When photographer Seth Hancock and his wife decided to move from Los Angeles to New York they agreed she would pack up their belongings (and the dog) and take the express route cross country so she could get their new digs in order while he followed up on a personal photography project he had been thinking about for the prior three years. Specifically, Seth had a hankering to take a cross-country jaunt photographing random strangers along the way. Sure it’s been done before, but Seth’s project had a set of parameters that made it rather unique.
The ’10 Minutes With a Stranger’ project was a 47-day trip (original estimate 15 days… tops), in which
Hancock encountered over 150 strangers, engaged them in conversation for 10 minutes while figuring out how to make an equally engaging portrait of his newest friend. Lastly – and this is where he connects the dots between himself, his subject, and the viewer, he had each of them write something personal about themselves in a journal he carried for that very purpose.
The ground rules for the journal entry were that the entries had to be truthful, honest, no longer than a single page, written in first-person, and be specifically about themselves. ‘Fortune Cookie’ or ‘Yearbook’ responses, as well as ‘innocuous, blasé, wistful, or disingenuous’ responses would not be accepted. The results of Seth’s efforts and execution of ’10 Minutes with a Stranger’ are remarkable to say the least.
In preparation for the trip Seth packed two cases of Elinchrom Rangers, stands, umbrellas and cables for lighting his subjects. It didn’t take more than his first day out to realize there was no way he could make an honest connection with his subjects, gain their trust, and make a worthwhile portrait if he also had to deal with the distractions of setting up a hit-and-run portrait studio.
Rather than waste precious time futzing with studio lights, he mounted a MiniTT1 Transmitter onto his Nikon D3s, FlexTT5 Transceivers onto his SB-800 Speedlights with Lumiquest Big Bounce diffusers, and he was good-to-go.
Though he earlier tried syncing his camera and flash using a TTL sync cord, he found the length of the cord greatly impeded his ability to get the shots he saw in his mind’s eye. The only way he could get it right was to go wireless. ‘I couldn’t have done it without my PocketWizard wireless triggering system. They literally unchained me.”
One aspect of going wireless that appealed to Seth’s framing and composition was the ability to quickly change the position of the Speedlight while handholding it off to the side or from above. Other times he would stand the Speedlight on a table or ledge, using the flat bottom surface of the FlexTT5 Transceiver as a table stand for the Speedlight. And in a few shots, his subject is actually holding the Speedlight in their hand, which is about as cooperative as a stranger can get when you’re taking their portrait.
Something Seth had no control over was when and where he would encounter his next subject, which meant he was often shooting under contrasty midday sunlight. Here, too, his PocketWizard radios made his day by enabling him to shoot at wider, portrait-appropriate apertures and correspondingly faster shutter speeds under the brightest of lighting conditions using the HSS/Auto-FP Sync function of his PocketWizard/Speedlight portrait lighting system.
Seth makes a point of noting his PocketWizard triggering system transmits iTTL information, which is critical when shooting in such narrow time parameters. While there were several occasions when he synced with his Speedlight in Manual Mode, there were equally as many occasions when he needed to be able to pump anywhere up to three stops of additional light onto their faces in order to make the person stand out from the background without having to compromise other visual elements in the picture.
For Seth Hancock, PocketWizard radio triggers are so much more than a Speedlight accessory, they are creative tools unto themselves.
To see more of Seth Hancock’s work visit the following links:
Portfolio – http://sethhancock.com
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/thesethhancock
Facebook for 10 Minutes with a Stranger – http://www.facebook.com/10minuteswithastranger
Seth Hancock’s Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/thesethhancock
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