3 Feb 2008

Photographing people - smile

Cathy has posted a comment about my post ‘Photographing people – TEN TIPS’. Part of her comment reads…

I've been reading more about street photography on various websites, and the range of advice and techniques on offer seems endless! One site offers advice on what to do when spotted which runs directly counter to your advice, Philip, and which makes me feel quite uncomfortable. http://candids.hervard.net/tips

Well, Cathy, I’ve just taken a look at that site and I have to say I am not in the least impressed by what I see. These pictures remind me of a list. They are mostly just visual records of people. Yes, there are a few interesting expressions – but then there would have to be when you consider how many pictures there are. What are these pictures of people for? I can see very little in the way of composition – most are simply cropped tightly around each subject. I might be missing something here, but, no, I don’t think so. These really are just records of what these people look like

It is not what I like to think of as street photography. I fail to see the visual appeal or merit. No story, no event or interesting moment captured – just records. Why?

I have no doubt that this photographer gets a great deal of pleasure from his photography, good luck to him. But it is definitely not a style I would want to copy. I am convinced that this method of sideways glances and detachment would have got me into a lot of trouble in many of the sensitive situations in which I have been involved around the world.

I am always telling my students that the camera belongs to the eye when they are photographing people in the street – and to press the button again when they are spotted. Then damned well smile!!! Look happy. Talk to people. Make contact. Be human, Do it all from behind the camera if you wish – it can lead to some great photographs and open all sorts of doors.

To illustrate just one situation like this, I have posted a couple of photographs. In the top picture, the main subject had no idea he was being photographed – yet almost everyone else around him could see what was happening. I even mimed to them, by smiling and putting my finger over my lips, to keep quiet and not let him know I was taking his photograph – they shared the joke. Of course it was not long before the man heard my shutter behind him – I was using a 24mm lens so I was very close. When he turned round his face bloke into a big smile – and everyone else joined the fun. I pressed the button again. That for me made a worthwhile photograph with a visual story to tell.

I’ll give you a few more examples of this technique soon.