If you are involved in street, journalistic and other genres of photography with a “human interest,” you have probably wondered how to take an expressive picture of someone you do not know without the end result looking dull and yourself getting in trouble. In this piece I want to share my thoughts and experience about shooting strangers.
Is it okay to take pictures of strangers?
Staged or spontaneous?
The target and the backdrop — combining them
Deconcentration, or the art of woolgathering
The Eye in the Gut
The Fake Video Shoot
The Front Man
Into the Home
By way of a conclusion
Getting a bit ahead of myself here, I must say that sometimes there will be trouble anyway, and there are ethical issues to sort out with oneself, not to mention legal. Is it okay to take pictures of strangers, anyway? Is that not an invasion of privacy? What do Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and people from other confessions think about it? Is it all right to shoot… take pictures of policemen? In airports, railroad stations, subways? How about supermarkets and private stores? What restrictions do different countries have in place? …There are lots of questions when it comes to shooting strangers, and few of them have definite answers.
I’ve been promising lots of people to explain how I increase image sharpness for Web images. I’ve talked about sharpening before several times, but new techniques come with experience. The following is by no means my own discovery, but I hope it will be useful to some.
An Article for Beginners, Introduction for Those Who Keep Practicing, and Step-by-Step Guide for Every Occasion
“You need ten minutes to learn to take a photo. You need to mold a personality to learn to select one.”
(c) Gueorgui Pinkhassov
Some friends/colleagues of mine criticize the above wording viewing it as incomprehensible, inaccurate, even snobbish. They argue against the idea of somebody being able to learn photography in ten minutes; as for mature personality, they say the notion is arbitrary (what about the personality of a five-year-old child?). Such an approach by all means sounds reasonable, even more so, it is interesting per se. However, give me a five-year-old child and a modern camera, and they will be taking pictures in ten minutes flat. Will they act consciously in so doing? Should one act consciously? What should the balance be between the conscious and the unconscious in the process of taking pictures and selecting photos? From a personal perspective, these issues seem to be deep and important, and the above quotation implies their philosophical interpretation.
Generally speaking, it is hard, if ever possible to be an effective judge while discussing photography. One cannot tell how to do things right, as everyone makes his or her own choice. There are no off-the-shelf solutions, since every photographer exercises an individual approach. Time and again I see utterly “wrong” actions (objectively wrong, like incorrect processing techniques in Adobe Photoshop) bringing about the “right” result, shaped by the photographer’s creative insight rather than by his or her technical skills.
Striving for algorithmization is quite useful in terms of application tasks in photography and dangerous in terms of creative tasks. Since art starts where rules end, I believe creative growth relies heavily on personal experience, both your own and of those people whose works speak to your heart.
“It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind.”
Terry Pratchett, “The Color of Magic”
Photographers, especially beginners, often hold the mistaken opinion that shooting is reserved for broad daylight – especially if you are looking to make an effective color picture. When it rains, in twilight or at nighttime you should (they say) refrain from shooting or, at most, settle for black and white. So photo tourists coming to a new country are often put out by precipitation forecasts and cloudy conditions. I say, it is an occasion to rejoice! Shooting without direct sunlight opens great opportunities for expressive color photography, and I have proof – not just pictures I myself have made, but work of acknowledged masters.
1. A few words in defense of the sun
2. Now that night is coming
3. Rafal Milah: “I can’t see colors in sunny weather”
4. Work in interiors
5. Leave a bit for contrast
6. Mixed-temperature lighting
7. Is rain the most anti-photographic weather?
8. The opposite myth: “Noon light is too harsh and colors are drab”
9. By way of an afterword
A semi-deserted locality in Murmansk Oblast on the shores of the Barents Sea. Now there is not even a road leading to it, while some 30–40 years back it used to host the Murmansk Marine Biological Institute. I’ve been there in 2009, with a car from Moscow. It took me 2 days for the first 2000 km, and 6 more hours on an off-roader across tundra for the last 30 km. Now, 5 years past, I recalled that trip in relation to the new Russian Oscar–nominated movie “Leviathan” that was shot on location in those exact places.
My name is Pavel Kosenko and I’m from Russia. I am a photographer, and my major interest is street and art photography. I like to work and experiment with colors in photographs. Travel is the main source of my inspiration.
You can also read my Russian blog using Google Translate.