Serendipity: Portraits of Strangers in Soho

Workshop your life: One of the best investments I’ve made in a photography sense in recent years has been workshops. 

On that front, here are portraits of 6 wonderful strangers I met in Soho on Saturday while on my most recent workshop.

Brief recap: Over the past decade, I’ve done four photography workshops, with instructors I’d each recommend highly:

  • Kevin Mullins taught me in Edinburgh how to do better street photography, and I regularly use those lessons today, especially when photographing at technology conferences, for work.
  • Jay Vulture taught me in London how to do long-exposure black & white photos, a technique I’ve always wanted to try to master.
  • Niall McDiarmid, at a workshop at Martin Parr’s studio in Bristol, taught me how to make better street portraits, including not just approaching strangers but also having an eye peeled for color and texture, among other qualities. Subsequently I conceptualized and launched an in-progress project to document the West End of Dundee to put what I learned into practice.

And on Saturday, another great turn: In a workshop at Leica Akademie in London’s Mayfair district, I learned from fellow Midwesterner-turned-British-transplant Peter Zelewski how to make better street portraits.

Peter Zelewski workshop

Conceptually, for me the day also turned out to complement and build on what I’d learned from Niall in extremely useful ways. Takeaways from Peter’s workshop included better guidance (and reassurance) for approaching strangers, working with backgrounds, and myriad tips and tricks that helped reinforce, alter or sometimes correct my approach, on technical as well as mental/conceptual levels. 

Previously, I dabbled with doing a photo degree at Open College for the Arts, and did a couple of courses. The instructors were excellent, and I can point to multiple things I learned, sometimes in parallel with my ability to photograph in the service of my day job, as a technology reporter, and refining how I used photographs to support my reporting. One turning point was the Black Hat 2012 conference in Las Vegas, for which I cooked up a written/visual slideshow (11 Security Sights Seen Only at Black Hat), which proved extremely popular with readers, as well as my editors. (Looking back, it seems like a site redesign has left some of the images cropped.)

With the OCA studies, however, I found the lesson plans so boring. On top of a day job, and having photographed for a long period of time already, I was struggling to lose myself in the exercises. Also while it was useful to learn how to describe photographic exercise aims and results, that analytic process felt dry and forced to me. I would much rather be photographing subjects of greater interest, and of course refining my approach, with less having to document that process in writing, at length.

Enter workshops, which have proven to be a great way to do a deep dive — for one day, or with Jay, a Saturday/Sunday in London — into an area of interest, and to walk away with my brain having been taken apart and pieced back together in a useful and more expanded way. And especially this past Saturday, to have the frisson of excitement that comes from photographing strangers, as well as the wonderful emotional connection that accompanies it, and sense of continually reaching to improve my photography.