Sunday, May 17, 2009

Photographing People- Tips on Approaching Strangers

"Hey, that's bread, not people!" Well, unless you have lots of practice hiding in trees with binoculars, photographing people is sort of a new and scary venture....I'm easing my way into it, here!

Remember my last post about adding people to your travel photos? Well, as a beginner, I can tell you that it's scary enough when someone is willingly posing for you... I mean, what if the exposure isn't right? Can you ask them to stay still a little longer? People are much more intimidating subjects than say, a loaf of bread. Perhaps this is why I like photographing food... no backtalk.

Lucky for me, I didn't have to take my first crack at photgraphing people I don't even know all by myself. The Tulsa Digital Photography Group had their latest meetup at Blue Dome Arts Festival in Tulsa on Saturday and it was a blast. Our challenge was to get photos of strangers and practice technique in requesting their permission. Marty Coleman, Napkin Dad artist and co-organizer of the Meetup group shared some tips before we started out and here's my take on them...

1. Have a reason for requesting the photo. Just telling someone they're pretty won't get you far ( especially if you're a mid-age white male...just sayin'.) Find something specific you want to focus on. You can come up with your reason on the fly or even be working on a project ( say, you're really into unique earring photos, or something.) I happened to love this woman's focus on her work. She was making art right there on the spot and her necklaces were awesome so, I told her so...

2. Legitimize yourself. If you're part of a group (like we were) say so. Have cards so people know where they can go to see these photos ( psst, you can see all the group photos here.) Of course, this might not always be practical when traveling, especially when you are barely speaking the same language. Just do your best to give yourself credibility, actually BE credible, and if they aren't down with it, leave them alone. (Chances are, people are more than willing to be your subject.

3. Get permission for photographing minors. No exceptions. The kid may be more than willing to ham it up for your camera, but unless there's a parent there, you're getting yourself in a potential world of hurt. This amazing red head was too cute to pass up and his parents were happy to oblige. I even sent them the out takes and other crops. It's awfully encouraging when people actually like the photos you take!

4. Don't always ask for permission. There's no better way to ruin a great candid shot than telling people you're taking their picture. I know, I know I just gave the no exceptions rule on asking for permission. However, from afar, there is a boundary and you need to be aware of it. Riding that boundary carefully can get you some great opportunities. This is probably how you'll shoot most travel photos of people. Just remember rules 1-3 if you get into their personal space.

5. Don't forget about composition. Once you've scored the subject, don't forget about good composition, non-distracting backgrounds, etc. Sometimes, the shot just won't work. But, othertimes, you have a chance to reposition people, ask them to move into the light, or even move hair out of their face. After getting this guy to move to the side, I tried moving that dread lock over but he liked it there...and that's okay, too!

Marty had a lot of great ideas for composition and themes. He does photo collages and attempts to portray personality without faces. I really like this take and have a couple more tips of my own to add that I found helpful to get the shot...

6. Make your subject comfortable through conversation. You know how you go to the dentist and they start asking you all these questions and you can't really answer because you're jaw is pryed open? Well, same technique but better 'em up to make them comfortable! I'm not much for small talk but I found it very helpful to talk while framing up a shot. It really helps eliminate the auto-smile or the blank stare.

Plus, you can focus on whatever you want and they need not know.

7. Appreciate the unexpected. So, you've framed up a great shot of some guy's hair and then his buddy comes and grabs his nipple. Go with it! You can get frustrated or you can capture the experience happening in front of you. (They proceeded to bite each other, too.)

I hope this has inspired you to add people in more of your photos on trips...even if you don't know them! Don't forget that you're a person, too. Jump in front of the camera once in a while... Even though you may dread it (like I do) it's nice to remember that you're a part of your travel experience, too.


Marty Coleman said...

Hey Amanda, great take on what I was talking about! I am proud of your work, you did fantastic. And I am proud of your writing it the way you did. I might just have to steal this, even if I did tell it in the first place! haha

beatnik said...

Great comments. I need to start working on my candid shooting again. There is a project called 100 strangers along this same vein. I started doing it but just didn't have the time along with my project365.
I need to start that up again once my 365 is over this weekend.

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link