Shooting Portraits of Strangers with the Sony A7r

Posted on March 12th, by Danny Santos II in Personal Project, Review. 14 comments


The last time I photographed portraits of strangers in the streets was around 3 years ago. Since then, I’ve been busy doing candids, studio shoots, and commissioned work. And as the recent exhibit is wrapping up, I’ve been wanting to go back in the streets and add new faces to the project. Then just recently, Sony Singapore provided me with a Sony A7r on loan for a month to test drive. I figured this was the perfect time to shoot new strangers.

Sony A7r with Nikon 85mm f1.4D lensSo for a few weekends now, I’ve been back in Orchard Road, looking for a face that stands out, and approaching them to ask if I could take their portrait. I used the Sony A7r with a Nikon 85mm f1.4D – good thing Sony SG also provided a Novoflex adapter that allows me to use Nikon lenses. It’s a good combo… a compact camera with a whopping 36MP sensor, and my trusty old 85mm I use in almost all my portrait work. The only catch is, the adapter renders the lens to manual focus, and the camera to manual exposure. Fortunately, the Xtra Fine LCD and focus peaking feature makes using my Nikon lens immediately manageable.

Focusing manually wide open at f1.4 leaves you with too much guess work – a lot of space for mistakes. But thanks to focus peaking (which is like the best invention ever), I would just wait for the catch lights in the subject’s eyes to highlight, and click. I remember everytime the subject leaves and I review the shots, I would whisper to myself “please be sharp, please be sharp…” while zooming in on the eyes. And 95% of the time, I nail it.

100% crop of a stranger's eye.

100% crop of a stranger’s eye.

Moreover, the camera’s 36 megapixel sensor really lends well to capturing a lot of minute detail in the subject’s face. The strands of hair, the pores in the skin, the iris in the eyes… seeing the images at 100% is fascinating. It’s almost like exploring the landscape of the stranger’s face. I bet it would be awesome when printed up large.

Overall, I find the camera convenient and dependable. Convenient for it’s compact size, focus aid, and tilting LCD. Dependable for it’s awesome 36 megapixel sensor encased in a weather-sealed body. These features worked very well for me while shooting in the streets. One of the common major complains I’ve read about the camera is it’s annoyingly loud shutter sound. Yes, it is annoying.. at first. But as soon as I got in the zone, I practically forgot about it.

It’s been a while since I last shot in the streets. The hunt for a good portrait is still exhilarating. Though I still get anxious and terrified when approaching strangers, and I still get a number of rejections – which is never easy. But eventually having other strangers say ‘yes’ and getting these keeper shots more than made up for it.

Stranger #105 by Danny Santos

Stranger #107 by Danny Santos

Stranger #106 by Danny Santos

Stranger #108 by Danny Santos

Stranger #109 by Danny Santos

Stranger #110 by Danny Santos

Stranger by Danny Santos

Stranger #111 by Danny Santos

In addition to shooting portraits of strangers with the Sony A7r, I also shot candids. I have yet to closely review all the shots, but when I do, I’ll be sure to share some of the images, along with my further thoughts and review on the camera.

Thanks to Sony Singapore for letting me experience the Sony A7r. Big thanks to Jon and Reuben for joining me in the shoots. Big big thanks to all the strangers who said yes to being photographed by a complete stranger. You guys rock!

14 thoughts on “Shooting Portraits of Strangers with the Sony A7r

  1. Looking at these and your other portraits I see that it is your style to cut off the top of the heads. I’m surprised just how well this work and will try this with my own shots.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & photos from a7. I’m eyeing on that gear as my 2body to partner with d700. Looking forward to see some more of your candid shots. I’m worried about focusing it manually in candid. Hoping shots remain sharp with subject in motion.
    -RAM, from NJ

  3. Thank you for an enjoyable review and story. I’m in agreement with the detail and isolation of the subjects with that combo. I came across this post as fairly new to photography, and wanting to do what you’ve done here in taking portraits of strangers. May I ask what type of questions you were asked after asking to take their portrait, and how you field the replies? In my mind, I tend to think people will ask me what it’s for, where it will show up, etc? I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures, and have purchased an a7r with some well earned money, and am also looking at the best lens for on the go photography/portraits. It’s been a toss up between a quality zoom and quality prime such as an 85 or Nikon 105dc. Makes it tougher after seeing these portraits haha. Thanks again for an enjoyable read!

  4. Danny,

    I notice that many of your headshots seem to have “omnidirectional” lighting, with no shadows on the faces. Could you share how you are choosing the lighting location, time of day, and/or augmenting the natural lighting? I really like the evenly lit shots. Thanks.

  5. Nice work! I really enjoy your portraits, and it seems the A7R goes well in this exercise too…

    Have you tried it with a lens that support autofocus? I tried one with a Sony lens and it was dead slow, unusable for candid work in the street.

  6. Awesome. Can I ask you if you engage with them after the shot? Do you give them your card with your website address on it, or something like that?

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