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Photographing people...

I've been getting quite a few "I hate pictures of myself, but this picture you took looks like me and I like it" comments.

Don't get me wrong. I like comments like this.

The "producing a technically good exposure" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by a newer camera with wider exposure latitude and better noise characteristics at high speed. There's still a question of the quality of the light, though. Unflattering light needs to be recognized and avoided. Flattering light can be produced, if necessary.

The "making sure the right stuff is in focus" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by figuring out how to make the autofocus work for me and by getting better at managing depth of field. Making sure that everything that's not important (not your subject) is out of focus is a very basic and very "professional looking" skill. It's also something that requires the right equipment (part of the reason that being able to do it is "professional looking").

The "putting together a pleasing composition" part, that's the obvious (to viewers) and somewhat difficult one. The biggest composition issue? The setting. Backgrounds. Reduce distracting elements and things that just look like they don't belong. Avoid lines intersecting with the subject's head. Blur out the background if it's not important. It's all about learning to look at a scene and figure out what the camera is going to see, and that's difficult. I'm working on it, but I still miss horrible background flaws that can ruin an image all the time.

Where the magic comes in is in the subject.

I'm at my best when I'm a sniper. If I've got a room full of people relaxing and having a good time, I can capture some really great moments.

Otherwise? It's a crap-shoot.

Because I'm not good at instructing subjects.

Because a lot of people get self-conscious when they're conscious of the camera.

Now I'm working on instructing and posing subjects. It's not something that's well-covered in books, though. It's a matter of practice, trial and error. On the other hand, I'm only peripherally interested in formal portraiture. Learning the associated techniques are just a means to an end.

Getting people to relax (or better yet, have fun) in front of the camera? That's the big deal. When folks get self-conscious and freeze or mug badly the pictures just end up looking artificial. It's worse when the subjects believe that they always look bad in pictures; there are few more reliable self-fulfilling prophecies. Subjects who have been plagued by bad photographs are going to freeze up and look unhappy.

How do you get subjects to relax? That's another thing I'm working on.

Showing folks representative and attractive photos of them that you've taken is a great way to get repeat subjects to let their defenses down and let their character and personality come out in photographs of them.

New subjects? Besides shooting them when they don't expect it? I'm not very good at reassuring chatter while shooting. I'm generally not great at talking in the first place while shooting. It's something I've got to work on, though.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
I like the way you took pictures. I would like to learn more of the depth of field but I've got a feeling that part of that is just going to be working with my camera. And I agree, sniper shots are great. In looking through your Gallifrey pics, I realized that you take pictures the way I want to take pictures but I just can't quite get my head wrapped around what I need to do....Just wanted to tell you that you did a good job.
Mar. 31st, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
i dont think i've ever seen pix of me in your pix file. i honestly hate hate hate having pictures taken of me when i'm aware of it. most of the good pix of me have been when i'm not watching or aware of it. when i'm aware of the camera is when i look like a man. i hate it. i remember having one taken of me when i wasn't looking and i happened to be laughing at the time...that looked ok.

i find that a good number of those that "hate having pix taken" are the ones that look fantastic in candid shots.
Mar. 31st, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
Getting people to relax can be difficult, esp. if they're not comfortable around the camera. Getting them to just talk to you while you're holding the camera but not shooting is one way to get them to forget about the camera.

Usually getting them to laugh or talk about a subject they are very familiar helps them to just start to relax.

You might want to consider just doing candids or street photography? There's a lot of photographers who love doing that because they hate the studio posing stuff.
Mar. 31st, 2009 02:38 am (UTC)
You have an amazing talent with candids. I have really been enjoying seeing your photostream on flickr.

Coaching a person who is not media model typical can be tricky. Apparently I am fairly good at it. If any of the stuff I have done is an indicator. Candids I am hit and miss with. If you would like a backseat coach for posed situations at BC let me know. If we can get schedules to jibe I would love to help. I love coaching almost as much as I love shooting and modelling.
Mar. 31st, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)
How do we get people to relax? Er... not much that will work for you, I'm afraid. Being shorter helps, as shorter photographers seem less "scary". :/ Also, one of us is a girl (this helps a lot when photographing female subjects, who often tend to be more wary of men in general).

- Oh, subjects having a drink or two in them also helps. :p
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 1st, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
well, you know if I get crap pictures of you they're getting deleted.
Mar. 31st, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
I mostly take candids, but lately I've been getting some good practice with formal model shoots on a couple of meetup.com groups. For about $70-$150, depending on the number of photographers and the amount of clothing the model is wearing, you get to shoot for 3-4 hours, about 5 minutes at a time, trading off with the other photogs. It's as educational seeing how other people direct the model as it is trying it yourself.
Take a look at http://www.meetup.com/bayareaglamour/ and http://www.meetup.com/bayareamodels/
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )