Street photography transforms brief encounters with total strangers into timeless memories, where every little micro-expression captured on camera reveals key information about a subject’s personality. Photographer Jim Hughes’ impromptu portrait project highlights how a little bit of friendly conversation can go a long way. After setting up a black seamless background on a sidewalk in the middle of downtown San Francisco, the experiment began with a simple hello. From there, a combination of spontaneity and serendipity unfolded the events that followed. Jim comments:

It takes a different kind of planning to go out for a shoot like this, putting aside a usual day of emails, phone calls, and typical office work to go shoot something where you don’t know what the outcome will be. The unknown is what makes these photo shoots exciting! 

Sometimes it feels like a lens has the power to stare straight into someone’s soul, where making a new subject feel comfortable in front of the camera requires an outgoing attitude, flexibility, and an element of social etiquette. Jim elaborates:

I didn’t really know them much beyond our 5 minute chat. We talked about if I could photograph them, if they live in the area or are from out of town, what they were up to that day. There might be a story that sticks out for a reason or two but the photograph helps ground and makes it a permanent memory for me. I remember everything about that day when I see these again. If I saw this gentleman on the street again I’m fairly certain I could spot him from a block away. Maybe he’s cut his hair or it’s still as wild as it is here, but I like to think that I would recognise him and that he would remember me. But maybe he’s moved out of the City, onto greener pastures. At least there will be this snapshot in time.

While it can sometimes be difficult to make the time for passion projects when your craft becomes your career, Jim explains that “projects like this help fuel and free the creative soul.” Making the time to pursue photoshoot ideas that feed your inspirational fire is the first step in levelling up as a professional artist. Let this series serve as inspiration for remembering to find the balance between work + play. 

When Jim’s not snapping striking portraits of Hayes Valley strangers, he specialises in lifestyle advertising for clients such as HP, AT&T, GE, Exxon, Gap, and Coca-Cola. For more photography samples by Jim Hughes, view his portfolio here