Project One: One Hour, One Camera, One Setting, One Dollar Per Person


While on a half vacation, half business trip to the Philippines, photographer Dennis Sapong decided to spend one free hour at the local public market and do some street portrait photography. That hour-long session turned into Project One: a set of photos, each of which was taken with one setting, edited using one preset, and cost him one dollar.

The whole thing started when his original plan to visit a native tribe fell through. He still had a Sony RX1 courtesy of Sony Canada, and he wanted to put it to good use, so he decided to run out to the local market and photograph random people. But on his way out the door, his wife called out that he had only one hour.

Armed with his camera and some local currency, he rushed to the location and started shooting. Since he was in a rush, all of the “ones” started to just happen. He was handing out one dollar worth of Pesos as incentive to everybody he wanted to photograph, he set his camera one way and left it there, and when it came time to edit in post, he used one black-and-white preset.

Fortunately, all of that simplicity turned out incredibly well:




















In case you’re curious, his settings involved having the cam in Aperture Priority at f/2, Auto ISO, Plus 1 Exposure Compensation and Spot Metering. And the preset he used was a modified version of a black-and-white preset he bought a long time ago for Lightroom.

The best part is that he managed to do some good (one dollar translates into food for that person’s family for an entire day), get some amazing photos and log an unforgettable experience all at the same time.

And speaking of the experience, “It was the longest one hour of my life as a photographer, and i loved every bit of it,” writes Sapong. “I hope you’ll love it too.”

Image credits: Photographs by Dennis Sapong and used with permission.

  • niko


  • lidocaineus

    The idea is an interesting one, especially since it was born out of a practical need / situation. I do find that the black and white preset he used in my opinion is a bit heavy handed on the contrast / structure – I’ve seen a lot of similar styled black and white conversions when run through Silver Efex Pro’s high structure filters that really exaggerate tiny differences in facial tones; it makes everyone look like their faces are rough in the extreme. That happens naturally to some people, but with most, even those who do hard labor, it’s not too common. Looking at a bunch of portraits with that particular quality exaggerated by the filter is a bit tiring to look at.

  • a guy with a camera

    great. now everyone in that area will expect a dollar if you raise a camera to your nose. good job.

  • pete

    This seems like viral marketing.
    Marketing for the Sony RX”1″

  • Jose Escobar

    “Food for an ENTIRE day” sounds better than, “Food for a day.”

  • beautox

    I don’t like the preset that cuts the top of everyone’s head off. And it’s probably just me, but I’m bored with random pics of strangers.

  • 3rd world

    What is the “courtesy of sony” necessary for? This guy is not a professional journalist by any means, and that auto. BTW who cares if it 1 preset or 10? The main thing is the final result, that is what matters, not some gimmick…Nice sensationalizing the poor of this world. $1, please wheres the video proof.

  • Joey Duncan

    I don’t understand why this is a negative thing? Why does that even need to be an issue?

  • harumph

    I doubt that the photographer’s choice of framing has anything at all to do with the b&w preset.

  • Anonymoused

    Where in the Philippines does $1 get a family one day’s worth of food??? And what kind of tiny Filipino families are YOU visiting?

  • Erwin

    This is a great idea. Very well thought and very well executed.

  • Scott M. Bennett

    Doing good? Sounds more like exploitation to me. How can you assume that the people are using the $1 for food, for their family? If you really cared, you would spend more than a minute with the person, buy them lunch, learn their name, buy something from them from the market etc. Paying people $1 to take their photo just because you are in a rush doesn’t sound like the most ethical thing at all, regardless of the final result. Also, the preset makes everything look redundant. Just my opinion.

  • Jacob

    Great shots and interesting concept..

    But please don’t stretch the idea to “doing some good, because he paid them a Dollar which translates to food”…

    Well yes, money can be spent on food. That’s a no brainer – more likely the Dollar convinced people to pose, and – since its a poor country – a Dollar was enough. It’s bordering exploitation, its a thin line if you ask me.

    I’m working on a project myself and have so far avoided paying people … maybe I should: Its easier AND I can say I paid the subjects for charity reasons…

  • Scott F

    When you only have an hour you’d be lucky to get a single photo that way. He had an hour, took a bunch of people, I’m sure he made their day (if somebody gave me some cash just to take one photo that’d make my day), and he walked away a changed person. And why does it matter what they spent their dollar on, if it didn’t go to food I imagine it went to something the people needed.
    Do you make sure that everybody you give a dollar to spends it how you approve, did you ask the last waitress you tipped what she was going to spend the tip on, or did you take her out shopping so she didn’t blow it on something that wasn’t necessary?
    These people that he helped don’t walk around with the latest gadgets, they live day to day and it’s often a struggle. Even if they bought candy with the dollar, it may be the only candy they’ve bought in years and may have brought them and their family/friends joy.
    I just don’t see in any way how this can be unethical at all. Sure there are more ethical things he could have done, he could have sold his camera and donated the money to the village, then while on vacation helped build them a school. But instead he paid people who are in need, a decent amount of money for a fleeting moment of their time to me sounds pretty ethical.

  • Scott M. Bennett

    I personally don’t care how the people spent the money after. My point has to do with the author of the post claiming that this is for “good” or helped feed their families. The concept itself just seems to exploit people. Rich Westerner handing out dollar bills to people who might earn $2 a day. Everyone’s happy. Photographer got his photos. This could be the case. But where’s the dignity? Why not do it for 50 cents, 25 cents. When does it become unethical? Just something to think about. I don’t think the photographer cared what the people did with the money after either…it was more the blog post author’s comment that is a poor assumption. This is not philanthropy. And your more ethical ideas about selling his camera or building a school…not bad! That might actually have a positive effect on people instead of waving around dollars bills at them.

  • pgb0517

    Sure are a lot of nit-picky people on Petapixel these days. If we are to take the story at face value, he made a snap decision as to how to spend an hour and got some good photos. Some of y’all are trying to make out like he planned this for months to scam, demean and exploit the people.

  • Joe Barnas

    I love random photos of strangers. How can you possibly be bored of this.. each person is so unique, despite the same setting and preset every photo is so different. That is art.

  • Joe Barnas

    How in the world is this exploitation.
    That’s like saying going to work 9-5 is exploitation. Those people wanted money, he wanted a photo. It’s a business transaction that could benefit them very positively, Dinner for a minute of your time? That is not exploitation.

  • dudung10

    on average, people in the Philippines below the poverty line live on 18 pesos a day. that’s less than 50 xents

  • Aaron Link

    I think you misinterpret the writer’s reason for mentioning the photographer’s reason behind using the same camera setting repeatedly (which was only semi-automatic, by the way – Aperture Priority does require input by the photographer, but he chose not to be constantly changing that input). The “courtesy of Sony” means it wasn’t the photographer’s usual camera. He had limited time. Fiddling around with exposure compensation, depth of field calculations, reviewing every shot for the hour he had – he’d be lucky to have come away with three shots he was happy with, likely chosen out of dozens of shots of the same person.

    Digital cameras with seemingly endless storage lets too many fall into the trap of taking shot after shot. This man made a choice and stuck to it. Whether or not others think these are good shots, the photographer is happy with them. Try limiting yourself to 24 or 36 exposures with a DSLR some time. Do you have enough confidence in your understanding of composition, timing, etc. that you would end up with some winners in the session?

    As for your umbrage at no “video proof” that the photographer paid these people a dollar, that’s cute. If he could get away with lying, why not say five dollars? Or ten? As for the subject matter, do you realize there are people on the street in wealthy nations who want money for their time? Case in point, a pair of geisha photographed on the street in Japan are usually not authentic and are expecting a tourist to ask to photograph them.

  • Jesse

    So.. not paying someone for their time is fine, but paying them a days worth of wages is exploitation? Huh?

  • ted

    I’m pretty sure sony loaned him the camera

  • mihaifest

    Ok, I ‘ve a camera, 20 us dollars in my pocket and 1 ideea, to photograph old pour people.Is the most easiest think in portret photography to do.I’m sorry for the subjects, if u came to me to take me a picture for many, you will go with my middle finger shoot.

  • a guy with a camera

    are you even a working photographer who makes 100% of his salary from his camera? imagine if everyone expected money for every picture you took whether its in bangkok, amsterdam, or poipu? you raise your camera and someone wants a buck because some dumbass paid before?

  • anonym

    going to work 9-5 *is* exploitation and wage slavery

  • Jake

    I’ve lived in developing countries where that exact thing happens. Many people in certain areas wouldn’t let me take a picture of them without demanding I pay them first. That may seem reasonable, but realize that almost every picture you’ll want to take has someone in the vicinity, even if they aren’t in the shot (because they really don’t know the difference, or care).

    As soon as the camera comes out, everyone around notices and either starts asking for money or telling me not to shoot there, to the point where taking any pictures of anything at all becomes more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve been literally swarmed by children and adults who, just because they see a white guy with a camera, think it’s payday. Cute at first, gets old real fast.

  • Bristol

    Then YOU write the article.

  • Ariel Tiger

    Nice pictures; concept thought up post-event.
    But where are these people”s heads!?

  • Joshua Morin

    Damn, that makes me feel bad for spending so much more while I travel there. I will keep this in mind next time I am back and a tricycle ride costs 40 pesos.

  • Joey Duncan

    I don’t disagree that it can become a fear. But it’s his prerogative to do so. One person isn’t going to change the world’s view on having their picture taken, and probably not an entire area. If this guy felt these people deserved money then he’s allowed to do so, and in my mind have no real reason to make a fuss over it. It just seems like an ethic line to me, I understand the fear of the impact it could have, but he fealt that he could impact the people he was using for his own gain, I see no direct harm in that. To me it’s the same situation as giving a dollar to a homeless person after asking directions, would you be upset if I did that?

    I mean the person took the pictures to to benefit him, is it not fair that they are compensated for that?

    Lol, it just seems socially selfish to me to be upset with somebody for doing the right thing. I mean I realize some people may want to go around taking picture as a hobby and not for publicity of money so that situation is different, but really you’re going to make a fuss because 30 or so people now want money in one town, in one country, out of 7 billion other people?

  • Scott M. Bennett

    No, this is not a business transaction. The photographer is gaining much more than his subjects (hits on his website, fame on PetaPixel). I assume he did not have the people sign model releases, and they obviously won’t get any benefits from the gains the photographer might make from this. Also, who in a developing country only works a 9-5 job? Please don’t get me wrong, it is very easy to take this project at face value: the photos are detailed and personal, and I do understand that the photographer only had a short time. I just don’t like the idea of using money to entice subjects to pose for him. But if you just want lots of portraits of people in a developing country, maybe this is an effective method. Just not for me, though.

  • Steven Wade

    This continues to show me that the RX1 is an incredible camera. Beautiful pictures, great composition. I don’t want to take away from that. But, one of my friends also has an RX1 and it blows me away.

  • Joe Barnas

    I believe he just wanted those portraits to have some awesome photography. Posted on his website is a norm these days for anybody. I very much doubt that he thought he’d get the viewership he has gotten, or even expected PetaPixel to pick this up.
    If he did in fact plan on selling the photos, and directly profiting (money wise) – that would be exploitation, I agree.
    But for what it is in reality, I do not believe it to be exploitation.

  • tonycece

    I’ve debated this question over and over. It’s a subject many are passionate about and people draw a lot of lines. Some say offering money exploits the people, changes the story, cheapens the image, creates a negative experience for other photographers that don’t want to pay, makes the problems in the country worse, etc. Many ignore the intent. Why are the pictures being taken? What is the goal? Paying someone for their photograph definitely impacts the story communicated in the photo. If it is a documentary photo and you pay, the people interact in a way that may not be true to their story. If it is just a portrait – people pay models (I use that term loosely, as my family has been paid to be in images and don’t try to find modeling work) all the time. Some people would go in and steal their portraits for free and call it street photography. Potentially making money without paying or even bothering to get to know their story, then make up a witty caption to make it feel like they were engaged in the scene. At least he asked to take their photo, even if he did so by paying them. My problem is that the writer tries to make it seem like he was doing the people a favor or some good. Other times we criticize photographers for taking photos to show need and never helping the people. Watch The Bang Bang Club if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s really hard to be a photographer and not receive criticism.

    At what point is it exploitation? Payment? I disagree. People take free photos all the time and use them in ways that are exploitative. Is money payment different than companies taking photos showing the good they are offering people through wells, food distributions, etc? They affected their story – but it is in a way that they chose what to give them…not money, but something they believe will benefit them. For me, you can’t make this call easily. How do these photos show the people? Is it derogative, does it honor them, is it positive, negative or neutral? Does it strip them of dignity? Should it strip them of dignity?

    I prefer to tell stories with my photography and get to know the people I photograph, but I don’t believe it is the only photography that exists. I have the luxury of shared relationships that allow me to have this opportunity. But after hearing their story – with the intention of sharing it to make a difference – should I personally make the impact they are in need of? If I could make the changes I hope to see by paying to improve their life using my money, is that wrong? I invested in them and they opened up to me to share their story and struggles – does my fixing it afterward with money or providing the solution make it wrong and exploit their story? Does the change have to come from an outsider that sees my photos? Shouldn’t I be criticized if I could change it and don’t?

    The problem isn’t as simple as a dollar figure or gesture – though we try to make it that way as judgmental human beings. It goes much deeper than that – into the intention…and we can’t always see that.

  • Scott M. Bennett

    Thanks for such a great breakdown of this, Tony. I just think that we should be careful how we treat people, and as you say, the intent really is key. To me, the photos do show dignity and people in a local context, but once I read about him being in a hurry and using $1 it just sounded kind of degrading. Who knows, maybe this isn’t the case at all, and the people really did benefit from the interaction. At the same time, it seems like an easy way to get portraits. But I totally agree with you that other photographers do the same thing without giving any money at all…and with not very good intentions. Thanks for the comments and insight about this.

  • tonycece

    I agree. It is hard to know the photographer’s intention based on this post, but I do not agree with their comment that he did them good by offering money. In my mind this isn’t about helping people as much as it was about capturing a location using people instead of closeups of bikes, food, decorations, etc. It would be different to pay them to show need or capture an emotion using money as a persuasion. In my limited opinion, this is second-hand storytelling looking for a unique angle and it came off weird and unfortunately put the photographer in a weird position.

  • Dan

    I am a Filipino. And I love taking photos as a hobby. These are lovely photos. And I admire the photographer for taking these photos for a limited period of time for what I would presume as a small community in the province. I would like to comment just for clarification and for the readers to better understand our people.

    First, Yes it is true that in some parts of the Philippines, people can live on a dollar or even less in a few areas. Most specially in the countryside, people are generous enough to give a small portion of their harvest to their neighbors for free. But I could not believe that all this people will accept money for a photo, they would give a smile for free if you give them a smile and ask for permission to photograph them. Although, most of them would shy away because they are uncomfortable being the subject of your camera unless you reach out to them and get their trust which is not hard to do.

    Secondly, I was wondering why all the photos are images of old people. Probably, most of the younger people are busy farming or fishing. Because in the countryside, people are really hardworking. They would start the day as early as 4 AM and work until sunset resting an hour or two to eat. And in these areas, education is a treasure. Their children would walk for hours just to attend their classes and walk straight back home to attend their chores at home.

    Please don’t get the wrong impression that because they don’t wear fancy clothes and lives in nipa huts that they are poor and could not live without money. These people are self reliant and strong willed. People in the countryside of the Philippines help one another by giving each other products or services for free. Please research about the tradition of “bayanihan” for you to understand what I am saying.

    I am not insulted by this in any way, I would like to clarify for the readers to really understand these people from the countryside of the Philippines.

  • tagalasang808

    With this ethical debate, I say Sampong is an effective photographer and brought out the feelings from PP readers.
    I grew up from the province. If somebody gave me a 45 pesos to take my picture, it will make my day and treat my friends. Of course I would refuse at first to take the compensation but it would be rude to refuse if offered again. Filipinos are generally friendly people. The photographer could have taken those portraits for free with a quick conversation. Yes, the part about doing some good by giving a dollar is a stretch. Where I grew up, we don’t have to buy most of the food. We have to buy beef and seafood but mostly, we get from our farm and gardens or from the neighbor’s. Looking at the pictures, do they look poor to you guys? Seeing them as captured tells me they have paid their dues and don’t work the farm anymore. The provinces don’t have starbucks, club house or mall to hang out in. Their grandkids must be at school and their kids at work so they hang out at the local market to gossip or play cards.

  • Dencio Dencio

    Hi everyone, Dennis the one who did this project, happy to hear some positive feedback from everyone, im also sad to hear people say that ive exploited the people i photographed by giving them just one dollar. i had time limitation & i knew a lil incentive will make things alot faster for me so why not give them some money? thousands of street photographers take photos of random people who never got any compensation & nobody complains about that. im not selling these photos i dont make a single cent out of it, i do this coz i love photography, thats it. & if you still think im in for the money just to let you know several days before i did this project i did a charity photography workshop & raised 12,250 & gave 100% to buy books for the less fortunate kids (i attached a photo of the workshop, you can confirm with the provincial govt the authenticity of this workshop if you still think im all for the money), i did a charity portrait project to build water wells in africa & i continually sponsor two anonymous kids every month for two yrs now…so if you think im exploiting these people that i photographed ask yourself, when was the last time you gave back to the community? when was the last time you gave up your regular stop at starbucks to help others in need? huh what when?!? yeah i thought so..

  • Kelly Padgett

    If your worried about a Dollar, Dong, Baht, etc, maybe you should put down the camera and go home. Have you ever put yourself in their shoes? Of course not. I would get tired of of hundreds of tourist coming through where i live and taking photos of me a if i were some fish in an Aquarium. I also live in a SE Asian country and i can tell you this much, if you exercise that one little thing that so many people are missing, (manners/respect), you can usually get what you want without paying. Try sitting down with the locals, talk to them, show an interest in them and who they are, and dont shove a camera in their face right away.

  • Jack Hudkins

    Excellent Kelly!!!

  • Jacob

    Yes it is because you are in effect saying that their portrait is worth “just a dollar” as a paid wage.

    It is a slippery slope. If this is a documentary or journalistic work you are in effect paying for your story, which is against the principles of journalism and for good reasons.

    If this is commercial art work, and you consider the photos a product, you are essentially paying your models a dollar – which is price dumping for modelling.

  • Jacob

    You are in effect working against ethical principles of journalistic work and you should look up why yourself. It is nice to help people and I do – I have in fact helped communities over periods of 6 months, building schools and the sorts, for no pay at all and also am charitable very often. (That is also to say that I can afford to do so – which I know not everyone can, so I am actually grateful to be able to help in the first place).

    As a professional I find your approach very disturbing and setting up strange precedents. If you want to help people, help people. If you want to document, document. Don’t go short cuts. there’s a reason why they are simpler and it isn’t because it is all good. Look up books on journalism and great street photographer / photojournalists… and perhaps you will understand this better.

    In the meantime understand that, not all good intentions do good. I am not judging you personally. Everyone has the tight to make mistakes – but learn the principles of photography/journalism and art before just doing things as you see fit.

    Paying a dollar for a photo to do it more quickly/get quicker results is NOT, I repeat, is NOT the right approach. It hurts these people more then it does them good in the long run and it also hurts Photography as a profession.

  • Jacob

    Thanks for putting this in a lot more detail…

    I agree with most points – though I still think paying in order to get it done more quickly and then claim it was for charity – that’s exactly the type of spin that makes it, for lack of a better word, “exploitation”. It isn’t exploitation per se – because that would be to harsh – but it goes into an ugly directions.

    Apart from that agree with everything…

  • Darren Ohrn

    Nice work, When one spends thousands of dollars on the equipment, a few bucks here and there for the actual subjects is nothing. Where would you be without subjects? For those cheapskates who think a dollar is a big deal for a picture, I truly cannot comprehend how you think, and I thank god for that. Especially when a simple dollar means so much more to someone else, I respect you for this Dennis, The thought and the pictures.