Most Asked Questions

Posted on June 17th, by Danny Santos II in Articles, q&a, Tips. 41 comments

I’ve been recieving emails from fellow hobbyists asking me questions on how I do my stuff. I always try to answer each of them promptly, but I noticed that I often get the same questions and I answer the same answers. So I figured I should just write it all down here. So here goes…

Don’t people get mad at you for taking candid pictures of them?
When I started shooting candids about 2 years ago, this was my number one fear. I can still remember pointing my camera to an unwitting stranger, and my hands were shaking so hard I couldn’t compose the shot properly. And it was because of this fear that I have missed a lot of potential keepers. Eventually, I learned how to deal with this fear and employ some techniques to lessen the probability of getting that unwanted reaction from the subject; like not establishing eye contact before or after the shot, only raise the camera to your eyes when you’re about to take the shot, and blend in the crowd to make yourself less visible. The key thing was to be quick and not make the subject too uncomfortable.

Death Stare

After 2 years of shooting candids, and a handful of keepers, I’m fortunate enough to not have anyone get mad at me for taking their picture without permission. So far.

What lens do you use? What lens do you recommend for street shooting?
The lens I use most often is my Nikon 85mm f1.4 – this is actually Nikon’s classic portrait lens. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it for portraits and low light situations. However, it does require a bit of adjustment to be able to get the most out of this glass. I remember the first time I got this, I couldn’t get any shots that I was happy with, so it stayed in my cabinet for quite a while. After a few months, it was gathering dust so I took it for another spin.. this time, I discovered how to get some good shots with it, getting one keeper after another, and it almost never left my camera body. This is the lens I use for candid street portraits, bad weather shots, and portraits of strangers.

Sample shots taken with an 85mm

Another lens that I use is my Nikon 20mm f2.8. This is perfect for getting street scenes with it’s discrete compact size and wide angle perspective. This is the kind of perspective that most street photography purists prefer for it’s wide DOF and ability to capture almost everything that will unfold exactly in front of you.

Sample shots taken with a 20mm

Some have asked me what lens I recommend for street shooting. It really depends on what focal length you are comfortable with and what kind of photographs you want to create. Some people prefer using long lenses (telephotos) which allows them to be far from their subject, and has the capability to isolate a subject from it’s surroundings. Others prefer to go wide (wide angle) where they can go as close as you possibly can to a subject and still capture a whole scene. My recommendation is to shoot with whatever lens you have, and eventually you will realize if you want to go longer or wider.

How do you approach your subjects? and how do you make them feel at ease?
This refers to my ongoing set Potraits of Strangers where I take close-up head shots of people in Orchard Road with their permission. I try to be very casual about it. People in Orchard Road usually have an aversion to strangers asking them for something, so I go straight to the point by asking “Is it ok if I take your picture?” and go from there. Some say ‘yes’ immediately, others ask ‘what for?’ I just tell them the truth and explain exactly what I’m trying to do.

As for them feeling at ease, I guess one factor is my choice of subjects. I’m very picky on who to shoot – my usual preference are those faces who can stand out of the crowd and look very comfortable with themselves and how they look. So it’s a mixture of distinct looks and cool attitude. This can easily translate to a great impromptu street portrait. In addition to choosing the right face, I think smiling also helps :)

Do you apply any Post Processing on your photos? What is your PP workflow?
Yes, I do. For those who don’t know what ‘Post Processing’ is, it’s when a photographer enhances a digital photograph using software apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. We call it PP. Any serious photographer needs to learn this to get the most out of their shots. For a professional, it’s a must.

I use Lightroom to adjust the exposure and add vignettes when needed, and go straight to Photoshop where I adjust the highlights and shadows on select parts of a photograph using channel selections. This is a little something I learned from attending a Digital Retouch Workflow workshop with Guy Gowan.

I try to be careful not to over process my shots. My rule of thumb is that the outcome should still look natural and realistic. If somebody says “oh, that’s been photoshopped” that’s usually an indication of bad PP resulting to a bad photograph. Some people argue if PP is a form of cheating in photography. I disagree – PP can enhance a good photograph, but no amount of PP can make a bad photograph good. Trust me, I’ve tried this.

Do you do model shoots?
The only model shoot I’ve done so far was for a client who hired 2 models for me to shoot around Orchard Road. Unfortunately, this was cut short because the rain suddenly poured like crazy.

Model Jayne Tham

I have yet to attend one of those group photo shoots where they hire a model and a group of 10 photographers pay to shoot the model. Maybe I’ll try that someday. But right now, I’m really more inclined to do portrait shoots with a model/subject on my own. In case anyone’s interested, just drop me an email and we can talk about it.

Can I copy what you’re doing?
You don’t have to ask permission on this one because anyone’s really free to copy anyone. In fact, that’s how I started… by trying to imitate the shots of photographers I like. However, I strongly recommend that eventually, you find your own way of shooting by being creative and being receptive to other ideas as well. The worst thing that can happen to you is to be labeled as a clone to another photographer.

One of my projects is called ‘Portraits of Strangers‘. This is hardly original, coz a lot of hobbyists have done the ‘100 Strangers’ project made popular in Flickr. When I started the project, I decided to be consistent in all portraits so I established the following rules for myself: framing would be a close up head shot, location is in Orchard Road, and I have to avoid getting the typical ‘snapshot smile’ from the subject. This project is very personal to me, since I put a lot of time and effort to it, and it wasn’t easy to do. So one day, while I was working on this project, a fellow hobbyist saw me shooting a stranger. He approached me and asked questions on how I do it, and I gladly shared what I know. The very next day, I see him doing exactly the same thing in the exact same location. He’s basically creating the same series as I was. Personally, I was frustrated. But I couldn’t do anything about it.. he had the right to do what he wanted. Someone even labeled him a ‘Danny Santos clone’ in one of the local forums. Nobody wants that, not even me. That’s too bad coz the guy’s got passion. I just hope that someday, he will discover his own way of shooting.

41 thoughts on “Most Asked Questions

  1. Funny – I’m actually trying to find an affordable 85mm lens for my F100 right now. I generally find my 50mm more than good enough, but there are some places, like New York City, where I need the longer lens to isolate my subjects from the background noise better (exactly as you say).

    I haven’t been as lucky with making people mad, though. Never in big cities like Boston or New York, but around Hartford, people in my neighborhood seem to be a lot more suspicious of a white guy taking pictures. For example, this guy:

    Most of the time, though, the truth is all it takes to defuse an irritated subject. They might think I’m crazy, but at least they don’t want to beat me up anymore.

  2. Thankyou for sharing all that with us Danny I really appreciate it.

    And gggrr about that man who copied you, that would Peed me off bad. But you know what you weren’t selfish and secretive with what you do, so for that you will be blessed. What that other man does wont last


  3. This was a great read. What’s cool about photography is that while new subject matter is hard to find, each person’s approach with respect to how he or she sees and ultimately photographs that subject matter is totally unique — even if one is trying to copy. No one can really truly nail a photograph precisely like Cartier Bresson. Just like no one can truly create a Danny Santos photograph. So while copiers are frustrating, especially the guy you described, he will never see what you do and extract the same expressions from people on the street as you do. So, keep on doing what you do, Danny. Your work is a pleasure to view.
    P.S. I actually am doing a similar project (but I didn’t copy you – I swear!!).

  4. @Pete: oh man, that must’ve been intense with that guy running after you. It’s a good thing nothing unfortunate happened. yeah, i can imagine the truth is always the best comeback for confrontations like that.

    @Shukura: thank you so much for the very kind words :) and thank you for the confidence and support.

    @photodiarist: wow, really big thanks (I just realized I don’t know ur name.. but I’m quite familiar with your blog). your comment is quite overwhelming. hahaha I know you didn’t copy me, I’ve seen your work and I have nothing but respect for it :)

  5. Ok, I’d say something here, maybe i dont make any sense, but this is how i look at your “Danny Santos clone” paragraph:

    As of now, i am probably only 2 portraits old…so when i look at your pics, and methods, ur style of photography… which inspires me, i want to replicate it. Not because I want to be a clone… its because i’d like to see my photographs inspiring, me and others.

    You are currently at a stage where you have done so many portraits, that you can now change certain parameters like, asking your subjects not to smile, or having enough confidence to click whichever stranger “you” feel like clikcing….etc.
    For me (& others), I’l be happy 2 even click a stranger’s portrait who is half as intresting as yours. An up-close face shot gives me the hibbie-jibbez!
    yes.this is me now.
    maybe after i have i managed to control my “shaking hands”, the clarity of my shots…i may move out and develop my own style. as of now, i consider my self running on a track (rather slowly) taking me to Danny Clone. I may have to eventually take my own route.

    As for the guy who copied u, well… I cannot deny it either, I wud ve gotten mad at him too:)

  6. portraits of stranger, do you like give them a card or something so that they can check out their photos if its to be posted? Cause like you said some will asked “what for?” then surely some will ask “do I get to see the photos?”. :D

  7. I quite enjoyed this post, Danny and have to commend your generosity in sharing your thoughts and process. I think people can easily immitate process (in this case, shooting a certain angle etc) but it is hard to immitate a style and do it naturally and consistently. So even if people have copied your street portraits/shooting, it’s their decision on how they want to compose and process it. That’s where the similarities end and individual styles emerge.

    Besides, I think as a photographer, we want to experiment new styles and push boundaries, so in a way, it’s like research and development in technology, by the time someone catches up to your last “style”, you’re way ahead to the next “proto-type”.

    But another discussion, which was done by XpatScot (from Flickr) on his website is how one defines their own style and maintains it without seeming too repetitive.

    Sue Anne

  8. @manraj: just keep shooting bro. I’m pretty sure you’ll find your way as I have ;)

    @Aizat: yup, I always try to give them a card with my website address so they can check out their photo when they get the chance :)

    @Sue Anne: Regarding XpatScot’s contention, I think developing your own style is not really something you actively pursue, but something that you just develop naturally as you continue to do what you want to do while getting the output that you like. As you do your own thing, before you know it, people are saying that’s your style. So maybe if it’s something that just developed naturally as you shoot further, as you try to shoot other subject matters or other genres, that intrinsic style will still be recognizable while making it feel ‘fresh’. I’m not sure if I’m making sense… I haven’t really been photographing long enough to see if this is even true :)

  9. Thank you for sharing the answers to your most asked questions re shooting strangers in Orchard Road. They have been very helpful. I look forward to each new stranger you add to your collection. Keep up the great work.

  10. I chanced upon your website through StumbleUpon and was quite pleased to see this sort of thing happening in the streets at home. Thank you for sharing this and being so frank about how you felt about the process, even the guy who ‘copied’ you! But I guess at the end of the day we are all copying someone else and it takes a bit more effort to try and do a variation of the same theme, so well done!

    Could I ask a question? What are the possibilities for taking portrait shots with a 18-55mm lens? (It’s all I’ve got right now…) I’m trying to improve my portrait photography… Thank you (:

  11. Danny, great work.
    All of us might copy your “format” but we’ll all have different results based on the models we find, their reactions to us and our ability to keep our nerves in check.
    For me, I suppose I’ll stammer away, rattle off 20 shots like a crazed paparazzi and hand them a moo card.
    Hopefully something will be in focus.

  12. @William: It’s a pleasure to help, Bill. Thank you for the support :)

    @Charmaine: the 18-55mm kit lens can be used for portrait photography, provided that you use the longer end (between 35-55mm) and smallest possible f/stop number. Using shorter focal length could distort the face of your subject, especially for close up shots. You’ll also need some ample light to get a good exposure.

    I would also recommend that you get the always reliable 50mm f1.8… it’s very sharp, very fast, and very cheap :)

    @Roger: I used to do just exactly that, and luckily have gotten some good shots out of it. Good luck on your shoot out, I’m sure you’ll get good ones too :)

  13. Wonderful, nice clean shots I like your aproach and way you select images. Congratulation next time I am at the Orchard I will look for you ;-)

  14. Beautiful pictures, but I noticed something that made me frown a bit. All the women you shoot are young vibrant attractive 20-somethings. Whereas the men vary in age, and attractiveness. Some are weathered, and ages, which is beautiful in and of itself, but what about older women?

  15. @Lacey: Thanks Lacey… you’re actually the 5th person who pointed that out to me :) I’ve discussed this with 4 others. I’ve been more consciously looking for women of senior age, however, the ones I’ve approached so far said ‘no.’ One of the speculations for this is that senior women might be more conscious on how they look. However, I still keep my eyes peeled for them :)

  16. Hi, love your pictures, and this project of yours. Mind if I post one of your photos and your link on my blog when I share it with my friends?

  17. very inspiring photography style u’ve got here… it’s really quite unique to me having visiting many photography blogs. also with a passion for candid portrait photography, i admire that you’ve overcome the fear of taking photos of strangers& asking for people’s permission on the street (i’ve been told off couple of times and sometimes when i’m not even taking of them!) – i do understand coz it can be quite intrusive so when i’m up close i ask too but often the candid moment is lost especially for those who are camera conscious. anyways awesome work!

  18. Love your work, Danny, and thanks for the great tips above.

    One further questions; do you shoot mainly in full manual mode, or perhaps aperture priority? What’s a recommended aperture setting to get the best results from standard street photography?


  19. @Mike: Every photographer has their own preference on what mode to shoot on. I know some photographers who likes shooting full manual, even in focusing. For me, I usually shoot in aperture priority. The required aperture setting will really depend on what kind of results you want in street photography. Some shoot wide open to get great bokeh, some shoot with a small aperture to get almost everything in focus. I highly recommend that you play around with the settings until you find one that best suits your wants.

    Hope this helps.

  20. Love your work. As a senior who travels a lot I take a lot of pictures, what you have given us here will help me. I have ventured into taking strangers’ pictures while traveling because I find them more interesting than photographing one more statue, building, cathedral, bridge, etc. Some of my best photos of are of strangers. A sleeping older gentleman on a bench. A woman reading the newspaper while she waits for customers in her stall. A priest hurrying through St Peters.

  21. Hello Danny,

    your shoots are very inspiring, i love your work! I’d like to ask you if digital professional camera (es Nikon D3, D700 ecc.) are a must for B&W too? Photoshop, Lightroom ecc. are at same level of B&W chemical develop??

    Thanks a lot, best regards,


  22. @Max: I don’t own a D3 or a D700, but I believe you can still create good B&W even with entry-level DSLRs… I think Photoshop or Lightroom does a pretty good job with B&W conversion whatever your camera is.

  23. Hey Danny,

    you are simply brilliant. You are not only a great photographer but also a excellent blogger. & your humbleness in the blog is a great effort.

  24. More I get to know Danny (through his blog) and more I think he’s a great communicator, he does it genuinely with no second hidden purpose, and more striking, without neglecting anything which may be helpful~!

    You can tell by the way he talk he’s happy to share, and I’m happy to learn from him and the likes… I’m now even more motivated to define my way then I’ve ever been so far~!

    For the ones whose are still looking for answer, I suggest what I often suggest to myself, stop reading or PP and just grab your camera whatever you got and go out shooting…

    Thank you Danny~!

  25. Hi Danny, Thank you for the blog. It truly made my day seeing all those photos. Mind if I ask a question? I’ve been using an 85mm 1.4 myself but at the largest aperture of 1.4, most of my shots are very ill focused while yours is very crisp and sharp. Do you normally shoot at 1.4 too or are you more of a 2.8? :)

  26. @Joy: I use f1.4 for still portraits, f2.2 for moving subjects, and f3.5 if they are spotlit. Using the lens wide open (at f1.4) if quite risky but pays off really well. If you get the hang of it, and are very careful with the focus, f1.4 can be very sharp at the focus point when you’re very near the subject.

  27. Pingback: Street photographer Danny Santos' Frequently Asked Questions - a photography link from simple_iso_v4

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