your picture?”
I was not prepared for the enthusiastic response that followed. They both dropped what they were doing and asked if I wanted “the whole thing”.. With that they took off their shirts in the middle of the dining room – the tats didn’t stop at the arms. We immediately had the attention of the other employees and customers and I felt like I had about 10 seconds before it became uncomfortable for everyone. No time to change lenses or do much creating composing. I saw a big window and decided to put them in front of it for some contrast. Shot of frame and checked the LCD. JET BLACK. I had the -2 stops of exposure compensation dialed in from whatever I shot last. Quickly zeroed that out and shot again – OK, but not great.. (starting to feel the manager staring at me..) Third shot, cut off his hand at the wrist. Backed up, re-framed and squeezed off two more shots, the last of which I thought looked good enough. I said thanks, shook hands and felt like running out of there.
Yet they were both really excited and wanted to see the pictures on the back of the camera. One customer said “That was awesome” as I returned to my seat. People wanted to know where they could see the picture so I was writing down my website (reminder: get business cards). Learned that the guy on the right has reached a certain level of fame in the tattoo community after winning championships for his body art. The guy on the left told me that he’s a break-dancer. I immediately saw a picture in my head of him doing a crazy move on the bar while serving a plate of sushi.. but decided not to press my luck for the day.
Looking at the photos on the computer, they are far from my best work. While I was lucky to discover the negative EV dialed in, I completely failed to check something as basic as the aperture. Shot the whole thing at f8. Shutter speed was 1/13th – far too slow to get a sharp picture. I got lucky and the short lens I was using minimized the motion blur on them but still allowed for the passerby’s to get blurred. (yeeeaaa. that was totally intentional). I also should have written down their names for proper credit.
Technically I did plenty of things wrong, but I did one very important thing right.. I asked. It never occurred to me that people might actually WANT their photo to be taken. I encourage you to ask for a portrait next time you have a camera and see an interesting person. You’ll learn the most from mistakes made when the pressure is on.
My favorite part of our San Francisco trip? Shooting these two guys.