It’s very rare that I’ll ask a stranger for a picture, but whenever I have, the stranger has always obliged. The resulting picture has usually become a favourite as, even if the result isn’t a great portrait, the memory of the conversation or the situation that led to it becomes important.
Over the weekend, I was walking around Faro’s old town with my wife and mother-in-law and as we walked past the end of another narrow lane in the labyrinthine area, I saw this character standing on his front door step. Hoping that this opportunity might arise, I stopped and fitted my 50mm lens and selected a wide aperture with thoughts of how his portrait might look already racing through my mind.
A couple of minutes later we returned to his street and to my disappointment he had gone. The ladies had walked on ahead as I nosily looked into the doorway where he had been standing – at which point he appeared and made me jump. Speaking no Portuguese, I waved my camera at him and said something daft like “Photo? OK?” At which he chuckled and adopted a peculiar pose, trying it seemed to hold his cigarette out of view.
I took two shots that ended up exactly as I’d hoped and it brought to mind a passage in Michael Freeman’s book about intent. Intent ranges from the idea of reacting to a situation and ‘overcoming the the sheer mindless ease of taking a picture’ through to executing a complex still-life arrangement. Or as he puts it:
the key is to remain aware of what you’re setting out to do, and what results are likely to satisfy you. It matters little that the intention may only be sketchy; knowing it will always help the design.
Here, I’ve taken pretty conventional pictures that I had planned and prepared for for about a minute. Other than selecting the lens and aperture, I had no control over how the stranger would stand, the light or even if he’d agree to be photographed in the first place. But I knew that if I did get the opportunity, this is how I’d want the final images to look.