“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”
– John C. Maxwell –
Documentary photography, involves and thrill photographer and the observer capturing unique, sometimes funny, sometimes tense moments of a fraction of daily life.
But what is it that, actually, makes some photographers unique during their travels around the world? The photographed subjects, often real photographs of genuine people posing and casually met just moments before.
And now, for some of you, terror is starting: how do I interact with a complete stranger? How can I ask him to pose for me? How can I convince him to move to that place that contextualizes it perfectly and turn him in one particular direction obtaining the best light? In other words: how to approach people in documentary photography?
Actually if you do not use tact and adequate sensitivity, you may not bring any result at home. It is a must to be always honest, discreet, professional and determined to build a relationship of trust with a stranger to get from him his image in your pictures.
Confidence. This is the keyword.
Is convenient to getting started with exuberant, maybe eccentric, dressed characters. These are first people who want to be photographed, becoming temporary protagonists of someone else and his own life.
Once you are familiar with people approach technique, you will become more confident about yourself and quick to bring home a result worthy of the great contemporary photographers.
Here are some tips to untie the knots in your throat that come from this disturbing practice also known as “environmental portraiture“:
- Use small cameras and lenses to go unnoticed and do not intimidate the subject;
- Be determined and respectful, you never know who you are dealing with and how they can react;
- Choose your subject carefully in order to reflect your photo purpose but make sure that it is not a dangerous person;
- Don’t be afraid, most of the fears do not come true and you can miss opportunities to take home interesting and important photographs for no reason;
- Remember, many people do not even realize you are photographing them;
- Focus on the act of portraying the subject and not on the fear of unknown consequences;
- In the worst case, you can always delete the photograph under the eyes of the subject;
- Don’t think too much, approach and shoot… you need not even interact if you want to “steal” the shot;
- Try to approach your subject closer each time as an exercise to do on a daily basis, un‐ til you reach the necessary distance to make the future beholder feel “in” the scene;
- Don’t put the subject in the center unnecessarily, try to move it to one side so with a wide angle lens, it will seem that you are pointing the camera somewhere else and not in front of him;
- Always try to make eye contact with the subject; if the picture is stolen, you must be precise and quick in shooting at the right time, if the photo is posed and spontaneously granted his look will be the result of the kind of relationship you have created with him until then;
- If necessary, explain the reason for the shooting, something nice you saw in him/her, how do you think that the photo will be used and it would be nice to share it with the subject itself… maybe giving your contact (website, email, social accounts);
- Always show gratitude… Not only will you make the subject happy, you will feel good and useful. Plus you’ll slowly sensitize people to be photographed calmly.