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News & Insight

Mesmerizing Personal Project: Portraits of Strangers

By fotosiamo on November 8th 2012

For Steve McCurry, his iconic portrait of the Afghan Girl forever changed the trajectory of his photographic career, effectively placing him amongst the most influential photographers ever. The Afghan Girl was the photo that can singularly define McCurry.

In a way, we are all probably looking for our Afghan Girl, the photo that people will remember us most by. We don’t know when it will come, or if it will ever come.

Stranger #7

For Danny Santos II, Stranger #7 was his Afghan Girl. She was the first girl that Danny approached when he first began his personal project: Portraits of Strangers.

I saw her sitting on the stairs outside of a mall, talking with her friend. It seemed like a lively discussion. She was the first girl I’ve approached for this project. When I asked “Is it ok if I take your picture?” she comfortably said “Sure.” I was pleasantly surprised, but was still very nervous. As I took this photograph, I was actually struggling.. thinking: “Steadyyy… man, I hope she doesn’t notice my camera shaking.”

Strangers #7 was instantly a crowd favorite and to this day is still Danny’s most popular and highest-rated photograph.

As Danny described the project on his blog, Portraits of Strangers was Danny’s personal project in which he captures portraits of people walking and shopping around Orchard Road in Singapore.

During the weekends, he would wait around at Orchard Road until he was struck by a face. He would then approach his subject and ask, “Is it ok if I take your picture?” Some said yes right away, other would ask why, requiring Danny to explain his project. The majority of his potential subjects were supportive.

One thing notable about the way Danny shot his subjects is that he requested that his subject just look at the camera and don’t smile. His goal was to “concentrate on the mysterious individuality of each subject. Take away the usual snapshot smile, zero in on the face, focus on the eyes, and you get that ‘unguarded’ natural look, increasing up the intimacy of each portrait.”

The prospect of approaching strangers alone was simple, yet daunting, Danny recounted in his blog.

The truth is in most, if not all, of the portraits I took, I could literally hear my heart pound away as soon as I spotted a potential subject. And in some cases, my hands would actually shake while taking their picture.

I admire photographers who pursue personal projects with the kind of passion and dedication that Danny showed with Portraits of Strangers. The project required nothing more than his Nikon D300 and an 85mm f/1.4 prime lens. But the results are simply sublime. You can view more photos from this series on his website gallery at, as well as his Flickr gallery.

Here are a few more samples of his images. Be sure to check out the rest of his work on his website:

As for Sophy (Stranger #7), Danny managed to get in touch with her through Facebook 1 1/2 years later, and they have since gotten together for a photoshoot.

Stranger 96

Stranger #96 by Danny Santos II

Stranger# 44 by Danny Santos II

Stranger# 44 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #56 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #56 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #25 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #25 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #77 by Danny Santos II

Stranger #77 by Danny Santos II


Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rafael Steffen

    Amazing portraits! Thanks for sharing her work!

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  2. Ed Rhodes

    great photo series!

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  3. Vert Flores

    I like seeing the unique mysterious vibe in the photos. x3 awesome.

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