View Full Version : When you photograph people...

07-05-2005, 07:14 PM
Note: I am a complete beginner...

I am interested in people but I have had this question on my mind for a little while now... When you photograph people on the street, do you try to be discrete and avoid the people you are shooting seeing you or you just stand in front of them, take the picture and leave. I am asking this because I saw a "moment" and photographed these ladies at a market in Korea, I tried to be as discrete as possible and one spotted me. She then yelled something, I am not sure what she was saying but it didn't sound like an invitation to shoot more. What would you do if you were me. Thank you.

07-05-2005, 07:35 PM
Trying to be "discreet" about taking pictures of people puts you right into the stalker zone, mate. I'm not discreet about it...people know that I'm taking their picture (most of the time I work with the 50mm and nowadays switched to the 10-22mm and this means I have to get really close). In my portfolio you can see the Keitai Guy picture...when I took it I was right next to the guy (shot at 10mm which makes it 16mm in full frame 35mm). So, yeah, pick a short focal length lens like the 50mm or even a wide angle and get right there into the action of things...you'll still get yelled at (sometimes), but at least your subjects will respect your courage (plus your shots will show these people as they are doing their everyday things). Of course there are some guys out there who use 300mm lenses for "candid" or "street" photography. To me that's just bullshit...this is more a paparazzi style than people photography. Of course, if I point a camera at someone and see that he/she does not want to be photographed...well...I respect their wishes and walk away.

And what I would do about the old lady? Smile...this is the world's greatest icebreaker.

07-05-2005, 08:14 PM
Mostly I have quite a good and nice moment when I take close portraits of someone, it becomes a moment of close shared respect but then again if you want to take a natural shot of people in their environment, not always you have the chance to make closer contact as the moment is there, then you get risked to be yelled at or that they beg for money, those shots often become of less value to you as your target has been besmirched by an arkward reaction but don't get overwhelmed about this situations as long your approach is based on respect, a nice "I'm sorry" and a short talk could sometimes rectify the situation but never go into real anger risking to make the situation worse, the sorry will have to do then.

07-05-2005, 08:45 PM
Lots of smiles, maybe an introduction, a few apologies and a fluid, relaxed posture goes a long way. If you don't have time or intent to interact further with your subject either before shooting or during shooting then being yelled at or upsetting people is an ocupational hazard in street photography. Statistically-- unless you're a horrendously poor judge of character or pick on bothered, agitated and annoyed subjects-- you should encouter few disagreeable people >>> but we're all unique and we all react differently. As long as you don't try to be sneaky, hide your actions, are becoming familiar with your gear, or bolt upright in fright when you're barked at, you'll be ok.

07-05-2005, 09:36 PM
Thanks for your comments, I take note of them. I usually have good people skills, so I hope I'll be OK from now on. That situation kind of turned me off for a little while but I'll go back on the street and hopefully, post good pictures. Have a good day!!!

07-06-2005, 01:42 AM
Hi Jerome,
Ahaha i'm seeing you taking those picture and run down the street while the ladys are persuting you and trying to hit you with their bags ;)

Just kidding... i think you will never do good portrait photo with candid or zoomed photos. The best approach is always the more honest one, if you approach the people nicly and polite you'll get great results.

But i think that in portrait photography the camera is important, you'll fell more confident with a bigger camera, and you're subject tend to agree easely... if someone showed me a crap point&shoot maybe (just maybe) i would get relutant in the photo, but a guy with a big gun...

... and the ladys love those big guns ;)

JUST KIDDING AGAIN... GESHHHH you guys take everything too serious...


07-06-2005, 03:20 AM
GESHHHH you guys take everything too serious...

not realy

I learned to make love with my big ... camera from an American professional photographer, she was so amazing, I even felt sometimes ashamed how she handeld portraits, but then again, she was a lady, she could do that.

07-06-2005, 04:05 AM
When I photograph people in the street, I have two ways to introduce myself as the kind photographer I am ;-)

- I go straight to them, introduce myself with a smile and ask if I can take the picture.
- I stay a bit away, wait until they see me, then smile to them, showing the camera and ask them by my gesture. (the one I prefer)

Anyway, not hiding, smiling a *lot*, and of course showing respect to local traditions are the most important things to do imho.

Those simple rules (showing respect, being friendly) work in the most cases, and usualy give smiles in return from the people you portrait... and this so special pleasure, not only to make a good picture, but to share a smile with somebody you do not know...


07-06-2005, 06:17 AM
I think a lot has to do with practice. The more you practice, the more the camera becomes an extension of yourself, the less you feel an intruder, because it became a second nature to you, and people pick on that vibe, somehow, and don't look twice at you. It helps too that with that practice, you can arm the camera quick, and shoot before you can even ask yourself the question "can I?". Your camera becomes your eye, so to speak.
Since i am not any near that, I always smile, wether i shoot or not. Shows being at ease in your surroundings.
I do not wish to offend our female members, but the sexual allusion is a good one. Anyone who has been shy around girls, like me, will recognize that feeling of crippling hesitation when he has missed a shot. You know there was often no reason why you did miss, except your own shortcomings. Well, I have never been able to "take a girl" who struck my fancy (ok, sometimes...), but i hope with time, I can take any shot that does.

last, positionning oneself is crucial, it's hard there for beginners, or not too frequent photographers, like many of us. Practice again, and when the people having seen you, make your idea of the shot impossible, you know where you have to improve.


07-06-2005, 07:03 AM
Im no expert at shooting people. Im not comfortable doing 1:1 shots like other people here do. What I like are crowd photos, where people tend to be anonymous faces within a crowd. Its fairly easy to shoot those for me, so thats how I shoot. perhaps I will expand my style to one on one shots but Im not there yet. A lot of t has to do with practice as Herve said. The camera has to become part of your body in a way. Keep practicing and see where it takes you.

07-06-2005, 07:19 AM
Also, it's very important to be determined, if we take our camera around the neck, there is a reason for it, it's to take shots. So, we must learn to use the camera as we use our feet. we do 10 or 6000 miles to visit and experience a country, or a place and we'd be afraid to close the 20ft gap to practice our passion, er... Something wrong with this picture (not the shot), no? :-)

I have a good example. i was with Tom/alimo3 who has been shooting for some 25 years, and we were in Paris on a bridge where a chinese wedding was happening. I was staying a bit from the party, respectful if you wish, still trying to take shots, and complaining too many people get in the way. Tom just said: "get closer, they will pass behind you". That's what he had been doing, and the people were very happy to inter-act with him, whereas with my "6ft pole", I was the one looking like the intruder trying to get in with a zoom. Mind you, I have done like him too, while traveling, but he did it very naturally, as a second nature, and i could see that was a natural approach that fitted well with the wedding people.

07-06-2005, 03:35 PM
And thank you for the other comments. I also wondered if the camera made a difference. Right now, I have a Canon G6, which is something above the simple point and shoot but not quite the big gun as Malopes suggested. Anyways, I am out to practice some more... Have a good day!!!

07-06-2005, 05:44 PM
Remember...it's not the camera that takes a picture but the photographer. Sure, the G6 may have SOME limitations, but on the other hand it can produce equally stunning results. Get to know the camera, what it can and cannot do, and than combine creativity and technology to produce interesting images. Cheers!

07-06-2005, 06:01 PM
I agree. Though I do sometimes have DSLR envy (Id love to get a 350D or even better a 20D) Im getting results I like with my Sony point and shoot.

07-06-2005, 07:06 PM
I totally agree with you guys, I was just referring to Malopes' comment about people being maybe more responsive to 'bigger guns' when on the streets. Have a good day!!!

07-06-2005, 10:01 PM
Get in close and smile a lot. If you have digi then show the picture I find people like to see themselves, especially in asia.

07-08-2005, 01:38 AM
Always ask and be friendly. Maybe engage in conversation first. If you know that they won't agree don't makes pictures of them anyways.... it is rather rude (how would you feel if you told the person 'no' but he/she still wants to photograph you?). One little trick that works with me.... pretend you are interested not in the person but in an object besides the person... building, tree, mountain.... whatever. Also, if you are with somebody, ask that somebody to stand besides your subject of interest. Pretend you are making pic of your buddy. You can always crop your friend out later.
You won't hide in foreign country especially when you are a white person in a non-white country .... looking like a turist. The locals know more about you and observe you more than you can imagine.
good skill!

07-08-2005, 01:47 AM
Careful with photographing muslim women. Her husband or brother may simply and justifiably (for them at least) crash your head againts something hard and near.
just a small advice... cheers - krzysztof

07-08-2005, 02:05 AM
You won't hide in foreign country especially when you are a white person in a non-white country

I think it's the camera, not the status (as tourist or different race), and also which country or place the photo is taken, that may entice a photographer to be more weary or careful at handling a scene. I am ready to bet, according to my own experience, that westerners, keeping to whites since you mentionned a color, have more trouble to fear, or more refusal coming their way at home than traveling. Some will simply not shoot the same type of subjects or scene at home they do while traveling, just to always be on the safe side.
I know I can't just smile and take as easily a shot of a kid in the US as i would in countries in asia. there, the parents may acquiesce and be proud of the attention given, here, well, I just hate the whole PC thing that makes me look like some kind of sick individual. In short, it is easier as a tourist than a home body, and i am actually thinking that if I use a strong french accent playing tourist in san Francisco, I can get away with it better. But never as well as in India or Myanmar, well the whole continent, really.
I still think we are talking about vacation photography, and practiced as such at home. An experienced photographer knows it is an intrinsec part of the craft and he mastered his subject approach, as well as intuitive skills when to and not to shoot.


07-08-2005, 02:20 AM
What I meant was that if you are trying to sneak on people and you think you are unnoticed (especially in foreign country - I had in mind Africa, which I visited recently hence the use of the term 'white' 'non-white'), then you are wrong. In Africa.... well, you are different and mostly because of the color of your skin. You draw attention to yourself. How you can sneak and play papparazzi blows my mind as I never managed to do it well (and believe me I tried). I never sneak on people. I always approach them, and actually rarely ask them. First, I talk to them in whatever language I manage. Lots of handwaving .... they have to trust me first, like me.... Sometime one photograph may take me half a hour to make because of everything I have to do to gain trust with the subject - especially women from muslim countries.
I've noticed that the same can be done in North America and European countries. Just a little bit harder - you are not as exotic and different. You still need to know how to approach people, what to tell them... 'no, i am not a weirdo.. I just find you face interesting' but I believe it can be done. Lots of people skills. Lots of understanding.....lots of handwaving ;-).
P.S. Some tourists pay for photographs. Money talks. Money will buy you some nice shots, something that worries me and something that is very visible in touristy places. I try to avoid it.. unless I'm firmly asked to do it AFTER I take the photograph. I usually offer to send that photograph to those people. Surprisingly it works nicely. I always send it like I promise. Takes time and effort - but I think it is worth is as I rather proud of my portraits.

07-08-2005, 02:31 AM
I guess what bothers me the most is tourists or self proclaimed travel photographers who take 'straight in the face' approach when taking pictures. I've seen it happen. One stands straight in front of a subject and just takes picutres literally a meter or less away, without asking, talking.... nothing. Yeah.. you are getting some interesting expressions from your subject.. like fear, disguist, annoyance, aggression etc. but that 'photographer' is treating the subject like an animal in a zoo. I wanna menition it here (since I've started talking about it) as I've seen it way too often during my travels. It simply sickens me. I just hope this kind of approach will never be encouraged on TE because it is simply unhuman.

07-08-2005, 02:32 AM
if you are trying to sneak on people and you think you are unnoticed, then you are wrong.
I am not sure noticed or unnoticed is of the matter. A lot other things do, and you named quite a few. And actually, I believe the greatest skill is to use everything that is coming your way. If it has to be "drawing attention to yourself", play on that, do not pretend you are not noticed. a photographer not aware of his surroundings is inviting trouble, let alone good phtography. Note that nothing i said is in contradiction with you really, all a matter of skills, and they can be sharpened with practice.