A photographer collects stories. Those stories can be about people.
When setting out to photograph a stranger, there is no way you can predict who you’ll meet, and even less chance of developing some definite expectations of what images you can make and take home. You need to be open to anything and flexible enough to change focus at a moment’s notice. Here is a how-to video from Clay Enos.
(The only thing I disagree with that the video says is about the lighting. Enos prefers “flat light” but I like contrasty. It’s a matter of taste.)
When I’m on the hunt for portraits, I’ve got a couple of lenses I like to use. A zoom that has a 50mm focal length within its range is good for closeups. A long telephoto is good for portraits of people whom you want to catch in their candid moments or without intruding on their privacy.
To help you maximize your chances of capturing memorable portraits that have impact, there are some things you can apply.
1. Wait for the decisive moment.
Cartier Bresson once said, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” Finding this decisive moment is one of the most exciting things you can search for in your quest for portraits. Being patient and waiting for moments can result in expressive portraits.
2. Provide context for your subject.
Using the environment can help you tell the story of your subject. Whether it is about work, play, or other themes, giving bits of the surroundings can add impact to the story because the elements around the subject add to the narrative of who they are, what they do, linking their story to the viewer’s story.
3. Document a 1000 words.
That old cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words” can come true in your photography. While roaming a place, look out for moments that hold special significance to the people you are photographing. Sometimes you’ll find these vignettes that encapsulate universal experiences, such as wanting something we can’t have. Portraits that have stories in them are often some of the most powerful ones we can make.
4. Interact with your subject.
It helps you sometimes to interact with your subject. Some would argue that interacting with your subject changes the image; that by imposing yourself into their lives, the photographer changes the natural way a local person would act.
5. Keep your distance.
Conversely, you can keep your distance and use a long lens. Using a long lens, what I call the “sniper method” of portraiture, allows you to capture people in their natural state. Because you are not intruding upon their attention, you would get portraits that are more candid.
6. Know the angle of your light source.
I like dramatic lighting, so I always look for things like rim lighting, or light falling on the face of the person I am photographing.
7. Watch out for body language.
A portrait can express a story even without the face completely visible. Often, body language can tell the story.
Although by no means an exhaustive list, these tips can help you start your search for the stories of strangers. Your assignment this week is to make some portraits of people you don’t know. Choose one photo that turned out special, and tell the stranger’s story on our Imagine That Photography Tribe Facebook page.
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