August 26, 2007

Shooting People
Part Three: Moving Into the Real World

Marching Band
Daja, Taiwan

Now, guards and the like are a good starting point and they can lead to some good and interesting photos. They can't be the only folks you shoot though. Unless you travel the world weekly, you just won't be able to find enough ceremonial guards to keep you, or those who look at your photos, interested.

Make Up For the Opera

Let's move on to stage two. I don't quite think the experience of getting some good shots of ceremonial guards quite makes someone ready to compete with the likes of David Alan Harvey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand or any of the others who have made their names and their salaries on the streets. It does make you ready though to make a pretty big step towards a different subject. As handsome as guards are, and not negating the fact that they are living, breathing people, they are still somewhat emotionally isolated from the rest of us. In some ways, a poorly done snap of an everyday person has more emotional attachment to many simply because we can imagine ourselves or someone close to use as the subjects.

A Face in the Crowd
WOW Philippines Festival
Intramurous, Manila

Unfortunately, it is a pretty big jump for most to go from shooting guards who can't react to shooting those who can. Maybe a good mid point is to find someone who is able to react, but unlikely to do so. Here, our prospects broaden.

Maybe a best intermediate step between the absolute safety of shooting guards and the free for all that street shooting can be would be to find a parade, public demonstration, religious procession or other such public performance. Here, the people won't be completely unable to react to your photographing them, but because of the atmosphere, they are probably either expecting to have their shots taken, or more concerned with other things.

Little General
Matsu Pilgrimage
Daja, Taiwan

Similar to shooting the guards, you can find people who are very dressed up and photogenic. Also, you won't be the first to take their photo that day which hopefully can lead to them being more comfortable in front of the camera, with less chance of a bad response towards you.

There are other good spots to consider practicing people photography. One even which has become a yearly happening in many larger cities throughout the world is that of a gay pride celebrations. It is hard to compete with many of the gay pride festivities when it comes to color, a festive atmosphere and people who are not only willing to be photographed, but who have put a lot of effort into looking their very best for just that one day. Not only all of that, but they are great fun as well.
Taipei Pride
Taipei, Taiwan

Political rallies can also provide a great backdrop, coupled with colorful signs a sometimes circuslike atmosphere.
Man At Anti-China Demonstration
Taipei, Taiwan

Rallies can be great, for many of the same reasons all the other events I have mentioned. They can be colorful, people can be at their most outrageous, there are lots of props (think signs, flags, banners, etc) to give the photos more context and color and there is typically a high energy level. All these things can be great for photography. However, I would say that they present a more advanced venue than the other locals. First off, emotions can run high, especially here in Taipei, and this could lead to not only nasty looks from people you want to photograph, but possibly even physical confrontations. I don't think this is a huge fear, but it does take a certain level of confidence and body language to reduce the risks; those attributes come with experience. The second reason that rallies pose a greater challenge is that they tend to be fluid and ever changing. Being quick enough to think about who you want to shoot, compose the shot, think about any adjustments which might need to be made and then firing off a shot before things change is something that takes time and practice. Still, rallies provide a relative wealth of photographic chances; if you miss on, there will be another one available in moments.

Churches and temples are favourite haunts of mine and are great places to take photos of people, especially in Asia. In some ways, they are not the easiest, as many feel uncomfortable taking shots of moments as private as that of religious worship.

Beautiful Candle Keeper
Schwedagon Pagoda
Yangoon, Myanmar

I fully respect those who feel this is an activity best left uncaptured, even if choose to capture this myself. My feeling about shooting in houses of worship is that I am capturing faith and beauty. Although I am not religious myself, I am very respectful of those who are and I do find the practice of religion to be visually beautiful more often than not.

Probably the next bit should go without saying, but I will mention it anyways. Please be respectful if you do choose to shoot in a temple, mosque, synagogue, church or equivalent. This respect should include keeping a respectful distance from your subjects, making sure you don't interfere with the prayers those who are there to worship, keeping quiet and non disruptive and generally being aware so you don't stumble over others. Obviously, if the location or members discourage photography, you should obey that without question.
Hand of Devotion
HsingTien Temple
Taipei, Taiwan

I will cover this more in a later post, but I believe that generally, places of worship are good places to use longer lenses. I believe that as a general rule, the shorter the lens, the more personal and impactful a photo is, but this doesn't hold as true in a church, temple, mosque or the like. For the time being, I will try not to be too technical, but generally people are pretty sensitive to perceptual cues. They know when the photo was taken from in close and they also know when it was taken from a distance. Almost universally, prayer and worship are regarded as personal, solitary things. Because it is considered a solitary thing, seeing a photo taken from in too close can make for an uneasy experience for the viewer, not to mention the worshipper. For this, I do recommend keeping a respectful distance.

Calm and Good Light
Lungshan Temple
Taipei, Taiwan

This is not to say that you can't take effective photos in a temple from up close. It just means that you had better be aware of the prevailing emotions and you had better have the body language to show your confidence and keep those you are shooting at ease. I would consider it an advanced level attempt in the genre of shooting people.

ChihNan Temple
Taipei, Taiwan

Of course, if nothing else is working for you, it won't hurt if you have a truly beautiful model.

Don't Hate Me Because I Am Beautiful
Taipei, Taiwan

Next, we will move on to more stuff in the real world. Small steps, but we are definitely moving forward.


Anonymous said...

Great work Darren, and great writing

Anonymous said...

Waiting for the fourth part!