Tuesdays tip: Getting close enough.

Today’s piece of advice is about getting close to people to photograph them.  The cliché that is most often misquoted with respect to this is Robert Capa who said “if your photographs are aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”  its easy to forget that word; enough and think you need to get so close that you can smell their cologne and see the hairs up their nose…

You need to get close enough to ensure that your subject is the centre of interest in the picture.  When I am walking on the street, looking for a moment to photograph, I look well ahead at what is happening.  It’s like riding a bicycle, you don’t look at the front wheel do you?  That way if someone is approaching me that looks interesting I can spot them and set up well in advance.  Like in this picture;

I saw this couple a long way off.  I was ready with my camera set up.  I use a manual range finder so I set the exposure by metering off my hand and pre-focused at 1 meter on f 16.

So I am ready.  Now I could have asked permission but in this case I wanted to photograph candidly.  As soon as they are close enough I take the picture and keep on walking.  I find that if I make eye contact before taking the shot I am finished, I start to feel self-conscious and start to question what I am doing so its eyes front and move on.

I find pubic occasions like sporting events or here in France, the market, a good opportunity  to photograph people unawares.  If you are a little apprehensive about the practice then this is a good place to start because people are busy and occupied.  In Dublin, my home town, I like Grafton street because there are a lot of street entertainers.  The photograph below is a good example.  There are nearly always these guys blowing huge soap bubbles and they are nearly always besieged with children and their parents.

In a situation like this I get my camera set up right, again with the Leica I meter off my hand and preset my focus. They I decide where I want to stand.  I might walk around a little to see how the light is affecting the scene.  Do I want the scene front lit, back-lit or more from the side?  Then I take up my position and wait for the different elements in the scene to come together and make the picture for me.  Also I move constantly, I am using a prime lens so I have to move in and out to zoom in or zoom out.  I have zoom legs!  The great advantage of a scene like this over the first is that you have lots of time to make more pictures whereas the first situation is really only one frame then move on.  So if you have the time make several pictures not just one.  This day I shot half a roll of film, 18 exposures at this spot.  If I get 1 good frame great! if I get more than even better! but I miss 100% of the pictures I don’t take.  Here is another shot from the same scene:

The main thing is to play, experiment and have fun whether you are shooting a beautiful landscape photograph or a gritty street photograph so get out today and make some images today!

You can see more of my street photography here. Or come, visit and photograph Dublin and Ireland with me.  See here for the details.

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7 Responses to Tuesdays tip: Getting close enough.

  1. Sonali Dalal says:

    I love to shoot candid portraits,people. I agree with you that if we make an eye contact,then it becomes difficult to shoot. So I tend to avoid it. But if it happens, I make it a point and have small talk with them. It makes all of us comfortable. Though in India,people do not mind being photographed. In fact, problem is reverse. They start posing!

    • Hi Sonali yes me too, I acknowledge people when they notice me. I think in general that people don’t mind you photographing them and its easier if you are not trying to be sneaky.

  2. millar123 says:

    Haven’t done candid street shots in a while – actually embraced last week’s tip (or was it the previous week) about asking. I was covering a local music festival and got some gems from it! Yes, but I do love the anonymity of street photography: I got some great stuff in Dublin last time I was there! Museums are quite good for candid, provided you can photograph in there – I just sat on a bench in front of this piece in a museum in Berlin, and the expressions on people’s faces are so diverse, and oddly amsuing at times!

  3. Lorna says:

    Am loving these tips and your enthusiasm that comes with them too :)

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