Every time I’m out in the streets, I would often encounter faces that make me look twice… faces that just stood out of the crowd without even trying… faces that are by no means ordinary. They range from the exquisitely beautiful to the strangely wonderful. Sometimes I would try to steal a shot without being too intrusive, most times I just stand there wishing I had the balls to just approach them and ask for their portrait. Thanks to my lucky stars … I eventually grew those balls to do so. – Danny Santos II
Danny Santos II is all about the guerrilla portrait on his blog, Shooting Strangers in Orchard Road. “Out here, nothing is prepared,” says Danny in his blog, “Nothing cooperates with you.. not the weather, not the subjects, not the situation. You have to make do with what’s available. That’s a very big challenge. But on few occasions when all the elements just come together, and you’re at the right place at the right time, the feeling of ‘getting that perfect shot’ just doesn’t compare to anything else.” I asked Danny about his work:
What’s a good way to approach someone for a quick impromptu portrait?
DS: I think the best way is to really just be quick and honest about it. Just tell them that you’re doing this as a personal project (or whatever reasons your doing it) and that you won’t be taking much of their time. Quick and simple usually works.
Judging by your portrait work, you’re obviously making a great connection with your subjects. This has to happen very quickly sometimes, doesn’t it?
DS: All of the portraits were taken really, really quickly. As soon as they said “yes,” I tell them to ‘”look in the camera and don’t smile,” then I click away. I take advantage of the first few seconds where they still probably have this curious wonder about the whole thing. I guess having a little confidence or sincerity makes them feel comfortable about being photographed in public by a total stranger.
What’s your favorite gear for street photography?
DS: I use a Nikon D300 with an 85mm f1.4 and a 20mm f2.8 lens. I like both lenses for different reasons… the latter for documenting street scenes and the former for capturing street portraits. I like to be able to switch between these lenses whenever I need to.
Has anyone ever gotten angry because you took their photo without asking first?
DS: Not really. I guess I’ve developed certain strategies that help me avoid these situations, like avoiding eye contact before and after the shot. Sometimes, when I do get eye contact, I smile and nod a thank you. Plus, I guess common sense and intuition helps a lot, too. Sometimes, if you don’t feel right about taking the shot, don’t sweat it. But then if you always feel like that, you may never be able to get any good shots. It’s always a challenge.
Do you ever use film? Have you always used digital?
DS: I have always used digital, but I recognize and respect the beauty of using film. And someday, I would like to try out film and see what I come up with. That’s in my “bucket list.”
What type of post-processing do you do?
DS: My usual workflow is to adjust exposure in Lightroom (when needed), then I selectively adjust highlights and shadows in Photoshop. Other than this, I remove skin blemishes and apply sharpening (when needed). That’s pretty much it.
How many photos do you take of one person to get to that ONE shot you’ll use?
DS: For the portraits, I take three quick shots at f1.4, and another three shots at f2.2. Later, I decide during post on which to go for.
What is your advice to other photographers just starting out in this kind of portraiture?
DS: Always keep experimenting with light, background, subject.. everything… until you get the shots that you like. Then keep trying to get better and better shots. And never stop looking for inspiration — this makes you raise the bar for yourself so you will never get easily impressed with your own work.
Be sure to check out Danny’s galleries, including the 5 Sec Faces and his candid street photography, and get ready to be inspired. Danny’s got a great eye and has managed to develop the skills needed to build ultra-fast rapport with many of his subjects. Beautiful portraiture.
For more, see: Shooting Strangers in Orchard Road