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Photography Question 
Judith McGuire
 

Capturing People in their Environment


I just returned from a trip to the Caribbean and lucked into some wonderful opportunities to photograph street people or those working in their jobs, ie. market place, street vendors, etc. In some cases I witnessed hostility from these folks, in others just running and virtually hiding from the camera. Every chance I had I tried to shoot from a covered position but certainly missed some good shots. I also tried chatting with people and getting to know them and then asking permission to take their picture but that ended up being unsatisfactory because the shots became too posed. It seemed as if that camera in my hands marked ME as the target to avoid.

How do you photograph people in their environment? What's the trick here at getting those really good shots and showing the deapth and breadth of the individual when you don't have half a day to spend dawdling in one location?


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2/7/2006 3:18:32 AM

 
Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  Put yourself in their place. How would you treat a stranger, a foreigner, wandering your neighborhood taking pictures of you and your children, then scats after an hour?

The way to photograph people in their environment is to spend time with them in that environment and get to know them personally. The photos you wish to emulate are not made by tourists bound to an itinerary. Those photographers will emerse themselves with their subjects for not just half a day, but many days or weeks.


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2/7/2006 5:45:00 AM

 
Willie  L
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/28/2006
  Judith,
Let's see some to those shots!
Post them in your gallery.

Just curious.

Willie


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2/8/2006 1:39:30 AM

 
Kitty  Cross   Jon

I'm inclined to think there might be another way (although it eludes me at this point) Journalists have limited time also but some of the most stunning people photos I've seen are photojournalistic.

I'm saving up to take David Bathgate's course on People photos in April with the hope of learning a trick or two. Your comment is valid though--with time you have a better chance.


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2/8/2006 3:23:54 AM

 
Barbara Helgason
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
 
 
 
Judy, I've run into the same problem time after time. I always ask first but usually they freeze up and the original opportunity is gone. Little kids are great though. If you ask the parents first and tell them how cute their child is, they usually don't have a problem. little ones never have that frozen posed smile. Usually I give the child a dollar or two. Here's a picture I took last week of a little girl in Belize. She was in her little school uniform walking towards us past some beautiful columns. It could have been a beautiful picture. I asked if I could photograph her and gave her a dollar. I don't even know if she understood. The resulting picture is nothing like what I had hoped for. She looks uncomfortable, and has a frozen expression on her face. I feel my skills as a photographer are seriously lacking in this area and I would love to learn a way to deal with this. I too would love to know how others handle these situations.


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2/8/2006 10:44:24 AM

 
Barbara Helgason
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
 
 
 
Judy, I've run into the same problem time after time. I always ask first but usually they freeze up and the original opportunity is gone. Little kids are great though. If you ask the parents first and tell them how cute their child is, they usually don't have a problem. little ones never have that frozen posed smile. Usually I give the child a dollar or two. Here's a picture I took last week of a little girl in Belize. She was in her little school uniform walking towards us past some beautiful columns. It could have been a beautiful picture. I asked if I could photograph her and gave her a dollar. I don't even know if she understood. The resulting picture is nothing like what I had hoped for. She looks uncomfortable, and has a frozen expression on her face. I feel my skills as a photographer are seriously lacking in this area and I would love to learn a way to deal with this. I too would love to know how others handle these situations.


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2/8/2006 10:44:40 AM

 
Kitty  Cross   Barbara--If I may be so bold as to comment on your photo from Belize--it's hard to say much--your gallery says you're a much more accomplished photographer than me.

But for what it's worth, I see in the photo of the girl the classic look I would expect a 6 year old kid to give a grownup especially if there's a potential language/intention barrier.

She looks like she's a little annoyed (if a 6 year old is allowed to be annoyed), she looks a little suspicious and in fact she probably looks just the way she felt. Not quite sure it was what you wanted or if she wanted to be there. I think what you were looking to do is to catch an expression of local kid free of attachment to the photographer. Or in any case change the relationship of kid to you to something a bit friendlier?? A friend suggested balloon animals once. Or bubbles--something to involve a young participant and take the focus off the kid/photogtrapher. Put it on the bubble blower and the game. The interaction between a kid and bubbles might be closer to what you're looking for than the somewhat suspicious one between you and her. Just some thoughts but I'm thinking that might be the key. I'm going to try it out anyway.

The other thing I'm going to try is slowing down a bit. As a traveller I'm learning the slower you move the more time life has to happen to you and the more time folks have to get used to you.

And for the record--if I can get as good as you when it comes to composition, I'd be happy!

cheers!


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2/8/2006 12:16:48 PM

 
Judith McGuire   Thank you all for these responses. I appreciate all the help I can get.

I REALLY want to capture people in their environment and give the flavor of the work they do or the particular situation they happened to be in at that moment. Yes, it's rather like photojournalism, I suppose, but that's what I want to capture. If I ask permission to photograph them I never seem to get what I want, and that is an individual who is PART of their environment, not doing a stand up in it. I'd like to do it too without embedding myself for days like news reporters. Sometimes you just don't have hours and hours to spend in one place.

On the flip side, I have made some WONDERFUL acquaintances in travel and found remarkable stories when people are willing to talk with me. And having said that, I've found that THOSE people are not necessarily the ones that then will allow me to take their picture. It almost has ruined that 'chatty' connection and zone of comfort as soon as I make the request. It also gives me a lousy picture. I KNOW there's got to be a better way.

I WILL continue to try though!


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2/8/2006 12:33:52 PM

 
Barbara Helgason
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
 
 
 
Kitty, you're right in saying she looks suspicious and annoyed and that's probably how she felt. Before I took the picture she looked so content and relaxed as she walked along the sidewalk. A better photographer would have captured that and that's what I wanted, but still don't know how to get. Balloon animals and bubbles are a great idea but when you are in a strange place approaching a strange child I honestly don't know if anything will work other than taking the time to get to know her, (not possible in most cases) or just shooting discreetly (I'm not good at that either) without permission. I will continue trying. I have had some success photographing people while on vacation and would like to share my favorite. In this case I asked and the mother was thrilled and so proud of her baby that I got exactly what I was looking for. Had the mother looked at the camera, the picture would have been no good.


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2/8/2006 12:44:50 PM

 
Barbara Helgason
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
 
 
 
try again...


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2/8/2006 12:45:25 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Judith: As a photojournalist, I've done what you attempted to do, many times both in the U.S. in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York and in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I'm with Jon and his response is exactly correct.

I notice you repeatedly use the word "capture" seemingly in place of "photograph". You're not on a saffari right? You're not hunting wild animals. To accomplish your goals here, both photographically and sociologically, you need to be patient, get out from behind the tree or lamp post, meet and get to know your subjects, even briefly, ask permission and go about your task gently and as unobtrusively as possible. Offer them compensation, not much, even offer to share a meal with them, share a beer, etc. Seewhatimean? You can't just shoot and run. What you want to do doesn't work that way.

Yes, I've taken weeks getting to know some homeless people I've photographed for various articles. It's essentially called immersing yourself in your subject. The more I get to know them, the greater the photographs. Remember that taking someone's picture is an intimate sort of thing, up close and personal. In my experience, I get the best results using either a 35mm or 85mm f 1.4 lens.

I'm blanking on who said it, but the expression goes "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not getting close enough.". Robert Capra??? But think about that. You not only need good technical skills to do this, but you need to be somewhat of a psychologist and sociologist as well, understanding local customs and values. And believe me on this one: If any course you take on the subject doesn't teach you these things, ask for a refund.
Take it light.
Mark


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2/8/2006 1:58:00 PM

 
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