Michael (Stranger #1/100), Rickmansworth

For the last couple of years I’ve been looking with admiration in on the incredible 100 Strangers group page. The idea is to take pictures of one hundred strangers; introducing yourself, explaining the project, sharing a chat and some moments together. A mix of fears have held me back from getting involved myself; the uncomfortable thought of breaking the ice, the fear of rejection and most of all the fear that people would say “yes” and I’d fall short of giving them a portrait they’d be pleased with.

This last year, however, I’ve really enjoyed taking pictures of my daughter; JSH. I’ve got a good number of JSH portraits I’m happy with technically, and a keen desire to get better so I can keep pace as she grows. The first point diluted the fear of being seen as inept. Meanwhile, in striving for the second, the 100 Strangers project seemed to offer a way of learning hard lessons to get better at portraiture.

So, this is Michael, who was kind enough to share ten minutes with me whilst he waited for the 336 bus from Rickmansworth back to Watford. He’d been over to pick up some shopping for his elderly father.

I’d made the decision to go into London and start my 100 today, then procrastinated through the early morning. Having eventually parked up across the road from the station, I saw Michael at his bus stop as I crossed to catch my train. He was meditating on the afternoon with a characterful pose and pipe. I’d taken three steps past him, when I remembered gtpete63’s advice in his interview on the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page; “…keep reminding yourself that your greatest regret will be not asking “that” interesting stranger you just saw walk by.”

So, I stopped. I got my camera out on the other side of the shelter, I looked about the cluttered area for the best chance of some smooth background and fired off a few frames to get an exposure around about right. I fully expected a “no”, yet knew if I didn’t follow gtpete’s advice would be haunting me the whole way into town. So, with a half-planned sentence of introduction I backtracked and said “hello”.

We had a fantastic chat. I’d feared I’d be interupting Michael’s quiet thoughts, but he was very interested in what I was up to. We chatted about that, and the area; he’s a hugely knowledgable local, whilst I’m a releatively recent arrival to Rickmansworth. I learnt lots – for instance that a nearby pub that recently burned down, had previously burned on some four other occasions. When the bus arrived, it was too soon.

In terms of photography lessons learned, I’d likely highlight a couple. Firstly, when I met Michael he was wearing a black woollen hat, which he removed when we took our pictures together. I was too caught up in things to adjust accordingly, and so the sky is likely a little too bright. I wish I’d adjusted my suggested background in response to his removing the hat, but I’ll hopefully remember next time. Secondly, never having taken a portrait of someone with glasses, I didn’t realise how hard it is to focus correctly. I fear Michael’s spectacles stole the focus from his eyes. Another learning for next time.

This is a slightly cropped version. Even though the B&W version was fantastic, I’ve kept it in colour; I find colour portraits harder to shoot and hope the challenge will increase the learning potential of the project.

Michael – thank you for sharing a portion of your afternoon with me, for your good humour and for offering me a start to this fabulous project.

I very much hope everyone is well and enjoying a fantastic 2013 so far.

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