how I went viral photographing strangers

Feb 12, 2023

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

how I went viral photographing strangers

Feb 12, 2023

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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Dino Serrao

When you first see Dino, he’s quite an unassuming Italian gentleman armed with a camera. Let me assure you, though, Dino Serrao is someone whose photos you’ve seen before. His Instagram bio says that he’s ‘traveling the world to make an impact’, and he’s doing exactly that. I was fortunate enough to connect with Dino and ask him questions about what he does. Here’s his story.

Dino Serrao is a photographer who aims to make the invisible visible. He tells me that he believes there’s beauty in everyone, and I can surely say he truly means what he says. His project is his passion, and his method is genuine. He sees strangers, and if they captivate him, he approaches them and asks to take their portrait.

Dino Serrao

Dino has moved from Southern Italy to Northern Norway, where he has set up his base. He travels the world in search of characters to photograph. These five people we see below are just a tiny fraction of the total number of portraits Dino has taken. His work has led him to work with large companies and tourism agencies, helping him achieve his desire to travel whilst continuing his passion for portraiture.

Dino Serrao

Wherever Dino goes, he gets a great reception. He took a photo of a gentleman in Iceland named Thor. The encounter stirred such a good reaction that the story was covered by the Icelandic news outlet, MBL. I was lucky enough to have my portrait taken by Dino in Lofoten, Norway when we met to discuss his photographic adventures, and I love it.

Dino Serrao Dave Williams

I was curious to hear Dino’s words; I’m sure you are, too. Here’s what he had to say:

You’re the first person I recall seeing who approaches strangers and makes a video of the encounter. You’re basically the original in that sense. How do you feel about having your style replicated in reels and shorts?

Well, I can’t really say I am the “original” in terms of approaching strangers for random portrait photography. I believe at the time I started in 2019, in Australia, there wasn’t anyone doing what I do. There definitely wasn’t anyone sending the same message through photography as I was doing. I recall two guys in LA doing creative photo shooting with strangers, which was basically dealing with teenagers to make an impression on the audience on how cool they could turn some people in those photos.

Looking at Social Media today, you will probably find many copycats all around. It’s now becoming more and more of a trend, and yet I can say this: I don’t feel in competition with anyone, I’m happy to see people that get inspiration from me, and actually, that’s all it’s about. If someone spreads awareness of beauty, that’s an amazing thing. I just don’t really like the idea of showing off with the camera. I chose to use the camera and photography as a tool to send a message.
dino Serrao thor

You’re strongly driven by the need to show the beauty of people you find worldwide. What else is driving you in this project?

As I usually say, I’m not here to make any impression (like many others do, and they do well, nothing wrong about it), but I’m here to make an impact. At the end of every day, whatever we do, whoever we are, we come from, we meet, we deal with, whatever we invent, create, sell, and buy, we are worried for and thinking, it is all about People, human beings. The main purpose is to send a specific message:  ‘What looks ordinary is actually Extraordinary, and also try as much as I can to make the invisible Visible’.

Dino Serrao

Someone must be recording you throughout this series because the videos are all very consistent and good. Who does that, and how does the process work?

I had several friends that believed so much in my project that they would come and help me with joy without asking for anything in return. I will always be thankful to them for this. A moment in the journey came, understandably, when all of them got stuck in their own life. They didn’t have much more time to offer this mission. I understood it was my call, not theirs. I can’t deny that sometimes I struggle to find the right person who’s ready to say, ‘yes I want to follow you on this journey and at least try and see what happens.’ Then I met my lovely, beautiful half and today, also a partner in crime.
For some time now, behind the scenes and filming the encounters is my girlfriend, Vanita. Passionate about this mission, she truly believes in what I do and lives to the same principles I have. She wasn’t an expert when we started, but she is proof: any one of us, with enthusiasm, can become better and get great skills.
The process is simply to do what’s most natural for us, walking in the cities and admiring places and everyday people all around. The difference is that I have a camera ready to shoot with me and a wireless mic on me, and Vanita has an iPhone with a mic receiver connected. As soon as we notice someone that inspires us, someone with some interesting feature, or we see a gesture or someone doing something, we just stop that person, explain who we are and what we are doing, and hope they say yes. And trust me. Sometimes they say no as well.
Vanita records the whole process from when we approach until we say goodbye.
Dino Serrao Vanita

You’re an ace with the camera and in post-process. How did you learn about photography and editing? What hardware and software do you use right now?

I’ve always been attracted by faces and expressions when I was studying cinematography and photography. I can say that all I learned, and 90% of what I know today, was self-taught from the web, YouTube, etc. I followed other photographers, practiced a lot, and slowly improved. I believe it’s still an ongoing experience of improving, experimenting, and learning. I believe we never really arrive somewhere when there is a passion that drives us to an infinite 
To edit, I use Adobe Lightroom Classic, Lightroom Mobile (sometimes when my laptop is not available), and Adobe Photoshop. I think, for now, they are enough to get the best out of my portraits.
Dino Serrao

You are from southern Italy, where the sun is always shining. Moving to the ‘Caribbean of the north’, the Lofoten Islands must have been quite a shock in some ways. What was the motivation behind moving to the Arctic?

Well, that was pretty random, actually. I actually left Calabria – my region in the south of Italy – at the age of 18 to go and study in Rome. After a few years, I felt I was wasting time in university and casual jobs. I went to Australia to find my fortune, and yet, my photography dream got frozen. I didn’t have enough money. Nobody would hire me as a photographer, so I had to accept a dishwasher job in a restaurant to survive. I just closed my eyes and repeatedly said to myself, “hold on, things will get better.” In less than four years, I became the general manager of three huge restaurants in Sydney, with over 150 employees under me. It was a fun adventure but the most stressful life ever.

I didn’t want to end my days like this, so I said, “it’s time to risk everything once again, have a leap of faith, and try on my artistic path with my artistic heart”. I quit my 9 am to 3 am job and started this project (which, in the beginning, was just an experiment). It went well. The first videos on TikTok went viral and grew on Instagram as well. I decided I had to do something about it then. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit Australia, and I didn’t want to get stuck there, so I just looked at my list of places I wanted to visit, and I flew to Norway.

I wanted to see the Northern lights and have proper white Christmas for once in my life. I also accepted that it was going to be a challenge. Everyone said Norway would be difficult for me to do what I was doing in Australia with strangers. In Norway, people are very cold and reserved, then I thought, ‘Oh damn! Then I want to try there more than ever now!’

Dino Serrao

Anyway, long story short, I managed to make it happen here as well. My mission got noticed in the media, on TV, and by tourism organizations. I flew to the Lofoten Islands for another mission still with strangers, and I fell in love with this place. I thought this was a perfect place to stay away from the crowds and the noises of the cities, and breathe fresh, clean air. It is a place that’s good for the mind and creativity.

But honestly, what really convinced me to move here was when I met my other half, Vanita. She was living here already, and I took it as a sign. We didn’t know whether to move together to Oslo or stay here, but hey, come on, did you look around? What is this place like? I mean, Aurora almost every night right above your head. Snow is everywhere in winter—sunsets and sunrises with crazy sky colors. I think for now I don’t need anything more than this.

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David Williams

David Williams

Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.

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One response to “how I went viral photographing strangers”

  1. Duncan Knifton Avatar
    Duncan Knifton

    fairplay… I wouldn’t have the bottle…