Every Photo Taken By A Stranger Has A Story

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Do you love having your travel photos taken by complete strangers? I absolutely didn't until I traveled to Alsace, France earlier this year. Just as when I thought I have mastered the art of taking selfies in Madrid last year, I terribly failed in Strasbourg. Hence, I didn't have a choice but to ask strangers to take my photos. You may ask, how about a selfie stick? Er, I still haven't managed to convince myself to use it (unless I am with someone who is up for it). I'm sorry but I just can't make myself to use it, mainly because I am not good at finding the right angles which means that I will waste more time. But don't get me wrong, I tried it before (at home), only I gave up immediately. :)

Anyway, I have always been hesitant in asking strangers to take my photos because I fear that they may steal my camera or my phone. Don't trust strangers, remember? And let's be honest, strangers really do not care about my photos (nor me), so they just click whenever and whatever. After all, they're just doing me a favour. Also, they have no time because just like me, they want to maximise their time in that place and see as much as they can.  

But, not all strangers are the same. There are really some nice ones who would even offer to take your photos. We are all strangers to others so I know how it's like. And to be honest, I am very good at offering to take other people's photos especially when I see them struggling. Or when they are in a group and they have to take a few shots so they can have everyone in the photo. Saying this though, my kind gesture has also been rejected a lot of times, mostly by my own "kababayans"(truth).

In Strasbourg and Colmar, majority of my photos were taken by complete strangers. They are not my favourite photos, but I love the stories behind them. So, here goes.

1. Two local young ladies
- It was early morning on our first full day in Strasbourg. I decided to visit the Strasbourg Cathedral first thing in the morning because I read that as soon as 9am strikes, it becomes ridiculously busy. There were only a few people passing by that morning and they all seemed to be in a rush. So, when I saw two young ladies who seemed like they had time to spare, I took the courage to ask a favour and luckily, they happily obliged. The lady who volunteered even asked me how I wanted my photo to be taken. It was a bit windy that morning, but she said to wait until the wind stops and even went down on her knee so she could take a good photo of the church behind me. She must have taken five shots and asked if they were fine by me. As she has taken much effort already, I said yes and thank you, although I could have asked for another shot. 

2. The lady at the Cafe
- Later that morning, I went back to the square to have coffee. It was already busy and with a specific photo in my mind (as suggested by Farrah), I sat on a table so that the cathedral was in my background. When the lady brought my coffee and my croissant, I asked her kindly to take my photo. I gave her instructions and man, did she struggle. Bless her. She really tried to take the photo I wanted, but the amount of people passing by made it impossible. She even tried every angle just to avoid them. We both started laughing because the people from the other tables were already watching us. When the background finally cleared, she asked me to smile (quick, she said) and voila! :)

3. The smoking guy
-  I definitely challenged myself that day because I wanted to overcome my shyness in bothering other people so I can have my photos taken. So, I didn't spare the smoking guy around the corner. He was on his mobile phone, but immediately hid it in his pocket when I approached him. I told him I wanted the two buildings in the background. He even pointed at the buildings and said, "Ah, oui, oui!" with a smile. But...

4. The lady with a family
- It was the middle of the day and the sun was out. I walked to St Paul's church- one of the prettiest churches I have seen in my travels. I was not really planning to have my photos taken, but a lady offered. Her kids were running around and were behind me when the lady was taking my photo. She ordered her kids to stay on the side because she wanted to take my photos. At one point, the boy tried to annoy his mother and stayed behind me so he could be in the photo. But the mother saw him and angrily asked him to move. I thought that was a sweet gesture. 

5. The nice French lady 
- Then on my way back from the church, I asked a random lady if she could take my photo with the church in the background. I deliberately set my phone camera on portrait as I wanted the church as a blurry background. I told the lady I will look towards the river. "Wait!", she said. "I can't see you in the photo". She wasn't focusing on me it turned out. In the end, I had to set the phone camera to a standard photo, and she managed to take my photo with a huge smile on her face. 


6. The obliging gentleman
- Colmar is such a beautiful place and this was where I wanted to have my signature walking shot taken. It took me a while to get the courage to ask someone though. And then I saw this man waiting to cross the street. I ran towards him and I asked if he could take a walking shot. "Of course", he said. So, I ran to the other side of the road, entrusting him with my mobile phone. Talk about not trusting strangers- all for the sake of that walking shot. I was laughing to myself as he didn't seem to know when to take the shot. I shouted at him, "Just click it, and I'll walk". And so he did. 

7. The Chinese young lady
- I learned that day in Colmar that no one really could understand me better when it comes to having my photos taken than my fellow Asians. This is the reason why when I saw a Chinese young lady, I didn't hesitate to ask her. She took numerous photos, in every angle I asked her to. All of them were dark unfortunately. Of course I returned the favour. And because she loved the camera, I pretended to be a real photographer and instructed her to do some poses that I thought would look good. Her phone camera took really good photos to be honest, but it was a phone that I've never seen or heard of before. We also had a brief chitchat which was the best part of the experience. She told me she was from Hongkong and was studying in University of Strasbourg.

8. The young man with his group of friends
- So, I showed the young man how I wanted my photo to be taken. His friends laughed at him when I handed him my camera. When he showed me the first shot, I asked if he could take another one. By this time, his friends have left him. He took two more shots and quickly handed me back my camera. He turned his back quicker than I was able to say thank you. He probably thought I would ask him to take another photo but I settled with the photo with the bin.

9. The Spanish lady
- The lady was quite excited when I asked her to take my photo that she slightly panicked when my camera screen went black ( I used my normal camera). I could only understand her body language as she spoke in Spanish. I was in a bit of a rush because the street was finally empty, but I had to go back and fix my camera. When I returned to my spot and she was ready to take the shot, it was too late.

10.  The restaurant staff
-  It was my birthday lunch and of course I had to have my other signature pose (with a cup). Shameless and oblivious of the fact that there were other people in the room, I asked the waiter if he could take a photo of me looking at my cup. He smiled at me (perhaps thinking wth) and willingly took my phone. As I was already sat in the restaurant for almost 3 hours, I would have been happy with whatever photos he has taken. He told me he took a few and he actually did. But this one was the best:

11. Another Asian young lady
- On that same day, I felt that I really had to have a photo on at least one of the famous bridges in Strasbourg. It was just a matter of who could take a good shot. Yes, prior to this day, a few shots have been taken including those that were taken by J. But none of them were decent enough for me. I thought I'd give it a final shot. So, when I spotted a pretty young Asian lady, I asked if she could take just one photo of me on the bridge. She sat down and immediately counted 1,2,3. It was fine but I don't really like looking down at cameras. I was grateful for the effort though, and the photo was not too bad either.

12. The professional photographer looking lady
- I always assumed that people with huge camera lenses are professional photographers. So when I saw a lady with a huge camera lens, I did not think twice. I was expecting her to take at least two shots, but she only took one. Luckily, I was camera-ready. I didn't even check the photo anymore. I just said thank you and left as I was embarrassed to ask for another photo.

13.  The student
- She wasn't particularly keen to take my photo but her friend pushed her towards me so she was forced I think. She took a portrait photo at first, but I asked her if she could take a landscape because I wanted the buildings in the background. She obliged but I could feel the hesitation. I was also nearing my camera threshold by that time, so it was all good. 

During this trip, I was quite not sure how to approach strangers because it meant that I had to ask in every place I went to. I was supposed to follow my instinct, however at times I became impatient and just asked whoever. If I saw someone who didn't seem to be in a rush and/or with a companion and I felt that they could be trusted, then I did not hesitate to approach them. But I guess right timing and right approach were the key. I found it difficult to interrupt strangers just to have my photos taken to be honest . I waited until there was a short "pause" before I asked. Besides that, I made sure that I asked first if it was okay for them because after all, I was asking them a favour and they of course had the right to say no. I also made sure that I said thank you even if I didn't like the photos because at least they made an effort.

I used to be so shy in asking strangers to take my photos, but now I am quite demanding and even tell the person exactly how I wanted my photo to be taken. If I want to walk or run, I'll tell them. If I want to look up or down or sideways, I tell them. I also tell them what I want to see in the photo. Of course, 90% of the time, it's not going to be the photo I had in mind but at least I asked.

I am also no longer shy to ask for another photo especially if the person is nice. At the end of the day, these people don't know me and chances are, we will never see each other again.

So there, I keep even the ugliest photos taken by strangers because there is a story behind each of them. 

TIN x

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