Month: July 2015

Top 10 Features to Bring Your Seascape Photos to Life

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Seascapes are awesome opportunities for photography. In fact, it will probably be your first impulse upon seeing the ocean to pull out your camera (or wish you had it with you). It takes some skill, however, to turn a beautiful coastal scene into something more than a snapshot. If you are not careful, your coastal photo can be a boring picture of sand and water.

One of the keys to success for coastal photography is finding something interesting along the coastline to put in your picture. It would be great if there was an abandoned boat every 100 meters, but there isn’t. And we don’t all live near Big Sur or the Cliffs of Moher. Therefore, you often have to hunt for features to make your seascapes come alive. When you find such a feature, look at it from different angles, often with your camera to your face (you’ll be surprised at how different things sometimes look through the viewfinder or through the LCD). 

To get you started, here are some suggestions of coastal features to look for:

1. Old piers and docks

Abandoned piers and docks solve a huge problem with most coastal photography in that they add a center of interest to your photos. Many times you have a beautiful background created by the coastal scenery, but nothing else. You want an actual subject for your photo, the pier gives you that.

Top Coastal Formations - Pier

Abandoned piers and docks also provide a great opportunity for you to blur out the water, which creates a strong contrast between the blurred water and the sharp pier. To do this, make sure you have a 10-stop neutral density filter. Using this filter will reduce the amount of light allowed into your camera, and cause the camera to use a much longer shutter speed than it would otherwise. That long shutter speed blurs (or smooths) the water.

2. Lighthouses

A less common feature, but one that you should always look for, is a lighthouse. These add a great subject to an otherwise uninteresting scene.

Obviously, you won’t find lighthouses everywhere, but you’d be surprised how many there are if you look for them. In the U.S., the state of Maine alone has over 60 lighthouses, California has about 30. You can check to see if there is a lighthouse near your destination by using the map created by the Lighthouse Friends.

Seascape features example -  Portland Head Light

Oftentimes access to lighthouses is restricted to certain hours because they are on public property. This can be an issue if you want to shoot before sunrise or after sunset, as most of us do. Be sure to check the access and/or opening times.

3. Sunrise and sunset

Whereas your location may not have something like an abandoned pier or a lighthouse, no matter where you are there will always be a sunrise and sunset. You may not get the most dramatic of sunrises or sunsets on the day you are out shooting, but you will always have one. If you are not doing this already, it is the number one improvement you can make to your photographs, and it costs nothing.

If you don’t ordinarily shoot into the sun, do so on occasion to add drama and interest. You can also use the sun as a center of interest.

Top Coastal Formations - Sunset at Pigeon Point

Be sure to arrive well before sunrise or hang around after sunset. The skies are often more dramatic during these times than during the actual sunrise or sunset itself.

4. Interesting rock formations

Remember that in coastal photography, the top half of your picture is often a given; it will be the water and sky. In those cases, the only variable is the foreground. Therefore, you should spend a lot of time looking down to get the best foreground possible.

When you do that, one thing to look for – which is available no matter your location – is interesting rocks, or rock formations. Spend a lot of time looking for them, and as you do so, look through your camera frequently. The camera sees things differently than you.

Seascape features example -  Green rocks at Acadia

To make the rocks stand out, get let low to the ground and get right behind them. This is sometimes inconvenient or uncomfortable, but it is worth it. Be sure to use a wide angle lens to capture the whole scene.

5. Patterns in the water

Sometimes the water itself is enough to create an interesting photo. For this to be the case, you will need to capture the pattern of the waves or the currents in the water.

top Coastal Formations - Ocean at Night

Use a slow shutter speed to capture the patterns of the waves and currents. At night, your shutter speed might naturally be slow enough to do this because of the low-light environment. During the day, however, you will need a 10-stop neutral density filter to use a slow enough shutter speed.

6. Animals

Seacoasts are home to a vast array of wildlife. In some places, livestock are allowed to roam freely along coastal regions. If nothing else, you can count on birds being present at the coast. Use one of these animals as a center of interest for your photo when you capture the scene.

Seascape example - Valencia Island with Sheep

You will need to use a reasonably fast shutter speed to capture the animal and make it sharp. If you like to shoot from a tripod and use a neutral density filter when capturing coastlines, you will have to change things up. Creating a blur to the water will also blur the animal, which will ruin the shot.

7. Powerful waves

On some days, the waves are enough to create a nice photo. In particular, after a storm or high winds, the waves may come crashing in and give you something interesting to work with.

Top Coastal Formations - Crashing Waves

Use a fast shutter speed (at least 1/250th) to capture the power of the waves. If you use a slower shutter speed it will blur the wave, which will create a sense of movement, but not show the power of the wave. This will probably not be a problem most days, but if you are working in low light you will need to increase your ISO, or open up your aperture a bit to get the shutter speed fast enough.

8. People (for a sense of scale)

You can have the most dramatic scenery in the world in your picture, but if your viewer cannot instantly determine the scale of the scene, it might be lost. Nothing solves this problem more than having a person in your picture. We all know how big people are, and seeing a person in the picture instantly helps put the size and scale of the scenery in perspective.

Seascape features example -  Photographer at Davenport cliffs

Next time, rather than cloning out that person who wandered into your picture, leave them in. Better yet, look for opportunities to include a person in your scene to add a sense of scale.

9. Reflective water

If you are shooting up or down the coastline (i.e. perpendicular to it), land features will sometimes reflect on the water or wet sand. These reflections can make a nice foreground for your picture. Capturing reflections usually requires that:

  1. You are photographing just before sunrise or after sunset
  2. You use a long exposure, which will blur the water and make the reflection show up

Seascape features example -  Reflections at Pfeiffer beach

It need not be a perfect reflection (it rarely will be, since the water is moving so much), but just something that captures the colors and tones in general. You will use these to create a foreground that is more interesting than just a bunch of sand. Slow down your shutter speed and see what develops.

10. Clouds

Another item found along the coast that does not depend on your location or geography is clouds. More often than not, the clouds will give you something to work with. Coastal regions – being a transition between land and sea – often develop the most interesting clouds anywhere, and conditions can change rapidly.

Seascape features example -  Davenport clouds

If you are focusing on the clouds as the subject of your picture, make sure that the top two-thirds (2/3) of your picture (at least) is above the horizon line. Be sure to use your polarizing filter if you are shooting near midday.

Next steps

There is nothing to do now but get out there and photograph the coast. Start with the features in this article, then go find your own. There is no end to the interesting things you can find along the coast. If you have a favorite that I didn’t list, be sure to leave it in the comments below.

The post Top 10 Features to Bring Your Seascape Photos to Life by Jim Hamel appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

The Secret to Great Photography Portfolio

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If you’ve been around the photography world for a short time, you probably have at least a basic grasp of the technical skills. You know how to manipulate depth of field with aperture, where to focus in a portrait, and how to compensate your exposure for extremes in shadows and highlights. Even knowing things like that, you’ve probably stumbled across some incredible portfolios or magazine spreads and asked, “How did they do that?” Or even “What’s their secret?”

The secret to a great photography portfolio is simple. It isn’t even a secret at all, although it’s not often talked about in photography communities. Simply put, the secret is:

Master the technical skills until they’re automatic, then go out and endlessly make photographs, a lot of photographs. Only a handful should ever be shown to anyone.

Photography is easy; at least the technical side. Yes, that’s a quite a contentious statement, but I’m not the one who said it. It was David Bailey being interviewed by Rankin and answering the question, “What makes a good photographer?” His answer was:

“You can learn to take pictures in three months. You can learn to draw in three months, but only technically. It’s where you go from there.”

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The critical point is that it’s not the technical skills that make good photography. They’re vital ingredients but it’s how they’re put together with your subject to create an end result that is most important.

Think of it like cake. If you’re digging in to a piece of cake and you actually notice any of the individual elements of eggs, flour, butter or sugar, something’s gone horribly wrong in the baking process.

What comes after the technical skills?

There are two elements to consider when thinking about what to do next:

  • First, creating a lot of images and showing only a few.
  • Secondly, giving your subject comprehensive coverage.

Create many, show few

In an article, that I read a few years back, a National Geographic photographer said that they use to go through 1500 rolls of film to create a single set of 10 to 20 images for an article.

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To translate that, assuming they used 120 film in a 6×9 medium format camera; that yields eight frames per roll of film. That’s 12,000 photographs. Also assume that those photographers would have bracketed one or two stops on either side. (Bracketing is the practice of taking a normally exposed photograph, then taking two more – generally one overexposed, one underexposed. This was useful in the days of transparency film which offered very little in terms of exposure latitude.) That brings the number to 4000. Finally, say 50% of those weren’t good enough to show the editor.

That leaves 2000 photographs that most people would probably be more than happy to have taken. The final spread used about a dozen of the very, very best or 0.6% of all of the images taken.

To apply this concept to your own portfolio, you have to learn how to be ruthless. If it isn’t your very best, scrap it. It can be hard work, especially considering the emotional connections we, as photographers, have with our work, but if you can learn to turn that off then your portfolio will be better for it.

Comprehensive coverage

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Back to dissecting National Geographic, my favourite article is one that covers the glamorous topic of caffeine. This one is a large spread and is made up of 23 photos.

Breaking it down: nine images are environmental portraits, six are classical reportage, six are still-lifes, and two are landscapes.

The set of photos also covers five countries and five US cities; all within 23 photos.

To cover every possible aspect associated with caffeine, the photographer for that piece documented several facets of the human element of the topic, from production workers, to scientists in labs, as well as the consumers. The landscape images in the article showed the environmental impact of caffeine.

Hopefully you’re starting to see what comprehensive means in this context. Of course, very few people have the kind of resources to approach a subject so thoroughly, but if you take the extra time to consider and follow through on other possible aspects of your subject matter, you may be surprised with the results.

Icing on the cake

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To return to the cake metaphor: when you’re at a bakery, you only see the shop floor, with the well presented finished products. You don’t see the chefs slogging through hours of batter and hot ovens. You don’t see the logistics of bringing chefs and ingredients together in the right place. You just see cake.

Hopefully, you now have a little more insight on what may have gone on behind the scenes, albeit a simplified interpretation, when you look at a photo that you admire, and what steps you can take to push yourself in that direction.

Just remember: get the technical skills mastered and out of the way, then go wild.

The post The Secret to Great Photography Portfolio by John McIntire appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

8 Factors to Look at Before You Choose a New DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

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Not too long ago, the path to choosing your gear was very clear. If you wanted to take professional quality images, the DSLR reigned supreme. Yet, the landscape of available camera gear is constantly evolving, and today there are more options than ever before. Instead of just one or two dominant companies, you now have outstanding systems from no less than seven manufacturers. Mirrorless cameras have matured from a niche product to a complete solution, while DSLRs have been further refined. This may sound daunting at first, but with a bit of research, it’s possible to find a model that meets your specific needs. Here are the main points to review when considering whether you get a DSLR or mirrorless camera next.

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1) Availability of Lenses

Buying a high megapixel camera body won’t spare you from the the negative effects of a poor lens. In fact, more resolution can bring greater attention to the lens’s optical flaws. For example, if you pair a full frame sensor with a kit lens you’ll have soft corners and mushy detail. Alternatively, high quality lenses can maximize every pixel of your camera’s sensor providing tack sharp focus from corner to corner. There may be some who will argue this theory and point to studio tests and technical charts. Yet in practice, a camera with a smaller sensor and less megapixels paired with a stellar lens can provide more clarity than a high resolution full frame coupled with an average lens. For this reason, the selection of available lenses is the first consideration when deciding on a camera.

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Sharpness is not the only part of this decision, but also the speed in which the lens achieves focus. A constant aperture is also a nice convenience for low light shooting as opposed to slower variable aperture lenses that span from f/3.5 to f/5.6. Finally, if you envision a super shallow depth of field in your images, f/5.6 will not be as desirable as f/2.8. Map out your kit with each manufacturer using your dream scenario. For example, can you build a system with f/2.8 lenses that span from ultra wide to super telephoto? How much would this cost for each manufacturer, and what would it weigh? While it’s true that DSLR users once enjoyed a significant advantage in lens availability, that gap is quickly closing. Most mirrorless systems now offer a complete line of professional quality glass that is of equivalent quality to a DSLR counterpart.

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2) Image Quality

Ultimately, the image quality from a camera is only as good as the person controlling it. The best photographers in the world can capture stunning imagery, with the most basic cameras. Simply put, they know how to maximize the potential of any situation, and work around the limitations to get the shot.

Ideally, you want to find a camera that doesn’t get in the way of your creative process. If you’re fumbling with confusing menus and buttons, chances are you will miss a number of fleeting opportunities. Still, photography is also a game of confidence, and you want to feel as if the photo you are capturing will have all of the detail you need it to. I have good news for you! Nearly every DSLR and mirrorless camera today has more than enough resolution for professional work. Whether you are shooting for large prints, billboards, magazine spreads, stock submissions or your own personal satisfaction, today’s modern cameras are up to the task. This is a game changer, as a DSLR is no longer a prerequisite for professional work.

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3) Sensor Size

At the same effective focal range and aperture, the actual depth of field each format provides will appear different based on sensor size. For example, a full frame camera at f/2.8 dramatically throws a background out of focus. This is ideal for reducing distractions and bringing attention to the subject. To achieve the same look with an APS-C sensor you would need to open the aperture to f/1.8. With micro 4/3, you’d need f/1.4. Clearly, this makes shallow depth of field easier to achieve with a full frame. Having said that, micro 4/3 users can create similar results with fast lenses like the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95.

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While larger sensors enjoy a slight advantage for shallow depth of field, the opposite happens with great depth of field. This means f/5.6 on a micro 4/3 camera provides the equivalent depth of field to f/8 on APS-C and f/11 on a full frame model. This provides the micro 4/3 user with 1-2 extra stops of light while still creating sharp focus from near to far. As a result, the ISO doesn’t need to be as high, providing better image quality. For the same exposure and equivalent depth of field, here is an example of how the sensor size would affect the settings.

  • Micro 4/3: 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 200
  • APS-C: 1/125, f/8, ISO 400
  • Full Frame: 1/125, f/11, ISO 800

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This is summed up nicely by Cambridge in Colour who noted, “Larger sensors (and correspondingly higher pixel counts) undoubtedly produce more detail if you can afford to sacrifice depth of field. On the other hand, if you wish to maintain the same depth of field, larger sensor sizes do not necessarily have a resolution advantage.”

4) Features and Functionality

The technology you’ll find, in even the most entry level mirrorless camera, can make a DSLR feel like stepping back in time. This is not solely due to the weight, but the glaring absence of useful features that make simple tasks more convenient. No longer do you need to stand beneath a shaded tree to check your images on the LCD. The quality of EVF in today’s mirrorless cameras is astonishing. It’s similar to using live view, but the image appears in the viewfinder where the display is not affected by harsh sunlight. Without removing your eye from the viewfinder you can check critical focus and exposure while viewing the histogram, highlight alert, and exposure settings.

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With in-viewfinder image magnification and focus peaking, manual focus has never been easier or more accurate. Tapping the shutter lightly will activate the shooting mode so you’re always ready to capture the action. This can certainly reduce time spent chimping, and helps one remain focused on the subject in front of them. Depending on the model, you may enjoy other features like double exposures, silent electronic shutter, keystone correction, live time, time-lapse, touch screen autofocus that covers most of the frame, and built-in wifi. It’s these little things that ultimately make the shooting experience more enjoyable.

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For those who are struggling with depth of field, the EVF on mirrorless cameras offers a huge advantage. As you look through the viewfinder and adjust your aperture, you will see a real-time look at how the depth of field will alter your image. This makes it so convenient to establish your settings for any given shot. In fairness, some DSLRs have a DOF preview button, but its functionality is far from ideal. Using that method the screen gets very dark, and you have to really look hard to determine what will truly be sharp. The EVF simplifies all of this as what you see is what you get.

5) Size and Weight

A DSLR is a commitment. You make a decision to take pictures, pack your gear, and head out. This has proven to be an effective formula for a very long time. Yet, I’ve spoken with countless photographers who leave their DSLR home to avoid carrying extra weight. Some even purchase expensive telephoto zoom lenses only to complain they’re too much of a hassle to bring along. If you do the math, DSLRs are about twice as heavy as mirrorless cameras and approximately 40% bulkier. When you’re traveling to distant places, or hiking deep into the woods, every ounce matters. I’ve been on small international airplanes with a strict 25 pound luggage limit, which included personal items.

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Advances in technology can allow us to go places that were previously inaccessible. No longer do you need to leave important things behind. That’s one of the reasons carbon fibre tripods have become the preferred choice for many. Since they are much lighter than aluminum models, you can go further. Couple this with a lighter camera system, and it’s possible to reach remote locations faster, giving you the competitive edge.

6) Familiarity

15 years ago, on countless pages of photography magazines, experts debated the topic of film versus digital. What followed was undoubtedly one of the biggest revolutions in the history of photography. Despite some of the early limitations, digital imaging forged ahead, ultimately winning over many of the initial naysayers. While this current shift in camera gear may not be quite as dramatic, there are many who are still resistant to change. Yet, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” If you’ve never tried a modern mirrorless system, you are short changing yourself. Visit a local camera store and have a look, or better yet, rent one for a weekend photo adventure. It may take a real world test to experience the benefits that don’t translate well on paper.

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7) Durability and Battery Life

DSLRs take the crown when it comes to battery life. Where one DSLR battery can go a full day with 1000 plus shots, a mirrorless camera will require approximately three batteries. The obvious workaround is to carry several spares, but it’s worth noting as it is one definitive area that requires improvement. The issue is largely due to the heavy power demand from the EVF. As a result, it’s a concern for all mirrorless manufacturers with no one brand having a distinct advantage.

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If you’re looking for a camera that’s weather sealed and built like a tank, both types of cameras have models to check out. Still, in order to enjoy a fully weatherproof system, the lenses need to have the same level of durability. With a DSLR this build-type is often reserved for the professional models. These are typically more expensive and heavier than non-sealed lenses. Alternatively, Sony, Fuji and Olympus all have rugged systems that boast features like splash, dust, and freeze resistant. If you find yourself in extreme situations often, this may be the better option for you.

8) Cost Savings

Do you rely on image stabilization as part of your photography routine? With a DSLR, this convenience comes at a significant cost. Lenses with this feature are often priced hundreds of dollars more than a non-stabilized model. Perhaps a more cost effective method would be a camera with built-in 5-axis stabilization. This will work on any lens you mount, making it possible to capture sharp hand held images at 1/15th of a second or slower. If you’re skeptical, as I certainly was, there are a myriad of tests that prove its accuracy.

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This is an important development that changes the way you works in low light scenarios. For example, if you’re photographing a dark interior where tripods are not allowed, a typical setting would be around 1/125, f/4, ISO 6400. That same shot with 5-axis IS could be captured at 1/15, f/4, ISO 800. Noise won’t be nearly as prevalent at the lower ISO, and you’ll still have a tack-sharp image. This cutting edge feature gives photographers yet another tool to solve common everyday problems.

Conclusion

There have never been as many viable options as we have right now. It is indeed a great time to be in the market for a new camera. The system you decide on will certainly have a big impact on your work, so do thorough research and choose wisely. Remember, the ideal selection should not be based on what everyone else is doing, but what will allow you to realize your unique vision. This can only be decided by you, not a salesperson, or forum chatter. Above all, your next camera should be one that inspires you to pick it up and use it more often.

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As for my gear, I don’t leave the house without my Olympus OMD EM1. Sometimes I also carry an EM10 as a backup body. I recently sold a Canon 40D, retired the old 10D, and am still determining the fate of my Canon 6D.

The post 8 Factors to Look at Before You Choose a New DSLR or Mirrorless Camera by Chris Corradino appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

How to Creatively Alter the Light in Your Photo Using Lightroom

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photo of a Tokyo streetscape after being fixed in Lightroom

Learn how to fix problem light and enhance your vision for your photos in Lightroom.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve taken photos from time to time that you’ve had high hopes for, only to realize later on that they didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. Often what looks like awesome light when you captured the image, just doesn’t translate to great light when you view the photo on your computer screen.

When the photos you’ve captured are once in a lifetime memories they deserve better than this. Thanks to Lightroom they can be improved, fairly quickly and easily. In this video you’ll see how to relight a photo in Lightroom. You’ll learn techniques that you can use on your photos to move the light from where it is now to where you want it to be.

You will see how to use the Graduated Filter to darken skies, how to use the Radial Filter and the Adjustment Brush to bring light and saturation to where you want it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate of using the correct settings and capturing a good photo right in the camera. I’m also pragmatic and I know that, despite the best of intentions, the photos you capture don’t always look as good you’d like. Lightroom can help.

So here’s how you can use Lightroom’s tools to improve a photo. This rather lifeless Tokyo streetscape is improved so it is a crisper, shinier image with light and saturated color where it should be. This is something you can do too.

We’d like to see what you do with these tools and your photos, so feel free to show us in the comments below.

The post How to Creatively Alter the Light in Your Photo Using Lightroom by Helen Bradley appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

10 Tips for Photographing Strangers

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I do a lot of wandering at dawn, taking photos of the city as it wakes. Mostly I am on my own, but occasionally I come across someone, a worker or a person coming home from a party. In Paris, a few summers back, I came across this guy.

AEP_DPS_strangers_001

“Take my photo, friend!” he said to me.

So, of course, I did. He was brash, but when I was done he hugged me and carried on with his early morning adventures.

If only all interactions with strangers, when I’m out with my camera, could be that easy! But, unfortunately, they are not. So when you don’t have random strangers accosting you on the street, here are some thoughts on how to get amazing shots of people you don’t know.

Tips for photographing strangers

Let’s start with what holds most people back from approaching that cool looking stranger, or from raising their camera when they see a great shot of interesting people.

1 – Dealing with your fear

Having fear come up when you are approaching strangers to photograph is totally normal. All photographers who do this have experienced fear, and may continue to. Sometimes we give in to fear and walk away without the shot, but if we can get through it and push ourselves to do what we love, then gradually the practice of photographing strangers becomes much easier.

When you look up the definition of fear it says it is: an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm. Now I have occasionally been shouted at when out and about – usually in situations I would expect to be shouted at, like in an Italian market where people were selling fake designer handbags – but I’ve never had a threat of danger. So I like to think – “Okay fear, there is nothing that is likely to cause me pain or harm, I’ll just let you hang around until you feel the urge to go.” It probably sounds weird talking to your fear like that, but it works for me. Just letting it be there until it drifts away on its own.

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2 – The secret

But actually there is a secret to this – most people are not just happy to be photographed, they love to be noticed. It’s a massive compliment to them that you have sought them out and want to take their picture. This is your secret key!

I was wandering around Montmartre in Paris about 5 a.m. and walked past two men having their early morning coffee and chatting. They looked at me curiously, and to be honest I faltered. I walked straight past them. A language barrier can sometimes add to the intimidation. But I knew if I didn’t go back I’d be kicking myself all day. So even though I’ve been doing this for twenty years, even though I’d photographed hundreds, if not thousands of strangers, the fear does sometimes return. Just don’t let it get in the way of taking shots of those awesome strangers that you see!

So I went back and smiled at them. They smiled back, and I gestured to my camera. They both nodded and I took a few shots. It took a minute or two at most, and I loved the result:

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3 – Break down your fear into bite sized chunks

Diane Arbus talked a lot about her fear of photographing strangers. She described spending a summer hanging around a park in the hope of getting up the courage to talk to a group of people who hung out there most days. Gradually over days and weeks she started to get to know them. Her constant proximity helped to make them trust her and she started to chat to them. Over time, she developed a relationship, and it was only then that she introduced the camera. Because they trusted her she was able to get some stunning portraits of people.

“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.’ I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid.” Diane Arbus

4 – Be genuine, be human

I’ve had a few occasions where people have been sticking cameras in my kids’ faces, snapping away without asking me or my wife, and it has really irked me. There are photographers who seem to think that anything and everything are your subjects, regardless. I know that the law is on your side in most countries (see note at the bottom) but I don’t think it’s respectful to just treat everyone as a subject regardless – and I think people can feel if you are being respectful of them as human beings.

I will always show the subject the photo if they want to see it and give them my business card or take their details so I can send them photos.

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5 – How to approach strangers

It doesn’t matter what you say to people, the most important aspect of approaching people is being genuine, warm, friendly and calm. People will read your body language before you open your mouth, so if you come off as tense they will probably think you are shifty. If you are not smiling, people are going to think you’re unfriendly. Of course being a bit nervous is natural, I still get nervous too. It’s totally normal. But the more you practice, the calmer you’ll become. Then you’ll settle into yourself more, get a little pattern going and it’ll be much easier. It doesn’t matter much what you say, how you say it, or what you are working on, how people react to you is almost 100% because of your body language and the feelings you have when you approach them.

“You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.” Elliott Erwitt

6 – Be quick, be prepared

That’s not to say I won’t take a good anonymous portrait – I love them. At the moment I seem to be having a good time with this selfie trend:

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I took the photo above in Venice a few months back. I was walking up some steps with a group of students and bang, there it was. Because I was prepared with my camera, and because I always see what’s going on around me, I was able to capture it straight away.

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I also liked this photo because for me selfies feel a bit vacuous, and the background was not of Venice but a large photo of Venice covering a building. Both the background and the selfie seem to me to speak of how most people see the world, just on its surface. We photographers have to be prepared to get deeper and see more of what’s really going on.

7 – Have a project and be professional

Over the past several summers I’ve been working on a project, photos of people’s bellies. I always felt it was quite an under-appreciated part of the body and I wanted to see how people felt about theirs. So I started out experimenting by asking people if I could take photos of their bellies.

Now for this kind of project it’s a harder sell. I was asking people to reveal a part of their body that they mostly keep covered up. So the way that I did it was I would look for people on the street who were on their own (because for some bizarre reason people are usually more receptive to strangers taking their photo when they are alone and they seem relaxed). I would approach them, explain what I was doing, and give them a business card that I had made about the project – which had all of my business details on one side and a bunch of belly photos on the other.

Image from The Belly Project by Anthony Epes photography

Image from The Belly Project by Anthony Epes Photography

I also got people’s photos by hanging out at my local cafe, hanging around summer festivals, anywhere really where I could just hang out and chat to people. It’s a brilliant way to fall into conversation with people, so the approach can be more subtle and relaxed.

I am not a super chatty guy. I am not known in my private life to fill the space with epic conversation. You do not need to be a master of conversation – you just need to be genuinely curious and people will feel that, and start to open up to you. Most people love talking about themselves, and they love people who are interested in them. It’s a human trait that photographers must be aware of. Once you’ve approached someone, or when you are just hanging out – ask people questions about themselves. “Worked here long? What’s this festival all about? That’s an awesome t-shirt, where did you get it?”

8 – Your background is your second subject

What I hope you see in my shots is that the person is not the only subject – where you place your subject, the colours, the lines, the light – all of that will enhance, or detract from the portrait. Ideally you want to find a background that adds to the portrait in someway – almost like a comment on the appearance or pose of your subject. Ask yourself – what does this background add to the photo?

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I find that many people use backgrounds that are too busy, so the subject gets lost. The camera can’t distinguish between the layers of a background the way that your eye can, so you almost want to over simplify the background to create the maximum impact for your viewers. Break down the elements that you see, and work out how a person would affect that.

If you are shooting posed portraits this is easier, but before you go about approaching people, get your background organized first. I often wander around looking for interesting locations, interesting elements out on the street, and then once I’ve found something I like, I wait around to see who comes along.

Image from The Belly Project by Anthony Epes Photography

Image from The Belly Project by Anthony Epes Photography

9 – What story are you telling with your photos?

When you are taking someone’s portrait, you are not just putting together an interesting combination of colour, light and shape – you are doing that as well – but there is something else too. You have an amazing opportunity to tell a story, and to communicate the emotion and feeling of your subject. The human face and body are the most expressive and revealing things on this planet.

“A picture of a guy in the street in New Guinea, with a bone through his nose is interesting to look at. But for it to be a really good photograph; it has to communicate something about what it is like to live with a bone through your nose. It is a question of the moment to reveal something interesting and profound about the human condition.” Steve McCurry

10 – How do you get people to reveal their emotions?

When you hold a camera up to a person, you will see that they start out with one emotion, but quite quickly that will change. After a few seconds most people start to get uncomfortable looking into a camera lens, then once they pass through that, other emotions start to appear as their minds move on to thinking about other things – perhaps how uncomfortable they are in the heat, the shopping they have to pick up later. People’s thoughts move at an alarming speed and their faces reveal it all. So just being with them, looking at them, photographing them, you’ll start to see how they peel like an onion.

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Summary

So to sum up – be friendly, smile, enjoy yourself. Remember this is fun what we do! I have stayed in touch (through Facebook and the like) with a bunch of my subjects whom I’ve met on my travels. It’s a great way to get to know people and create really compelling photographs.

A note about usage and permission

In most countries you only need people’s permission if you are going to sell the photos, or use them for commercial gain. Photos for art and editorial usage usually don’t require individuals’ permission (but there are exceptions – like Hungary where it’s now illegal to photograph anyone without their permission). There are exceptions, especially for children, so always check out the law in the country you’re in, and remember laws change all the time.

Plus, when you are travelling it’s important to be aware of cultural sensitivities before you blaze out there, camera in hand. There is a ton of info out there on the web. Load up on knowledge and that will also help you feel confident as you go out to shoot.

The post 10 Tips for Photographing Strangers by Anthony Epes appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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