Thursday, 8 March 2007

Candid Photography Advice

Kindly Old Gentleman - Images © 2007 David Toyne

I have collected some of my thoughts on how to go about candidly photographing total strangers. More importantly my thoughts on how to make it home intact and without a black eye and a broken camera.

The fist piece of advice is about how you act. People are like mirrors of your own behaviour. So when you photograph in public if you are cagey and sneaky people will be guarded and suspicious in their dealings with you.

If you lack confidence they will distrust your motives. If you don't know why you are there and what you're doing then you will probably encounter hostility and more suspicion. It's sad but that's the world we are in now.

So I advise being honest, chatty and open if challenged by anyone. You have nothing to hide remember. Watch for peoples responses and act to reassure them if needs be. Sometimes having a business card saying you are a photographer or a small selection of your work with you is a great way to relax a person who challenges you.

Next thing is how to approach people? Do you take a picture and then ask or do you ask then hope that the moment will not be lost? This depends on if you are interested in the moment or the individual in your photograph.

When it's the individual you are interested in asking permission is often the best way to proceed. If you are open, honest and clear why you want to take a picture then usually they will say yes. Often in fact people seem quite flattered at being asked. However if they do refuse then be polite and withdraw. Never take a picture of them after they have refused. You know how you'd feel about that and also it's just plain rude.

In the first shot sequence in this article I was interested in the man´s wonderful face and slight inebriation not the scene that he was in. Due to this I asked him to take his picture and he readily agreed. We chatted for a while and as he relaxed I took my pictures. He was laughing at me by the third shot as it was only then he realised I was taking his picture. He'd forgotten me until that point.
Dog face - Image © 2004-2007 David Toyne

In the second shot it's the moment that is of interest. So asking would have ruined the shot. The shot depended on the eye contact with the dog but no eye contact with the people. It also required people and dog's heads in a diagonal line as they are in the shot. Asking would have disturbed all the elements critical to making this picture work. As such I didn't ask I just shot the image. Ethically I feel good about that as the shot is positive and in no way casts the subjects in a negative light.

Last but by no means least don't waste time fiddling with your camera settings. In candid and street photography you have very little time. You must be ready camera in hand to shoot a picture in an instant. Blink and you can and do miss it! In a normal day exposures change very slowly with slow changes in ambient light. I recommend setting the camera on manual, set shutter speed and aperture for the current conditions and then tweak it when conditions change significantly (or every 30 minutes or so). That way you're focused on composition and your surroundings not the technicalities of photography. You'll also have a camera ready to be used at all times. Worst case is your exposure is off by plus or minus 1/2 a stop which is easily corrected in the darkroom or lightroom later.


Paul Indigo said...

Sound advice David. Although I tend to shoot aperture priority because DOF is one of my most important creative tools. I adjust the ISO to give me enough speed to handhold in whatever available light there is and exposure compensation to deal the difficult lighting situations.

Prefocussing on a spot is useful too, even with today's super fast autofocus DSLRs.


Johnny said...

Sound Advice.

rainbow said...

hi david

probably don't remember this but you replied to a comment i left on your street photography so here i am again and must admit seems you've changed your site

seems blogging is all the rage these days must sort out my blog page i have with eblogger (google)

anyway you might like to look at some of my candid shots