this is not a New Years resolution

Earl

As I’ve developed my photography over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize that I truly suck at taking portraits. There are a lot of reasons for this, from the fact that my family hates having their portraits taken (making it difficult to find willing victims models to practice on), the fact that I don’t feel entirely comfortable yet sticking a camera in someone’s face, to a shyness on my part when it comes to approaching strangers to ask them for permission to take their portrait.

It’s not in my nature to just stick a camera in someone’s face to get a shot without asking their permission. A lot of street shooters do, and there was a good post and some comments over at The Online Photographer on Bruce Gilden, one of the best of this style. So I’ll never become an in-your-face street shooter, freezing raw moments of urban life on the street. At least not in the foreseeable future. I’m too damn polite and reticent pointing a camera at someone.

However, I’ve got to admire photographers who do feel comfortable getting close to their subject on the street. It seems much more honest than surreptitiously taking photos of someone from a distance with a telephoto lens, without making at least some personal contact with them.

Which brings me to Earl, pictured above. Earl is the first stranger that I’ve approached on the street, to ask for permission to shoot his picture. This comes about through the 100 Strangers Project, which is a group on Flickr in which members post portraits of strangers that they’ve approached on the street for permission to photograph.

Earl plays the saxophone on the streets of downtown Indianapolis. You can often hear his music playing in the background, up to a couple of blocks away. It adds a nice human touch to the normally impersonal noise of the downtown streets.

This is not a New Years Resolution for me. In my experience, New Years Resolutions don’t typically work. But this is a way for me to become more comfortable with taking portraits, especially overcoming my reticence pointing a camera at someone up close and personal.

Happy New Years everyone.

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~ by Dave on 01/04/09.

4 Responses to “this is not a New Years resolution”

  1. I’m too shy and polite for street shooting, too.
    But, while all the political stuff was going on last fall, I found it easier to take pictures of people who were checking me out, assuming I was with some sort of publication.
    I think it’d be a lot easier approaching people if I could say, “I’m with The Indy Star.”
    Or, heck, ‘I’m a professional photographer who takes street pictures of interesting people.’

  2. Hey Ange, maybe we should form a support group for shy photographers. 🙂

    As I wander around the street with my camera, I’m finding it easier to ask someone if I can take their picture if I catch them glancing at my camera and making eye contact with me. And it’s got to be someone who doesn’t look like they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s definitely hard to do when it’s cold and windy out, and nobody wants to be standing around freezing their buns off.

  3. I’ve noticed that when you ask someone to take their photo – they suddenly act stiff and self-conscious. Candid photos tend to capture relaxed people, and people in action, absorbed by what they’re doing, rather than pretending to be doing what they do for the camera, which is why street photographers tend to throw asking out the window.

    But I still feel uncomfortable with snapping someone’s photo unaware. Mostly I do it to friends, and then show them the picture I just took and let them give a thumbs up.

    One of the things that moved my wife from a reluctant model to a carefree one was that I promised her I’d never post any unflattering pictures of her. I pointed out that if she let me take a hundred photos, one of them was bound to be gorgeous, and she could have say over what I posted for others to see. So I take thousands of pictures of her, and dozens of them are flattering. And the more photos she sees of herself, the less self-conscious she is about her appearance. And the more photos I take, the more relaxed and in the moment she is, so they have that candid and unselfconscious quality, and they start to capture how unique and beautiful she is.

  4. I’ve tried the same approach with my wife. Just doesn’t work though. If she knows a camera is pointed towards her, she freezes up and the moment is lost.

    If I’m shooting on the street, depending on the situation I’ll either take someone’s photo without asking, or make eye contact and point to my camera, or in some cases I’ll ask permission. It depends on whether they’re just going about doing their business not doing anything to attract attention, or performing in some way, or if they look like someone I’d like to strike up a conversation with.

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