Negotiating Access: Portrait of a Stranger

For one of our summer tasks subtitled ‘Negotiating Access’ we had to produce two new portraits. One being of someone I know and one being of someone i’ve never met before. This task was meant to challenge us to work outside our comfort zones and to reflect on the different skills we have used in order to product these different portraits.

Initially I found myself over thinking when taking portraits of strangers and feeling too awkward and shy to approach them and ask them to take their portrait. I ended up with a lot of images of the back of their heads or people cutting across my images. I have never been comfortable with street photography or taking portraits and as a result I generally tend to stick to landscape and still life photography.

However this task has challenged me and I have built up more confidence when approaching people and strangers in order to take their photo. While I still think I need to improve on my confidence and the technical side of my images I am pleased with the results of my first attempt. After more practice I believe my portraits will improve significantly.

I attended the ‘Steam Punk’ festival in Lincoln as I believed this was a great opportunity to take a portrait of a stranger for this task. People have travelled from all over the UK and even from around the world to attend this event and dress up in steam punk costumes for the two day festival. This meant that there was a wide variety of ethnicities and styles. I was very intrigued by the costumes people had put together and I wanted to capture their creativity and the character they were portraying.

Many of the people I approached to ask if I could take their portrait were very open to the idea and friendly about it, this put me at ease and I was able to focus more on the technical aspects of the image. In previous attempts I would find myself rushing the image and it would not turn out how I intended the shot to be. I found taking pictures of this event was enjoyable and the more I did it the more I began to become comfortable shooting portraits. The large amounts of interest in the costumes and the event meant that it was relatively easy to start a conversation with the person I photographed. I believe that this made both me and them more comfortable while taking their portrait.

The people in this image were very open to having their portrait taken and the smile and the pose of the lady in the image shows how comfortable she was with having her portrait taken. In turn, this makes the image look more natural and we are able to focus on the eccentric costumes.


In addition to this I also went to another themed event while in Yorkshire. This time it was a 1940’s themed day and again people dressed up in clothes of the era. There was also many events on such as swing dancing and singing which posed a good opportunity for me to capture people in action. I wanted to photograph these images in a more candid way. My main inspiration for this was Lee Frielander and his street photography work.

For some of the images I approached the people in the images before taking their portrait, however for the images of the people dancing I was part of a larger crowd, many of which were taking photos themselves. There was not an opportunity to ask the people if I could take their portrait, however because it was a special event and performances were taking place, the people would of expected their picture to be taken. However, this did mean that I did not have as much control when shooting.

For these images I shot them in colour and then changed them to black and white afterwards. I have included a colour version of an image below however I believe that the high contrast black and white versions look better. They fit in better with the time period of the event and they draw the viewers eye to the subject. The colour for me drew the eye more towards what was going on in the background of the image. I took these images on a busy street and i found it difficult to get a clean and uncluttered background even whenI was using a 50mm portrait lens.

If I was to reshoot these images I would perhaps try photographing just the top half of the persons body, mainly focusing on the face in order to get more detail. This would also stop the background on the image from looking cluttered.


Published by

Charlotte Pattinson

Photography student

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