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Why I may never be a good people photographer….
Old 12-12-2006   #1
dazedgonebye
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Why I may never be a good people photographer….

On my lunch break, I walked to a nearby park to look for photo opportunities. There was a bit of construction going on so I positioned myself in a good spot and fired off a few of the heavy machinery working in the dirt.
As I was walking past, one of the heavy equipment operators came up to me and started in on a story about how he once had a photo published. He was a big grubby guy with bad teeth and a completely un-groomed beard. In his hard hat and dungarees, next to the mammoth earth moving machine, he would have made a great subject.
Did I snap a picture of him in his work environment? Did I ask him to pose with his gear? Of course not! And why not? Because I’m a big chicken when it comes to shooting people! I’m only comfortable shooing cacti ‘cause cacti have no expectations. Cacti don’t want to see a copy of the picture. Cacti never ask if I’m nuts for choosing some strange angle and looking up at them.
I make myself crazy!
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Old 12-12-2006   #2
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Hey, Steve, don't be so hard on yourself. Believe me, I have felt the same way many times. Don't know why it's so difficult to just take a simple shot of someone but I've hesitated many times myself. It does seem to get easier with practice, and I'm going to keep trying since I really like candid, natural-setting shots with people in them, but I'm a long way from always feeling comfortable doing it. Good luck, Steve, in making progress yourself.

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Old 12-12-2006   #3
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You gotta have the gift of the gab. I'm a right wuss as well, so I learnt to shoot first and ask later.

This went pear shaped when a guy, lovingly nicknamed 'teardrop' (think, prison tattoo's) caught me photo'ing in his direction in my local hangout (old shop i worked in).
Course, I took a step back and said how I wasn't photo'ing him, how I was photoing his mate, and pretty much every other person in there backed me up that i wasn't gonna pass the photo onto the police, then i threw a few photo's along the counter, he looked at them, and changed his tune. It's good to have something to back yourself up with the not so nice people.



Then again, when I was with Rich, we photo'd him with santa in debenhams, and I was too much of a wuss to ask, and Rich was the one to ask if he could sit on the Santa chair. Most people don't mind! As long as the person is warm when talking to you, you will probably receive a nice response if you want to photo them.


Don't say much, just say "can I catch a photo of you there?" or put the camera to your face an say "yea keep talking!"
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Old 12-12-2006   #4
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oh, or, scale focus and shoot from the chest
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Old 12-12-2006   #5
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I find it hard to photograph people candidly as I am always waiting to be pulled up by the person in the frame.

I would be embarassed if someone challanged me. I suppose I would get used to it given time.

A lot of people don't like being photographed by strangers.
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Old 12-12-2006   #6
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I start on lampposts for a few shots, sort of breaks the spell, then when I feel I’m braver and “I’m just working” move on to people.
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Old 12-12-2006   #7
dazedgonebye
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I blame my parents.
They worked hard to pass on a highly developed sense of polite behavior. Snapping pictures of strangers would have been out of bounds. I can almost hear my mother....
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Old 12-12-2006   #8
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See, my parents were the same. Best behaviour and all that. Then again my favourite photo my mother took was in New York, of a Bum on a bench sleeping under a newspaper.

Something tells me she never asked for permission
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Old 12-12-2006   #9
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Dude, just follow - through.
The park is nearby, yes? The construction site is still active?
Go back tomorrow - say hello, talk about cameras and pictures. Ask to take one. Does your interest go deeper than seeing this guy as just a colorful "type" ?
Read a quote somewhere from a National Geographic photographer, something like "every good portrait documents a relationship" between the photographer and the subject. (Robert Caputo?)
Sounds like you got the relationship started - now go get the picture!
Good Luck.

P.S. I am also a zonie.
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Old 12-12-2006   #10
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lol.... follow through.


yea it's just like being shot down in flames by someone you fancy. 'Get back on the horse' or you'll never be happy! Go for it!
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Old 12-12-2006   #11
dazedgonebye
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It's scary to see how deep the old programing goes.
For good or ill, a tribute to my parents' effectiveness.
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Old 12-12-2006   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bibimbap
Dude, just follow - through.
The park is nearby, yes? The construction site is still active?
Go back tomorrow - say hello, talk about cameras and pictures. Ask to take one. Does your interest go deeper than seeing this guy as just a colorful "type" ?
Read a quote somewhere from a National Geographic photographer, something like "every good portrait documents a relationship" between the photographer and the subject. (Robert Caputo?)
Sounds like you got the relationship started - now go get the picture!
Good Luck.

P.S. I am also a zonie.
Good advice I'll never follow.
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Old 12-12-2006   #13
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Break the mould. You know you want to
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Old 12-12-2006   #14
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I think if you're speaking to a person, a snap is fine. Sometimes a few!

As far as sneak/grab shots, I've done them, and decided that I won't show photos of people that are identifiable-no face shots-unless I've engaged with them somehow. I may have a right to take a picture in a public place, but I also have a right to pass gas in public, and I try to refrain from that as well.
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Old 12-12-2006   #15
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i take the shot and don't worry about it. Move on. Someone will always want to contribute their 2 cents, sometimes negatively. Even HCB said that he would take the shot and get out of there.

Documentation is diff, where one would want to build a rapport. PJ is about getting the shot first and foremost.

I've photographed in construction sites and wharfs. Only once on a wharf was I told not to take the shot and I didn't.

Last edited by 35mmdelux : 12-12-2006 at 13:51.
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Old 12-12-2006   #16
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I read somewhere that a good way to decide if "street" is for you is to take one roll of film, tell yourself that you only have to take 24 (or 36) pics on the street. Go out and do it, then next time do it again...till you're comfortable.

The more you shoot the more you realize that most people don't notice you, unless you want them too.

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Old 12-12-2006   #17
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Leica Standard shot, this was using scale focus. I stood RIGHT next to these two drunks trying to focus and angle the camera for the shot.

They hardly looked at me. ok ok they were probably drunk, but they didn't even look me in the eyes once in the 5 minutes I was next to them!


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Old 12-12-2006   #18
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As Todd says, I think this is one of those areas that can only really develop with practice. I consider myself somewhat of a people-person, yet I had a hard time taking pictures of strangers initially, even once I started conversing with them. Over time, it got easier, though there are occasions that I still pass an opportunity by and regret it for the next block or two.

Steve - I think you are being a bit harsh on yourself. Rarely, in photography or otherwise, do I think we live up to our own expectations. Cut yourself a break here. One day you'll be able to take that photo - and it will be worth it! Good luck!
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Old 12-12-2006   #19
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I would also like to "learn" how to approach people for street portaiture. Candids are one thing, but a good portrait is another. I was in Greece for my honeymoon, saw these three old men sitting together on a bench in this quaint town square. They looked the part. I wanted to take their picture, but wanted to be polite about it and ask their permission. So I went up to them, asked them in English if I could take their picture, pointing emphatically at the camera. They responded in Greek, which I do not speak. So I stood there for a minute, not knowing what to do. I didn't take the picture. I can only imagine that I provided some laughter for these guys who likely said yes only to watch me walk away without taking the picture. Next time I shot from across the square with a telephoto lens. Not the same.

Nachkebia has posted some superb portraits from his trip to India. I wonder what his approach is in general and then specifically when encountering subjects who do not speak his language(s).

dazed, let us know if you go back to the park...
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Old 12-12-2006   #20
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Roland, those two aren't homeless as such. And no it's not challenging, but if you've ever been caught by one of them and had to sit through 15 minutes of ramble, you'd understand why a shot and a quick gettaway is a success
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Old 12-12-2006   #21
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I guess it depends on what I want with the shot. If I like the scene just as it is, I almost never ask permission. I just shoot and move on. On the other hand, if I like the person's look, but what they are doing or the background etc does nothing for me, then I will go up and engage them for a bit of chatting and then take a photo of them smiling or something. It's all about feel. No one right answer for every encounter. You do however have to take the first step of being willing to take their photo!!!!

Regarding the greek guys on the bench. I did that in Poland. Except the guy was rambling, my girlfriend said he said go ahead, and then all of a sudden he was yelling at me and waving a shovel around in the street ! Apparently he meant no!
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Old 12-12-2006   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dazedgonebye
Did I ask him to pose with his gear? Of course not! And why not?
It only takes ONE time, just one time to get that experience and nerve up. Come on. Say you can do it! You can do it!
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Shooting People
Old 12-12-2006   #23
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Shooting People

First, you have to genuinely like folks.
Second, you have to have the gift of gab which make others talk about themselves.
Most peole have a story to tell. Let them tell it.

The perfect people picture just retells their story.

Wide angle lenses are good; long lenses are bad.

What else is there to know?

If you are having a hard time breaking the ice wear something silly or something emotive. I have just as much luck with a T shirt that shows George Bush behind bars as one with the image of Our Lady of Guadelupe.
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Old 12-12-2006   #24
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Hi Steve,

Then again, cacti do not hit you if they don't like you taking their picture (well, except for maybe Jumpin' Cholla! ).

One way to "practice" shooting people is to go to a venue where it's expected. For instance, in Tucson every Sunday, there is a big farmer's market at St. Phillip's Plaza (upscale shopping center most times). It is getting so well-known that now they bring in tourist buses.

We go there to shop and I also take pics - usually of the vendors - occassionally of the patrons. Since folks are accostomed to seeing camera-toting tourists they don't blink twice if I shoot them - even from an odd angle or whatever.

Maybe doing something similar up there in the Valley of the Sun will give you greater confidence about shooting people - and also build your people-shooting skills?
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Old 12-12-2006   #25
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i can't remember the last time i got any grief from someone on the street that i photogrphed.
9 out of 10 times they don't even notice and if they do i break out a big smile, mouth a thank you and move on.

i shoot at the farmer's market most saturdays and many of the venders recognize me now, no one has ever given me a hard time and many stop me to talk about my cameras...what is that, a rangefinder? can it shoot colour?
not to sound too cold, but i often think of people on the street more as subjects and less as individual people.

joe
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Old 12-12-2006   #26
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Sounds like you're shy like me. I think you have to kick yourself each time you blow a photo opp because you were too shy to ask. Eventually you say to yourself f it, I'm going to try. Judge the situaltion for personal danger first, but you'll find most folks are flattered to have their picture taken by a friendly stranger that they've been talking to, as in your case.
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Old 12-12-2006   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oh Two
First, you have to genuinely like folks.
Second, you have to have the gift of gab which make others talk about themselves.
Most peole have a story to tell. Let them tell it.

The perfect people picture just retells their story.

Wide angle lenses are good; long lenses are bad.

What else is there to know?

If you are having a hard time breaking the ice wear something silly or something emotive. I have just as much luck with a T shirt that shows George Bush behind bars as one with the image of Our Lady of Guadelupe.
Hi Steve,
according to my very short street shooting experience i can only agree with Oh Two. Sometimes I shoot candids but I prefer portraits of people i can chat with, based on a "relationship" between me the subject. So, I can only add to be polite and - most of all - friendly, you'll discover that many people will enjoy telling you a story and if you'll enjoy listening it, the portraits will be very easy to take (easier than you could expect ).
Just my 2c,
Ciao
Nico
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Old 12-12-2006   #28
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I don't know if any of you have read this before but check out this link. It might help some of you out.

http://www.popphoto.com/howto/3031/h...strangers.html
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Old 12-12-2006   #29
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w3rk5,

Great link, thanks.
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Old 12-12-2006   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by w3rk5
I don't know if any of you have read this before but check out this link. It might help some of you out.

http://www.popphoto.com/howto/3031/h...strangers.html
I think I've used those lines before (end of article) at bars and I remember getting slapped
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Old 12-12-2006   #31
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well, I did it. Took my camera with me when I went to drop off my laundry tonight. I asked the guy that I see almost every week if I could take his picture. It's silly but I was kind of nervous. Of course I framed him right smack in the middle!

One step at a time...
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Old 12-12-2006   #32
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Hi Steve, I've met you and I know that you can easily talk yourself into a fiendly situation or out of an unfriendly one. My first impression of you was "here is a friendly guy". Go get them!
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Old 12-12-2006   #33
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Steve,

I don't take photos of random strangers just to take photos. If they are doing something that is interesting to me, as in the story then I'll take the shot.

Be friendly, act confident, and smile.

A photograph is a story of a moment in time. I don't hide the fact that i'm taking a photo. If the person notices, I smile and continue. If they get upset, I will normally stop the photo and tell them why I thought the shot would have been so interesting. They normally calm right down and say go ahead.

Like others have suggested, try starting out where people will expect photos to be taken as in some event. Let's plan one of our next AZ RFF get togethers to do this.

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my 2 cents....
Old 12-12-2006   #34
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my 2 cents....

i used to have a problem randomly shooting in the street, especially people. nervous... lot's of "back of heads" and generaly too far away, rather banal work. BUT i would have a camera around my neck ALWAYS. i'd walk t work in the am and home at night, i'd take it to the pub, family outings, shopping and so on. eventually the people in my neighbouhood and my aquaintences got used to seeing me about with my camera. i started to blend in and they REALLy let their guard down.
i also made myself engage the people i wanted to photograph. talk to them, smile, ask questions. that's when my photo's really started to shine... up close, personal. most of the people i have photographed on the street i have spoken too. i know a little bit about them, their names.
it's really nerve wracking at first but i assure you, if you engage your photo's will improve immensely.
cheers and good luck
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Old 12-12-2006   #35
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I'm normally shy but when I'm taking photos of people I am. I do get quite nervous at times. I've only been enjoying photography for a short time but I've been lucky enough to never run into any problems with the people that I've photographed, except for my mother.

My biggest problem is that I tend to think too much as to whether I should take the shot or not and when I finally make the decision to shoot, the opportunity is lost. I missed an excellent opportunity two days ago because of this. I had my MP w/ my 75 Heliar on my shoulder and I saw three teenage boys holding hands in prayer in the middle of a downtown parking lot. By the time I decided photograph them they finished praying and started to get into their car. I think I'll be kicking myself for a long time over this one.
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Old 12-12-2006   #36
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Don't worry. I have always found that it is always more a matter of practicing until you don't have to think about taking a shot anymore, as opposed to some kind of street ninja/commando/invisibility thing.

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Old 12-12-2006   #37
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Wow...I'm just overwhelmed at the encouragement in these responses.
What a great bunch!
I am trying, a bit at a time, to branch out and spend more time shooting in public places. A bit at a time is the only way I'll be able to manage it.
It was great meeting some RFF people in person and I look foward to other meets as one way of getting myself out there.
I know that I'm a good photographer in my comfort zones. One of the main reasons I'm pursuing this avenue is to spend time outside of those zones. I don't have any professional goals related to photography, so it's all about the experience. I'll never lose my love for landscape or architectural work, but that's a ride I've been on many times before. It's time for me to try the rides that have always scared me.

Again, thanks for the encouragement. I'll do my best to take some of this good advice and go shoot.
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Old 12-12-2006   #38
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Steve, I can sympathize since I tend to be a bit shy and unwilling to invade the privacy of another. Lots of very good comments here that hit a vibe with me too.

Some years ago I reviewed my old contact sheets and prints, transcribing data to the computer, and I noticed that my most interesting shots involved people. So at that point I resolved to concentrate on people-related shots. It's been tough, and I find it takes self-discipline not to wimp-out and just pass on by.

I do cultivate a friendly and harmless appearance and manner anyway to avoid conflicts (first rule of self-defense!), and this also makes it easier to approach people with photography in mind. I can usually think of some friendly greeting and comment/question about what they're doing, then may ask for a photo, sometimes explaining I'm doing a little non-commercial project of people doing .... (whatever they happen to be doing that interested me). Sometimes it's even easier, just a gesture of raising the camera, and raised eyebrows, getting a nod in return.

Clearly this is a common problem... here's another helpful web page:
http://www.pinkheadedbug.com/techniques/shynessone.html
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Old 12-12-2006   #39
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I've long recognized the power of people in other photograher's works...and missed it in mine.
Landscapes, architecture, macros, abstracts...all can convey beauty and be inspiring. Nothing connects though, like people.
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Old 12-12-2006   #40
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I'm not sure I like that pop photo article. While the advice to talk and be friendly seems sensible I don't like how they talk about tricking people into signing model releases, so he can sell their images so stock agencies...It is this kind of stuff that has everyones hair up these days, no one wants to unknowingly end up in the next genital itch ad.
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