What does “hope” mean to Australians this Christmas? Last Monday the Salvation Army hit the streets of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to find out.

Joining it were three photographers (and Broadsheet contributors): Simon Shiff (Melbourne), Josie Withers (Adelaide) and Jana Topler (Perth). Their brief was to capture emotive black-and-white portraits around the sentiment of hope.

Humans of Hope forms part of The Salvation Army’s broader Christmas Appeal this year. It aims to support a community that’s often short on hope.

This is a new approach for the Salvation Army, largely inspired by Brandon Stanton’s well-known Humans of New York page. We asked Melbourne lifestyle and event photographer, Simon Shiff, a few questions before he headed out to his shoot.

Broadsheet: What will you be looking for when you’re on the street?
Simon Shiff: I think we’re just looking for characters. People who look as though they have a story and something interesting to say, and you know, a bit of shape in the face for the photography side of things. I think it will be the most interesting to get the best cross-section of people. We’re going to be shooting in Windsor near the Salvation Army store, so we’re just going to rock up on the day, see who’s there and hear what they’ve got to say.

BS: What’s the trick to get someone to stop “posing” and let their personality or “story” come through in the photo?
SS: You can only ask so much, you know? You don’t want to interrogate them. I keep it light with friendly conversation like “How’s your day been?” and “What have you been up to?” From that, without stereotyping, I can kind of get an idea of what kind of person they are and then shoot them in a certain way.

You do need to spend a bit of time looking at the person’s face to see which angles photograph best. For some people, hair parts differently so you want to shoot them from one side more than the other. Or sometimes, with the eyes, one might be slightly less full or less sparkly or something, so this all happens while you’re talking to them. It’s not like I look at someone, though, and go, “Wow check out that eye!”.

BS: Have you done it before? What was your experience? Any anecdotes?
SS: Not on the street, but I did a portrait series on Holocaust survivors, which Broadsheet wrote a story on. There were 36 survivors and it was similar in that I’d never met them before. In a short amount of time I had to portray their personal story in an image.

BS: What excites you most about working on this project?
SS: Everyone knows and appreciates the work of the Salvation Army, and it’s just such a good cause. I love that it’s a really honest campaign – it’s real life. This is how it is and we’re not going to depict anyone in any way other than what is presented to us in that moment in time.