Weekly Photo Challenge: People

I’m just coming off of attending Shutterfest this week. I wrote about my experiences last year.

Shutterfest is this crazy photography conference in St. Louis. It’s a week of non-stop photoshoots, mainly geared to the portrait and wedding photographers. You can see us doing cosplay photoshoots at 3 AM, shooting boudoir photos in the Starbucks, and generally going crazy with costumes, lighting and experimentation. I go because it’s also a week of craziness where I can explore photographing people.

A photo from last year’s Shutterfest. This was a late night photoshoot in an abandoned building in St. Louis. Loved the colors!

Though I only do a bit of portrait shooting, many of the lessons I learn I can apply to travel and street photography.

This week the challenge is to….

Photograph People

I’ll broaden this challenge to be about photographing people in general rather than specifically portraiture, but if you haven’t tried your hand at portraits, this might be a good week to phone a friend and do a bit of practice. You don’t need a lot of specialist gear to get started – use natural light instead of flashes and see what you can do.

No need for fancy flashes when you have the sun to light your scene. Look for where the sun is shining and if it’s too bright, put your subject in the shade.

Up until a couple of years ago I would have been panicked by this challenge. Photograph people!?? Are you crazy! I can’t point my actual camera at an actual person! They’ll get mad or worse, yell at me!

I was at a workshop with a Nat. Geo. photographer a couple of years ago and this is exactly what happened. The instructions were to photograph people – and not in a voyeuristic sort of way – but interacting with the people we were photographing. She forced us to ask if people if we could can take their photograph and take multiple photos – not just one quickie and run away. I can tell you, there was sweat on our brows as we headed out into the streets.

Got Milk? I took a weekend workshop with Nat. Geo. photographer Catherine Karnow. When our assignment for the day was people with a requirement to ask permission to photograph first, we all cringed. We’d have to TALK to people?! But as I became bolder, I realized that it wasn’t just about asking permission, I was chatting to people a bit about themselves, the area, etc. – I was having an experience myself! If I approached with a smile, most people were happy to have their photo taken and chat a bit. The photos were better for it! I saw this girl from outside the Peacock diner in The Loop and loved the light. I chatted with her mom & aunt for a bit before capturing this genuine Sunday morning smile! 3.19.2017. Sony A7II 77mm 1/80@f5.6 ISO160

In the end, it was a great experience. I still prefer the candid street shots, but I’m much more comfortable interacting with strangers on the street.

Most of the time when I travel, I’ll take a few candid shots and then take a few more after I’ve established a connection with the person. I now have choices – sometimes I like the candid better, sometimes I like the more intimate shot better.

This Indian woman was happy to pose for me for a few moments. We didn’t speak the same language, but I smiled and waved my camera and she knew what I wanted.

I won’t make actually talking to person you’re photographing a condition of the challenge, but it really pushed me out of my comfort zone and opened up my street photography. If you need a kick, consider it done – go out and take photos of a stranger AND interact with them.

My book Streets of India is available through Blurb as a hardback and as an e-book

Some tips I give when photographing people in a workshop I do on travel photography. These apply whether you’re doing street photography or photographing a family holiday.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Focus on the eyes. (Difficult to do if shooting their backs.)
  2. Make person/people larger than you think you need to in frame. It’s ok to cut off a bit of their head as long as it makes visual sense.
  3. Check background for distractions – like telephone poles coming out of their heads
  4. When photographing children, get down low. Be at eye-level
  5. Use shallow depth of field to blur background. Minimizes distractions
  6. Take a few candid photos and then a few posed ones. You can move most people into better light. They might think you’re crazy, but if they’re willing to have their photo taken, they’re usually willing to take a couple of seconds to be repositioned.
  7. Increase shutter speed if trying to catch action.
Photo Cuban Street Portrait
This fellow was out selling bread early on a Saturday morning in Old Havana. He stopped a bit to chat and pose for a photo.

This week, take your camera and your courage and interact with people to make beautiful, interesting, or quirky photos.

I have new cards from Moo – Love the square cards! They get so much attention when I hand them out.
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For more photos, follow me on social media: Facebook,Instagram, Website, Flickr

14 Comments

  1. I get that panicky feeling when I think about photographing people. Not so much because I think they will get mad but because people are so complex and capturing their true nature through the lens is such a challenge for me.

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  2. Unless the person is truly a rotten apple — and there aren’t very many of those — or if the person is really in a hurry — which you should be able to observe in advance — people are great and they love it when you engage with them. Once you have broken the ice, you usually discover that there is no ice at all. And your impromptu portraits will be all the better for it. I did that last weekend, but I will never post the picture because it’s too personal. These photos of yours are wonderful.

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  3. Woolly Muses says:

    Like you I tired some street photographer, Jenn, with very few cooperating. Most of my ‘people’ are either people cropped out of a wider image, or people who were just ‘there’ and could not be avoided. In the late 1970s to mid 80s I photographed couple of weddings each year and still think some of my best portrait work is among those wedding photos.

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  4. Jaspa says:

    I know Mardi isn’t a real person, Jenn, but who could resists a towering three-eyed child in an animal suit from Phuket in Thailand? http://bit.ly/JJ-Mardi

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