Saturday, October 3, 2009

Clicking People Portraits

It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.
~Paul Strand

I've had many people ask me how I engage the people I photograph and get them to relax in front of the camera, and really open up to me. They want to know if it’s difficult for me to approach absolute strangers and what I do or say to them to get them to agree to be photographed. And they want to know how I respond when a crowd starts to gather around me while I’m photographing someone.

The Boy in the Orange Shirt

To be honest, I never really gave it much thought until so many people began asking me how I did it. I think my big “secret” (which really isn’t much of a secret at all) is that I love people. I’ve always been very friendly and outgoing and I’ve always loved interacting with just about everybody, especially when I travel. And for me, the best way to convey this joy is by simply being friendly and smiling around the people I am interested in clicking. Smiling is the one universal symbol that everyone understands. And when they see me smiling, they automatically smile back. Try it sometimes. Smiling never fails to disarm and engage strangers.

The Little Banjara Girl

I believe that friendliness and interest in people comes through in my candid portrait work.

Badnaith - The Chikki Wala

Some things to remember however, is generally ask people if you can click them. Even if you don’t speak their language, there are simple ways to make your intentions known. Plus it invites them in and allows them to become an integral part of the whole photographic process. It also removes any tension that might develop if you click someone without their permission and they become offended by the intrusion. The last thing you want is a group of angry locals chasing you down the beach threatening to beat the crap out of you for photographing their grandmother when she asked you not to.

Eyes of Fire

To get more intimate shots, I always use my 17mm-85mm lens, instead of a long telephoto lens. I’m not a big fan of ‘sniper’ shots at the best of times – when you are so far removed from your subject that the people you are photographing don’t even know that they are being clicked. What I like is being up close and personal.

The Little Boy With Owl Eyes

I’ve also developed my technique of ‘shooting from the hip’, whereas I never hold the camera up to my face, but literally fire from hip level, which, for a small person, is at their eye-level or below. What this eliminates are the typical small-person-looking-up-at-the-camera shots and, while you are clicking that way, you can continue to engage your subject, which I think gives you a more natural, informal portraits.

Feeding Time at the Taj

Little Girl and Child at the Train Station