August 19, 2007

Shooting People
Part Two: Starting Points

First things first. I realize that for most people, taking photos of strangers is a very daunting task. It is an oft repeated "fact" that fear of public speaking is a greater fear than the fear of death. Taking photos of people might be the photographic equivalent. There is something about pointing our cameras at others which gives us pause. Many who would be flattered to have a stranger believe that we are interesting enough to capture on film/silicon wafer are somehow totally insecure about turning the scene 180 degrees. I know these feelings well and I fought hard to overcome them. Quite honestly, even to this day there are times when I get nervous and have to remind myself that I have done this thousands of times in the past. I believe that what worked for me can work for you.


Guards Below Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei

This little article is all about shooting strangers. Deciding on which stranger exactly to shoot is step one I guess. Just like when someone is learning to ski, he or she doesn't head straight up to the longest double black diamond run first thing, one should start shooting subjects who provide relatively little danger or antagonism as subjects. Early success leads to greater confidence and greater confidence is the key to shooting people.

I recommend as a starting point to find some ceremonial guards wherever you happen to be. Some of the more famous ceremonial guards would be those at Buckingham Palace in London, the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington, Virginia, the Swiss Guards at the Vatican or any number of other places where pomp and ceremony are important. If your country has a King or Queen, head to their residence. Look towards the seat of government in your area, be it provincial, state or federal. Some might not be there for the shooting at all times, but perhaps they show up for Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, other national holidays or events. These might not be available to all, but if you can get to them, they make a great starting point.

Here in Taipei, the ceremonial guards guarding the huge statue of Chiang KaiShek at the Taiwan Democracy Monument (formerly CKS Memorial Hall), the ones guarding the equally huge statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall or the guards at the Martyr's Shrine serve the purpose very well.
Guard at Marty's Shrine, Taipei

Why are these guards such a good starting point? Well, first off, they are trained not to react. You won't be getting any menacing scowls or uncomfortable looks from them. Also, since they stand ramrod still, you have time to look for the right angle, find the right background and wait for the right light too. Additionally, they are striking subjects. Young, strong, good looking men with polished hardware and formal attire; they look good in photos. That is important, as a good photo of an ugly person is still a photo based around ugliness.

Guard at CKS Memorial Hall, Taipei


Now, these guards are almost akin to human statues; would shooting statues be a good place to start? Nope, not at all. Shooting statues can be a great exercise in learning light, but it won't help you in the ability to confidently photographing people. Even though they provide little to no resistance to being photographed, there is something in the fact that they are living, breathing folks which does wonders for our confidence. I don't know why this is exactly, but our ability to fool ourselves is interesting indeed.

When you are out shooting guards, it is probably worth considering what you can do to get photos that others aren't. It is a great opportunity to work in close and perhaps capture some details that would normally get overlooked.


Hand of Guard and Rifle
CKS Memorial Park, Taipei

Such details as the white glove, or the tassel from where the strap joins the rifle can make for interesting subjects in themselves. It is not often that one can get in so close to capture such details from someone they don't really know.

After this, I hope at least some of you will venture out with guards, or the equivalent, on your mind. This is as good a place as I know of to start your shooting. Good luck.

1 comment:

roentarre said...

That is very good tip for street shooting. I actually tried to do that while I was in taipei. Pity that the guards were not there when I visited them last time! I guessed it would be difficult to try similar shots in Australia as anti-terrorism state of mind prevents a lot of guards to be photographed here :)