The Documentary Portrait

Lesson 1/2 - The Documentary Portrait


The Documentary Portrait


Lesson Info

The Documentary Portrait

Before we start and get into the slides, I just want to give you a little bit of background because we're talking about documentary portrait today which is a little bit different than classic portraiture and I think my background and what I did is a photographer what I did when I started compared to where on that today is very important because it shifted what I do how I do it in all my portraiture so I studied photojournalism so I got a degree in photojournalism and photojournalist was very much about news events and time elements that had time relationships so spot news you know, the hindenburg going down or whatever those kinds of events and portraiture was not really a focus I didn't spend a lot of time on that, but I got out of school and I became a newspaper photographer and I literally did not know what I was doing and I ended up in a great situation because it in newspaper you walk in and there's a stack of paper with your name on it in their assignments and they're like ok, yo...

u got to shoot a portrait, you got to shoot a brush fire, you gotta shoot a basketball game and again I didn't know what I was doing so every day was like my feet were to the fire and the one of the very first assignments I ever had was a guy at a podium speaking, which is really boring, it's is boring as it sounds. I didn't think I was like, wow, this is a piece of cake, but when I walked in the room, there were three hundred people in the auditorium and the camera that they had given me had a thirty five millimetre lens, so it's a short lands, and I was like, oh my god, I have to go in front of three hundred people, and I was scared and I stood in the back of the auditorium trying to figure out a way around it, and I realized I can't have to go down in front of three hundred people, and I just felt like everybody in the building was watching me, and I made a conscious decision from that second that I didn't care that I was never going to see them again. The audience and the worst case scenario was if I fell down and three hundred people laughed at me and that was probably not going to happen, so I did it, and it really got the ball rolling. So the newspaper for me was like the first aspect of getting over fear, which I find what I'm teaching workshops, and we're talking about portraiture, especially when you're photographing people you don't know. There's I can just see people like oh god, I don't want to do that I don't want to go talk to them I want to photograph them I don't want to talk to him we're going to talk about a lot about that today I left newspapers and I went to magazines and I had a in some ways successful magazine career which is not a career if he's only did it for like four or five years and in other ways very unsuccessful but I ended up doing a lot of portraiture because I was living in places where there were celebrities and there were sports stars and portraiture just became sort of a natural part of it. So again I learned a little bit on the fly I then left photography and began working for kodak and I worked for kodak for about five years didn't do any portrait's however, what I did was I worked for kodak and I quit working as a photographer and what happened is I sold off all my equipment except a very small amount of gear so when I picked up a camera I on ly photographed what I wanted to photograph that was it I never had to do another assignment because I was just like, ok, I can shoot what I want and it was a liberating very educational experience because it was the first time I was ten years into my career it was the first time I started to understand who I wass with a camera, I started to understand what cameras made sense to me what cameras translated, what I was trying to say I hadn't realized that while working as a photographer because I was being dictated to the whole time, so I did that for awhile and then left kodak and went back into photography and oddly enough, I became a wedding photographer and this is back in nineteen ninety nine in the wedding industry was very what I'll call quiet it was not what it is today, there was not this fervor built up around it, really none of my friends were everyone said to me, you gotta be kidding, you're going to be a wedding photographer took a lot of flak from my friends because through history, wedding photography been viewed in this kind of strange way and ultimately what I did and wedding photography was I shot portrait's for like eight or ten hours straight a variety of different kinds of portraiture, so it was an absolute learning experience. I became far more adept at what we're going to talk about later in terms of scouting and lighting and positioning and all that kind of stuff, and then ultimately I was shooting weddings things were going along nice and peacefully, everything was fine and my neighbor across the street in costa mesa had two little girls like this came over one day the neighbor and she said you photograph children and I said absolutely not on and she said, I'm leaving him here and she just left, so there were two little girls in my living room and I was like, what do I do now? And they're looking at me like what you're going to do, what you gonna do? So I started shooting and I didn't have any kind of typical portrait equipment. I have nothing, I took an old like and some black and white film and I started making portrait of these girls. The mother saw them the images and said while these don't look like what I thought, this is really different and she started telling all of her friends, and within six months I was a full time portrait photographer and I did that for seven or eight years full time nonstop and I did not only commission portrait's, but it morphed into stock it morphed into commercial portrait's and really led me in a direction. If you ask me in nineteen ninety two when I graduated photo journalism school, if I was going to shoot, I was going to photograph children, I would have been like there's three things that I know that I'll never do, and that would be one of them it turned out to be potentially the most rewarding thing I ever did kids are just a piece of advice before we start kids are the best if you want to break into portraiture and you want to learn how to do documentary portrait you can't get them to stop moving anyway so don't think you're going to do like traditional stuff so it it there the ultimate documentary subject they don't know they have a good side they don't know they have a bad side they will laugh and cry in five minutes in front of you they're honest they are the perfect people to photograph adults we have a little bit more baggage you know we have a good side, a bad side we're going to talk about that later dynamics of things like if I'm asking this gentleman to photograph him, I don't know him and one male asking another male to photograph is if there's a certain dynamic just like there is if I ask a woman that I don't know to photograph just a totally different dynamic and it's a really, really fun dance to move around. Portraiture is and I don't mean shooting with a long lens and taking a picture of somebody that doesn't know it or shooting on the street in a documentary scenario with a wide lens and people are moving and they may not know they're being photographed that's one thing but when you shoot a real portrait it is a psychological dance with the person and at first it can be terrifying it's still terrifying from time to time I photographed a guy well back that I thought was going on punch me basically but luckily he didn't but it's a dance and the longer you do it the better it gets its phenomenal so any questions too begin with anyone want to test out their their arm, get a little exercise anything nothing any any questions from the from the massive community we got one here as you have any recommendations for those situations where you do have potentially celebrity or even just a normal person who does not want to be photographed coming after you and threatened to hit you like how do you deal with that? Oh yeah there's there's a lot of advice about that which some of some of which will talk about celebrities I don't do a lot of photographs of I haven't done that since I was a magazine photographer celebrities come with their own set of barriers typically with most portraiture there is some sort of barrier celebrities are used to being photographed but they have also got handlers and people around them. There tends to be levels of people before you get to them so they're very different than photographing someone on the street and my success with shooting celebrities was mostly failure because of all these different things that happen in the process but finding barriers of why someone doesn't want to be photographed and one of the points that we're talking about later we'll talk specifically to what your of when someone says no, how do you work around that? Did you have a question yet? So do you do you tend to take pictures of people on, then approached them afterwards or ask permission first and then take a picture both because they're both really fun? I come from photo journalism school and there was no orchestration whatsoever, so I do multiple kinds of photography classic portrait photography is one thing, but when I'm working on the street with us with a short lens and I'm in real world situations with real people doing real things, I don't orchestrate, I just move and I shoot and if if I need to ask permission after I will, but typically when you're in the scene there recognized her there and there's a dynamic that you feel and you will know whether or not it's ok to shoot shooting a portrait, we're imposing someone and actually doing a portrait I shied away from for so long really, until the children and then I was like, god, this is a lot of fun and now I do it on the street as well, and portraiture is really fun classic portraiture because documentary work is extremely difficult and extremely time consuming so let's say that you wanted to go and do a documentary on the culture of peru, right? And you're going to fly to peru over and over again, you're gonna do this story that's a massive thing, and to be on the street photographing real people in real moments in the in the light that you need to photograph all these things, it takes unbelievable amounts of time, so you go into the field and at times I'll work on a project for several years and look and go, oh, I hardly have anything. Portraiture is a way to go into the field and really make progress. You walk down the street until you find someone that you want a photograph and you start building it's like little building blocks of a port, pictures along the way, you guys are good, I don't even need the presentation when you're in cultures, where it's not acceptable for someone to look you in the eye, especially in the male female dynamic, you know, if you're going to, you know, to a culture where women don't look people in the eye to get them to actually look at you, look at the camera, make eye contact, there's a language barrier, there's a cultural barrier and you just don't want them looking down the floor for the whole picture. In a situation like that, you probably going toe end up working with a fixer someone that's that can translate for you and that can help you explain through an enemy intermediary what you're attempting to do that's a very difficult situation and there's no easy way around that but you can run into a difficult situation here and in cultures where people make on contact in there for whatever reasons they're just not interested or not involved and again it becomes a psychological thing I think humor is a completely undervalued aspect in photography if you make people laugh and I was thinking about this I was rehearsing this this morning at like five thirty in my hotel room probably the guy in the room next to me was like what is going on? But I was remembering like tricks photographing and when I first in nineteen ninety five I went to guatemala and I was traveling with a missionary and he I was traveling with him because he had a truck and I promise to teach me spanish if I taught him photography and so we were in these little villages and was very, very difficult to make pictures there and he started explaining to people he would say something in spanish and they would laugh hysterically and then I'd be able to take pictures and I was like this's phenomenal and then I finally figured out what he was saying wass this is this amazing photographer and he's looking for pictures that are the heart of guatemala and your face is representative of the heart of guatemala which was so stupid and absurd that they would just start laughing and they'd be like ok whatever and I would be able to shoot so that there are so many different tricks in every situation is different so let's dive into this and wolf we'll see where how many of these questions I can answer but this is phenomenal you guys there our great so this is kind of where we started this is as his classic portrait as you can possibly find right so I see this picture and I imagine them with the neck brace is like holding still for forty five minutes to get this fortune made these happened to be my great grand parents now my mom was a little squirrely about who they were exactly but I think they're my great grandparents because nicholas clinton newman my brother's name is nicholas and clara read noon my middle name is reid so I think they are legitimately my family they're born in eighteen seventy eight and this photograph was made in nineteen oh seven which is a testament I still have this print and it's absolutely gorgeous which speaks to another story but a very important one but this is classic I think this is beautiful portraiture that transcends time it's obviously a little stodgy little a little stiff I don't typically do that, but the lighting is nice in the background, et cetera, but this is kind of where we were and then this is a portrait that I made a few years ago in california this is a type fifty five polaroid of this giant man in a little tiny car driving around the desert, and I shot this off I was riding a motorcycle across the desert and I saw him and he said, can I photographed? And he said, sure, and I'm on a four by five camera on a tripod with a bucket of clearing fluid, shooting these in the middle of the desert, so we've gone from the staunch e, you know, studio portrait to being able to do basically anything. This is really fun way to work it's fluid it's fast before my five is not exactly fast, but but I want you to start to think a little bit differently about the term portrait and what portrait means because remember, we're talking specifically about documentary portrait so I teach a couple of times a year and many cases a lot of the students show up and they all seem to be after the same thing, which is I want that sort of type face I want to go to a market and I want to shoot somebody in the market with the typeface because it za known photograph we've seen it before we like it we respond to it etcetera but there's way more to portrait than bases so what about this? What what type of photograph is that? If you had to describe it like what style of picture is it journalistic and what is it off it's a landscape photo but that is that to me is a portrait so can anyone guess where that is? Think joy enormous hole in the ground big hole in the ground along with the river running through it anyone we know where that is grand canyon right that to me is a portrait of the grand canyon there's no people there's no face that's not what I was taught in school what a portrait is but documentary portraiture is this narrative of pictures that form a portrait far more than just someone's face or partial face or whatever I had to run from someone to make this by the way there's a fire it is it's a force fire in the middle of the night and they were trying to get people out of there which is smart and I was like but I just need one and I was running running in the dark with a tripod at night not good but I got one image out of this hole will shoot that worked what about this? What about pictures of you can't see his face you can see space so one of the things that I learned that was very magical for me was when I was photographing children and I would show the pictures to the parents and the parents were just like me they came to portraiture with learned behavior so I would photograph kids and maybe there was a picture of a kid like this from behind we couldn't see his face and the parents would be like I can't see their face and I'm like yeah but I never told you I was going to show you their face number one but why do you need to see the face you know who it is so maybe this tells you something about who this is which in this case it does tell you who this is but again it's trying to get people outside the normal concept of straight portraiture documentary portraiture is a whole different thing it's way more fun and there's a lot more layers what about this than anyone guess where this is I just shot this in may of this year anyone guess think very, very, very far away very dusty and think saltwater crocodiles think kangaroos australia britain can really western australia so is this not a portrait in some way of western australia it is because if you've been there you realize that the roads are there's hardly anyone out there and the roads air debris of animals that have been hit in the cars that have hit them in a variety of different things so yes, I have a portrait of aboriginals and fortress of people that live in western australia but when I got back and I started looking at the photographs I was like these tell me as much about western australia because what I remember is a thousand miles of dirt track with never seeing another human being a thousand kilometers and nothing and that's what this reminds me of so to me it was far more accurate portrait than in the other what about images of people that aren't focused that what we've been trained to think has to be what has to be in focus isn't but yet they still tell you about what's going on I think this is the stuff that it took me a long time to learn this that it was like ok I can sort of branch out from shooting the straight simple portrait on going and doing this stuff and then of course yes thie straight portrait this was in peru last year the year before these are kids getting ready to do a little celebration but this is pretty basic this is like the easy stuff I think this is what you shoot and it kind of makes you feel good because you know it's going to look good and you kind of feel like you're succeeding when you're in the field and then like an onion you kind of peel this back and you want to get something a little a little different in a little better but this is this is nice I like this I mean that's kind of hard to miss when there's that kind of subject matter so why do something you want to make a portrait? I think this is where you have to start you know let me ask you this why do you need to know why you're doing portrait for me it's very much about the connection right? Having that emotional connection and bringing the person into a particular story or particular feeling that I'm trying to express right yeah, I want to be able to have that connection with them and have them experience it not just look at a picture go yeah that's nice but actually stopped for a moment and have it affect them in some way absolutely and the other reason you think about it what's the first question if I say can I make a portrait? You typically what's the first question why why are you here who's it for what you're doing this for what if you can't answer it it's extremely difficult to like get yourself out of that situation it's so nice to be able to go I'll tell you I'm doing this project and this is you know why I'm here which is really talking about goals and I always have a main a second, a third goal of, like, why I'm doing this typically I'm not just wandering around shooting random portrait, I do that from time to time, but typically I'm working on a project, so when someone says you want to take pictures of me, why is that it's very different working today than it was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago where having a camera was like a passport in people would see you and they'd be like, hey, there's a camera guy come on overcoming the house and today you think there's more photographers, more people with cameras today or less? Yeah, how many more were never right so days of hey there's, a guy with a camera come over here, it's now like, oh god, there's another person when the camera so it's a different dynamic, so you have to justify yourself a little more. I work for blur by constantly have publications in my hand, I always have publications because really, it's not enough anymore to explain to people I like handem stuff, I'll hand them work on my cell phone, I'll hand him stuff on an ipad and I have a print publications that I've taken, I go, oh, you want to know here that is unbelievably helpful because it proves to them that you're not a happy snapper that's a transient through the area that you really have a focus in a meaning I cannot tell you how much fun it is to hand somebody a publication and see them go from skeptic too. This is I want to help. I mean, this happened to me about a month ago is photographing someone, the guy that I thought might punch me and I was like, I was never gonna let me take pictures never. I was, like, mentally defeated before I even got out of the car and then I handed him a magazine and he was sitting there with his buddy and he was flipping, flipping, flipping, flipping, and then I saw him look up at me and then look at the magazine look like that, and he I didn't say anything handed it back to me went back to about what he was doing, and I loitered in that area. I was like, not leaving until I had a definitive answer, so I'm loitering and I'm pretending, and I'm doing things, wasting time, having the dialogue in my head, and he came up to me he goes, you know, that magazine you handed me? He goes, I get it, I figured it out, now I know what you're doing and yes, you can photograph and I'm going to open doors for you in this community because I really believe in what you're doing so it was a complete reversal so for me there's two primary things two primary things that I my goals with photography this happens to be this little monster is my nephew one of them and I realize that when my mother when I was younger, my another photographed all the time, so I realized that my responsibility she hung up your spurs as the family photographer and I picked up the reins and I realized a couple of years ago, this is a very serious realization to me that I was not doing a very good job. So now every time I go back to texas, I badger everyone my mom, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and I make pictures because I'm recording him and he just started his first freshman day of high school, so he's like a stud now he's probably too cool for me. It'll be even harder for me to get president now, but I have to and I've literally photographed from the time he's a baby so I've got, you know, fifteen years of work of this kid this is really important to me very basic stuff the hard part is getting mr cool here to pose for me that's the hard part the other thing is to your point is I love traveling and I love going to different cultures and I love photographing so this is from urgh live from last year and I love meeting people that I don't know getting them to relax enough to photograph and then making portrait's of them it is a game for me I absolutely love it it's beyond the photograph now for me I love getting good photos but the dynamic of being in the field a friend of mine said to me you drive me crazy because you do these projects and then you don't really market them you just live with the photographs and I said the hunt for me is what I'm what I'm about I love to do this stuff this is the best any questions so far? So you talked about photographing children not being a great entry point found that in my travels as well and the question is from a cuff debone a from whose libya from south florida how do you deal with kids artificial smiles in portrait's who are inclined to pose and say cheese when they see a camera and steer them in the direction of documentary portrait that's a really good question and adults are also susceptible to t to the fake smiles more so than ben children with kids the first thing that I do when I walk into photograph kids is I sit on the ground I sit on the ground and I get this camera out because it's the primary camera that I used to make a portrait and this looks like a battleship like this no one, no children, no child has seen this in there lives typically so it's a novelty and I the first thing I do is I sit on their level I talked to them kid to kid not adult to kid and I load a roll of film in here now you could do this with any other camera the digital camera sit down, put a card in and sort of watched, but they love the fascination of the physicality of loading a roll of film in the dials and wheels and buttons and spinning they're hooked their end and I talk to them as a kid would talk to a kid and literally it's like a light switch. So and I've had children that are extremely self conscious or afraid or tentative and after the first ten minutes of talking to them they are ready ready to rock and roll. And one of the great things about photographing kids was that a lot of these little little people were this big when I started photographing and now they're in high school so I've got this lineage with them I really feel like it's part of the family and that's really the key is you can't stand it adult level aiming down at them and speak like an adult because they're like, wait a minute, you know, that's like another parent, I don't I don't need that. So that's my field, thank you. So, of course be more than a person with the camera. I think this is really important. It doesn't matter if you doing portraiture, whatever everybody has a camera today, but it's the same. If you're a commercial photographer and you walk in and you're trying to get a job, a photo editor is looking at you and yes, they're looking at your work in your portfolio, but they're looking at you and they're listening to you and they're thinking to themselves, do I want to text with this person at two in the morning? If I have to, and if they don't, then they probably don't want to hire you. You have to be a well rounded person and portraiture is the same thing. You want to be creative. It's, great to study art, art history, all the other aspects. Design illustration. The creative world really to around you out to be a little bit, well, more rounded. And just to give you an example, I want to read you this quote, art is a dot, and then with magic it becomes a flower or a rainforest art takes you to a magic land art can be anything art is even everything that's a five year old that I asked what art wass so we were all there at five years old and then we became adults and we went to school and we got educated and we were shaped by our environments in our families and our histories and culture and society but we all have that ennis and that's really what I'm talking about is seeing the world without blinders and without our adult filters and getting back to being five year olds again and this is really important so you have to know what it feels like on the other side of the camera no, I got really lucky like I said my mother was taking pictures of us all the time and then I got very lucky when I was in high school I think I was a freshman and my sister was modeling for a clothing company not all the time but she had this job to do this modeling thing and my and I was like loitering around the edge of the set one day and the woman who's the art director saw me and said, well, we want you to be in it as well and I was like no way no way am I doing this and she goes, oh what? We will pay you this amount and I was like, what that amount for me and I was like no problem I'll do this and so I couple days later I show up on set they put me in the skin tight clothes I had a model with my sister remember unlike a freshman in high school so it's awkward, horrible and then I thought in my head I was like, oh, this will be a piece of cake will be a male photographer and I'll just be here and I will be like this you know, nice quiet thing and and then I show up and there's like the photographer and the assistant in the second assistant in the art director and the assistant art director and the catering people mobile and they're all women and I was so petrified and horrified and then having to like pose and do all these things that I had never done before I was like, done that was that I did at one time so I knew what it felt like this is what got me in wyoming in the early seventies thiss was my favorite trucker t shirt just what was the best that was a dandy line that was growing in the front yard and my mom I talked to my mom yesterday and I told her I was going to use this picture she said I cut your hair with bowl I literally put a bowl of thinking across so I knew what it felt like from a very young age and then it gets worse this my high school yearbook photo, which I which I kept sealed in a plastic bag like evidence it's because it's just but you know, this is remember this where you have to, like, sit with your knees one way and then you had to, like, turn and hold it, you have to know, because you're going to ask people to do the same thing just remember how awful that experience was and then today I still you know, I still my mom shot this couple years ago and I don't love to be photographed, but I don't mind because I'm asking people to do it all the time, so I think it's a it's a penance thing you have to do and just to give you an example of this this absurdity I just wanted to show you this I added this in yesterday can I have just this's a scenario can volunteer anyone you want to come up okay, you stand right here. This is what I love. So this is ahh hospital on that issue. A lot of fortunes with right? And does anyone know what a bellows is? A bell is the little attachment that will go between the lens in the body that allows me to focus this close right so imagine I don't know her which I don't have never met her and so I'm gonna like I'm gonna shoot a portrait like that of her so I literally I have to be like this and then you hear that catch phrase act natural yeah that's portraiture right it's impossible okay, excellent thank you that's all all I needed to act natural it isn't a natural experience at all that's terrible so you have to learn the dynamic of how you're you're capable of getting that kind of access and making it ok for the person it's not easy and some people it takes a long time long time my father was a classic example he did not like to be photographed he was super vain and he hated being photographed which is this unbelievably dynamic thing that way had epic battles over the years over pictures but this is something to keep keep in mind when you're asking for portrait's because it isn't natural any question do you think is behind people's fear and apprehension being photographed that's a great question behind what's behind their fear it's changed over time. I think initially when I started cheating fortunes years ago there really wasn't a lot of fear you had people that were embarrassed and they would say I don't like having my picture taken and I would say but I haven't even made your picture this is a different thing now people are our cultures different our society how photography's used twenty four hour news cycle it shifted people so you have people that are suspicious where's it going to be what are you using it for? Is it an expose kind of thing and again these are all things that you have to be prepared to just say look this is what I'm doing the project I'm working on right now I have absolutely no commercial interests whatsoever I just want to do it I want to make a recording of a certain place at a certain time you would think that would make it easier makes it harder because no one believes that I would spend all my time and money and energy on my own to do something that no one's ever going to see it's different and notice you don't say take a picture doesn't make a picture can you go into that? I am that's one of the points we're going to talk about that's great good observation so let's just bounce to this what is the documentary portrait let's just make it really easy how about any portrait in shoot while doing documentary where that way it's get the title out of the way that's basically that's basically it but don't burn ourselves with the definition because now it's the perfect time to unlearn like I said we are all products of learned behavior in education I was trained what a photograph was supposed to be what a portrait is supposed to be what book was supposed to look like etcetera it's literally taking me my entire career to not only unlearn it's not that the information was bad it just said it didn't fit what I needed like I had a traditional education regards to photography books and it wasn't until two thousand seven after I had made about one hundred twenty different books that I finally was like you know, this whole traditional course with books doesn't fit me I want to do this thing over here this weird little thing and it changed my life again and it's embarrassing to say that I had been working for twenty years as a photographer before I figured that out so it's maddening in some ways but so this is what we talked about this a portrait have to be a tight facial image like this there's nothing wrong with this but again documentary portrait is its own flavor of narrative there's a way more to life than this this is what learned behavior tells us typically okugo show now let me just look at this one and go back to this first one look at this picture there's nothing wrong with that the lights nice type partial facial shot of the kid he's kind of serious etcetera but look at what I'm leaving out thiss that's what makes the pick right? I mean the playboy thing in the the soda and the rest of issue he's got is like initials written on a shirt or the school that he goes to, and it also gives you a sense of environment. So these little tiny shifts in your movement or a little tiny shift in your zoom lens again, this is more starting into the documentary portrait world, but it gets even a little more complicated. I'm going to take you to the exact same place literally feet away from where I made that picture, and I'm going to show you four pictures with no faces but that's the exact same place. So which are you actually learning more from the portrait of the person, the stuff which is, again not a bad thing in an ultimate I would probably use these pictures together, but those four pictures, they're telling you a lot about what this place is, and again, this was sort of the, you know, that the target was that portrait of the human and the one thing that I was expecting, and then I'm now I'm filling in the rest of the spaces with this narrative of imagery that makes sense. I hope it makes what about this one, this parent, same thing this's from latin latin america, so, again, no faces. Nothing that I was trained and taught to do but pairing these together and saying you know this kind of gives me a feeling of the narrative that I that I want to have and these are all shot by the way with the same clunky thing this is a five o three c w and I have a five hundred cmas well that this is the newer than you are of the two was telling somebody funny story earlier I bought my first hasa blyde I guess around two thousand and at the time no one wanted no one wanted film hospital cameras so my first possible I paid sixty five dollars for and I used it for the next ten years it was my number one sort of commercial photography camera for ten years and I paid sixty five dollars for it so it's it's where they they're they're slow, methodical, clunky but that's exactly why I like it and we'll talk a little bit about the dynamics of this in a minute of the differences but this is a picture another portrait I would say but I used to do a project on the north shore of oahu every year and I would go and was about surfing's about surf culture but I realized one year of his stand I got to the hotel and there were people that were getting off planes from honolulu and they were winding up on the north shore and I would watch them, and they would check into the hotel, and then they would wander down to the beach, and they would wander off down the shoreline and just kind of stand aimlessly staring into the ocean. And you could tell that it was like a detox, that they were coming from the mainland and their jobs and lives and everything, and that there was this little section of land that was used as, like a detox thing, and there's, a famous expression called salt line, which is when you're driving near the ocean, and suddenly you can smell it that's called assault line, and the cow culture changes in the moment you cross over the salt line and in certain places, in our culture, like louisiana along the border, the salt lines, very dramatic change, so I wanted to go to hawaii and do a portrait of that place, so I did. That was the first picture that I made, and this was the second picture that I made of this specific little place. Now there were people in there, and I do have an image that has people in it, but you can't recognize them. They're more there for shapes in space, this but it's, a portrait of a place, not just a portrait of people, and I have tons of portrait's from hawaii, but I felt that this was a siri's of work that really gave you a feel of what it felt like to be detoxing in the same exact place and then the last picture in this sequence so if you didn't know where you were now you know where you are and you know that's a real tattoo any questions about that way talk about publications but I see the storytelling are you is this on a website is this when you're taking people through these steps how are they presented together I use every kind of presentation that we have available today so I present work on my phone on an ipad web site specific on a blawg and I make tons and tons and tons of publications I'm a big believer in making physical publications because they force you you have to pay for and because you have to pay for it it forces you to edit forces you to sequence and make critical decisions about your work that you don't necessarily have to make when you're looking at things digitally so it's essential I recommend everybody print I print everything ideo I don't print every single image but every time I make pictures I make physical prints typically of just little small ones and then I lay them out on the ground and I edit in sequence and I will lay them out on my living room floor and when the ups guy comes to the door you know, he hands you the thing and says we signed that, I'm like, I'll sign it if you tell me what order do you like the last anyone toe look at the work because I want to see what I want to figure out what works with people, where photographers we fall in love with our work and we get clouded, you know? We're like this pictures amazing and ten of your friends go that is horrible do not put that in your portfolio, and you put it in on the topic of them building the narrative. Do you find that your starting with a concept or an idea ahead of time and then building that on a location or you just going somewhere and being inspired and building on the flight? You can do both? They're both great ways of working. I always start with the narrative I always have. I've been a recorder of information from the time I was a little boy, right every day and a journalist I have for twenty plus years, and I always have a narrative and a shame it's like an addiction for may. In some ways, I wish I didn't always do that because I would love that freedom of just going outside like this and randomly taking pictures, I do it on my phone. All the time so much so that I probably have to read through it because I'll forget them I'll just keep journaling yeah, I have a list of stories, ideas and it's so long that if I if I never had to work again for the rest of my life, I'd never be able to get through two percent of them. So for those of us who really love documentary work in terms of a career path that actually can pay their fees question with ten days are there any little tips for suggestions you could give in terms of how to make that necessarily work in terms of what kind of win a million dollars start that the first reality is is very difficult, right? And you've got obviously love what you're doing, but the reality is today and the second seminar that I'm talking in later today is very much about this is you truly have the ability today to do anything conceivable that you could dream up. I really believe that because you now have an audience at your fingertips, there are no intermediaries between between you and your audience. When I started there were all these funnels magazines, newspapers they would take the content or the photographs and then hold them and contain him in control of it dole amount little bits you don't have that anymore you haven't you have your own audience, you can go have your own tv channel you could do anything you want so the key is you have to make great work you have to make great working great work takes time which is a great segway into point number two be realistic with your time when I got out of school the unwritten rule was that you spent ten years working on a project before you really began to talk about ten years I'm not kidding now I cheated and work to three years on stuff but ten years was really the unwritten rule now I've seen entire bodies of work that were shot in a weekend so with portraiture if you have ten seconds to make a portrait you may not get something good but if you have ten seconds every year over a five year period with the same person you might have something so just be realistic don't expect something crazy when you get into a portrait it typically begins with something that we kind of expect a very simple photograph like this and this is a guy that in that last year and in your next for one of the nicest people you're ever gonna meet in your life and to your point this is really key and he picked up on it a while ago the terminology you wouldn't think this is a big deal but it's a huge deal like we said before there's a million people running around the cameras and there's two expressions that I hear all the time can I take your picture can I take your picture can I take your picture that has a weird not a weird feeling but that has a certain wrong feel to it can I take something from you your picture not a photograph a picture so these little differences in terminology can make all the difference in the world when I see somebody that I want to photograph I don't say that I walk up to them and I say can I make a portrait of you now what does that sound like to you what does that expression can I make a portrait of you does it sound like two thousand thirteen or does it sound like eighteen eighty oil painter you kind of thing that it sounds like eighteen eighty oil painter and that's what I want I want the person to realize this is not it drive by this is an engagement that they are at least fifty percent of this equation I need them to engage with me to make these portrait's I want to make your portrait I cannot believe how many people over the years have said that's an interesting expression and then they start to think about that's it that's all I need a minute it just sucks him right in so that is absolutely critical in getting people where you want them to be even the difference between picture and photograph is a big difference and there's nothing wrong with the word picture, but photograph sounds. This guy must be really fancy photograph and then make your portrait there like low, even a sitting with an oil painter? No, not exactly, but I want that engagement from you and that's tricky. The more you do this, the easier it is to d'oh it's all about practice it's all about getting up and going out and trying and trying. And I'll show you some things in a minute of how far I kind of pushed this at one point to see what I could get away with. Ninety nine percent of the people that I that I work with or teach are afraid to do this initially, and I totally get it. It was my moment in the auditorium, I'm saying I don't want to go in front of three hundred people, but I did it. I'm over and I never looked going to look back. It's not that not that big of a deal. So we started with this guy. Let me go back to this. We started with with him and now I start building the portrait because I blew it I told you where he was from, but you could look at this and if you know anything about the western united states, this is a western u s sky new mexico has I think the best sky of any place I've ever been in the world I was just telling someone one of the speakers is coming on later we're talking about it earlier it is phenomenal even when it shouldn't western australia's good tio different different and I've been trying to figure out why this is exactly when there's an atmospheric condition above new mexico that causes some of this and the american west is filled with dust so its dust hitting off apart light hitting off of dust in the atmosphere but this is very, very much a part of who he is because he is he's not a guy that works in an office so based on what you saw him denim shirt, cowboy hat sitting outside you can start to piece together who this person is and this tells you something else so it's not just that oh it's a pretty landscape he's out in this every day and what this drops from the sky from hit for him is a very critical part of his life what do you think he does by looking at these pictures is a rancher cattle that's it so you didn't see you don't see the ranch you don't see anything but you can no you can know trying to get you a little more information again I'm building the portrait now the fun part is obviously he's there he's seeing me working clunk clunk, clunk I'm plotting my way along I'm talking gets easier and easier and this was the second time that I was with him for the third time the first time I was with him I did not shoot a single picture we talked it was that we talked we talked we talked because I'm an unknown like who are you? Why are you hear what's going on we spoke spanish we don't speak english so it's like very slowly working in here then the second time I shot a picture of him on the chair and I was like, you know what a nice picture but you're a farmer like that's not quite enough so what else can we do? And so this was the third time that I was with him and I got to go see one of the plots of land now he still plows with with like a burrow and a handmade plow so this is still like happening today which is really, really fascinating. Dan, I have a question for you yeah, what are some of those questions that you talk to people about? Not just what are you doing but how do you really engage and build that trust yeah, you have trust is a great word to use because that's really that's really what it is it's like I said, it gets it's harder and harder now than it was working before because people are a little bit more suspicious but each person each scenario is a little bit different with people like like this guy in this sort of region there's not a lot of people running around here taking photographs so they're kind of like why would you be interested in what we're doing so with him I grew up at least part of every year in third grade my parents moved us to wyoming very rural landing my father was a rancher, so I automatically have something in common with him. I loved wyoming I loved the ranch, my sister's three years older, my brother's six years older, they had a different relationship because they were older, my brother was in high school and he wanted like girls and motorcycle girls like in ranching was like get me out of here but for me I loved it. So with him I have a very much a common bond, so we're able to talk about the land landscape open spaces living his his his wife lived in the city for a long time, so she brings this other elements of the three of us were talking and it's really they're like I said, I don't have any commercial goal with this work so in some ways it's more difficult to get permission but then once you've got it it's okay because they know it's not going to end up on a billboard somewhere or whatever, so every scenario is different and that is oddly enough that is the most fun part of it is meeting people and getting to know them and then once the trust is established, they let you further into their lives and that's that's what it's all about? Yeah to two thoughts there I think your advice to find the thing that connects you with that thing that you have in common is critical and however you can get to that, but then also the same for me that the photography is is merely the tool for making those human connection absolutely love that no, I mean, I think about the people that I photograph in the places that I've been I think about the people all the time it's like they once and especially you're going to do a portrait of them because there's, that weird transaction that happens and you're wanting it from them you wanted and you sort of find little ways of like tweaking it out of people to get to get reactions it haunt is not the right word, but there's a residue of these experiences that you will continue with throughout your life and it just gets deeper and deeper a friend of mine joked when I was in the newspaper world he said that a photographer lives in one year with the average person lives in ten in terms of experience and I really believe that and if you're especially if you're doing documentary work because this story which is a huge part of the presentation I'm giving later today this story was an accident and I realized another photographer really clued me in tow what this story meant to me I couldn't see it I was too close to it and this photographer said to me this story is about is your homecoming it's about your childhood in the american west and I was like what? No and then a couple hours later I was like, oh man, he just nailed it that's exactly what it is and I've been working on it for four years and hadn't realized it now the scary part was the very first picture that I ever made on the project I physically felt something weird happened that had never happened to me before ever I made a picture and I was teaching at the times white students around I made this picture and I and I was like oh something weird is going on like my having my gonna stroke out here what was happening and it's sort of percolated in my mind for four years until my friend said, well, it's obvious, this is your homecoming story, and I was like, oh, I totally missed that. I'm curious to know what you thought it was before that. Before that moment, I had no idea I literally had no idea. I knew it was a good photo, I knew it was a good photo, and I was excited about the photo because I wasn't sure the person was going to allow me and the rest of us to photograph, and I saw him from a distance and I thought, oh, this is like, perfect scenario. This is slam dunk, but there's a me jaded photographer there's no way he's going to let us photograph coolest guy in the world started broad worked my way in, and the final picture I made, I was like, who that is, and that was the image that got the entire project started. I took everything else off the table. I said, I'm not working on any other projects right now. I'm not traveling, I'm going to go back, and I'm gonna work on this thing, so it was significant. I just could not couldn't describe it to you. Do you talk to them in the first meeting about a model release, or how do you kind of knew the model release? You had to go to the moderate these things, okay, this is this is a little bit of a sensitive topic here and the first thing that you should do if you're working photographer and you want to know about this has talked to legal people in regards to release it, so I was told by someone who works in the industry that's a lawyer, they said you need to release every single photograph you make that is an impossibility I can I can give you my personal thoughts on model releases, but my suggestion to you is that I get is many releases as you possibly can if you have commercial goals with your with your work, I don't have commercial goals with this work and I don't get model release is my only goal with this work is at some point in time one of the museums in new mexico will take it in to their archives. I don't care if they exhibited I don't care if they show it, but I think it's a good record of this place at this time and I hope that it lives longer than I do, but I don't want to sell it or publish it or make a book from it or anything like that, so but model releases are a very strange thing because you're entering into a commercial agreement with someone and for me, it's hard to to justify on the documentary photographer if I'm orchestrating changing events that are happening in the field so that I could get a model release and the reason I say that is I have assisted for people in the past who were docked documentary people and we would shoot a scene and they would say release, release, release, release and it was my job to, like, jump into this mix and stop everything that was happening and get releases and it completely deteriorates everything around you, and then people are literally like what? And they're reading these things, and then maybe they don't speak english, they have to get a translator, and I realized I'm like that doesn't feel like documentary photography for me, the legal world doesn't care my thoughts and so model releases were always a good thing to have certain types of work. If you're going to have a commercial use for it has to have a release or they won't touch it editorial typically throughout the years has been you don't need a model release, but again, every situation is different, and I'm not the person to talk to you, so the children photographs that I did over the years, everything is released because those images in some cases went to an agency, the agency syndicated the work. Globally, they're not going to touch it without a model release kind of think so but I prefer to work in scenarios where I'm not getting model releases but I would say I would describe myself as a bit of an oddball in terms of releases and about and really in terms of what might goals are with my work because not having commercial goal's kind of freaks people out but it's the way that I am so if you're if you're truly not doing it for any commercial purpose at all if you're if you're never intending and selling it at any point is that still necessary? The bridge is sharing if you said you want to put it on the internet to share it uh you think that's still necessarily to a model release as far as I need? No, but again you're always safer to air on the side of getting a release I mean, this person who is a legal person in the industry told me release every picture you make you know if there's a building in the back there's an architectural permanent location permit from where you are a permit from the person, etcetera? I mean, I've done shoots where I had seven releases when I left to shoot and that's when you're like, oh my god what's going on here, what am I a nasa engineer were in my photographer kind of thing so it's a different thing it's a slippery slope our culture is different things have changed over the years obviously there's a lot of litigation that happens in society so again you're always if if in doubt in your airing and you can get one get it it's the hard part for me was changing the real events when I was crossing that line of saying I am going to go into this event and shut it down it could be a parade and literally you're like blocking the street and saying I need releases from you for people and they're like who are you? You're like? Well, I just take your picture and then you have to explain it in the parades like going around them because you've blocked the road that's what I have a problem with so if you're a commercial photographer a portrait photographer that's one thing no big deal I mean if I asked the photograph you and you're here and we spend a half an hour together and I'm photographing her, you can get a model release it's not a big deal was that helpful at all? I don't even know what I said so again we go back to him obviously I grew up on the ranch and dogs were everywhere, so I'm still filling in a building this crazy little portrait and then you know this is him this is what he does and we're going to talk a lot more about an aspect of this right now I am going toe drum this into your head so many times you might leave you might not like me by the end of this but look at the light, okay, what direction is the light come in front uh, right corner and also is it hitting him in the front or is it coming from behind sidelining it's side and I take a little a little back to side which leads me into this and we're all I want you to write this down you're like I don't need to write this down and know all about it you're going to write it down I'm not I'm not even gonna talk until you're done writing this down I'm gonna watch I'm typing it for the internet he's like playing he's playing halo this is the most important thing I think other than going back to that quote from the five year old to get our brains in a new brand new fresh way this is the most important thing I can leave you with lite is is everything I don't move unless the light is right I don't do it lite is that important to the equation photography when people ask me hey, what about photography? You know what's about this lens? What about this software light timing composition that's it those three light timing coming and I'm not going to reverse those I'm not going to change him and I'm never going to stop starting with light it's the most important thing soon as it as a documentary portrait ours are you staging some of these photos? So where you have people move around and you're changing the flow of what's happening? Or you are you there and documenting things as they happen? And if you miss that moment it's gone, I am a classic and be there and let it ride naturally and if you miss it, you miss it and missing it hurts. It hurts after all these years that hurts more and more and more but I can live with that because the challenge of getting a real person in a real moment in the right light at the right time happens a half a dozen times a year maybe and I want it and I get one of those and it fuel it completely fills my fuel tank and I could go on go on, go until I try to get it again. However there's absolutely nothing wrong with being in that environment and seeing someone and saying I want to spend a little bit more time and I want to shoot a classic portrait a lot of times when I work, I work in multiple formats I'll shoot color in here and then I'll take black and white thirty five millimeter and I move really quickly with the black and white thirty five millimeter and they want to see something or somebody that I want to spend more time with I'll say can I make a portrait of you with this and we're going to talk in a minute about the difference between shooting with these three things here which is a very different reaction in response that you'll get but I'm going to drum this into your head one more time actually about ten more times that is like the picture of the farmer in the field with the mule in this light inside that's good life this is magical light it's a little bit washed out on here but what color is the room that they're in primarily white where's the light coming from the window which is white it's coming in and just exploding this place it's just lit up it's absolutely perfect it's a backlit photograph the lights coming from the outside coming at me as a photographer when I studied photography photography I was taught shoot with the sun over your shoulder all right we're also I mean that was like basic photography at the time sheet with son your son here it took me ten years to figure I could turn around hey look sons over here and I saw photographer that I absolutely loved and I saw his work and I was like, oh my god, he shoots into the light all the time and it changed my life so you'll see a very much consistency, but I just want you everyone to repeat this out loud, let them go look for the light that's creepy I know I just want to emphasize the point, so I'm going to go through this over and over because it is that important. I see so many photographers working at twelve noon and wandering around shooting and they're not shooting in life. They're excited and they're out there making pictures and that's a great thing, but they're sort of un prepared and they see somebody and they go, this is great and then they're like, ok, oh there's twelve noon light over here by the building and they shoot that you can't do it, you have to everything starts early morning, late afternoon, middle of the night you can get great light anywhere. Oddly enough, when people complain about seattle, typically the people that are not from here, what do they complain about? Three I look at that and say it's amazing because you get open shade twenty four hours a day, you can get usable life, I live in southern california and never rates and when it rains it's depth storm two thousand everyone and so you get you get bored like by nine in the morning there's not a cloud until four and so you've got terrible light people think I photoshopped this picture all the time that so many people look at it all you photoshopped photo shopped it but what is this giant white thing doing right here collecting it's just bouncing this line over which what which which direction is the light coming from behind behind his back which is a major theme in the portraiture and the work that I do is I shoot into the light it gives you dimension it gives you depth it's it's tricky you can get flare you can ruin it for a million reasons but when it works it's absolutely beautiful not sure if I've shared this expression with you but life might want to remember that here's a seattle picture open shade easy easy easy everything looks good he's got to join enormous catch lights in his eyes because the light source is this thing broad cloudy day but it's good workable light if this was twelve noon and the sun was above his head I can't shoot this picture I would not even bother shooting the photograph I might go up and act like I'm going to shoot the photo because I want to talk to him and I want to meet him and get him used to me so that when the light is right and I come back he's not like who's the stranger is like, oh no it's this photographer again he's stalking me plus he's looking right at me and there's an engagement with his eyes because he is looking directly at me there's no one else around but you can't see is above his head is this giant hornets puppet it's in sicily and he's getting ready to run through the streets with this giant puppet above his head? But if I was gonna have you guess what that was and I knew that there was that one and just one more time because again I know you're gonna go out, you're gonna be like only shooting twelve now you're gonna be like, wait, what was that thing you told me? What was that thing I had to repeat? Repeat outloud which directions of light coming from it's backlit what is the backlit light it's giving me two things that make this photograph shadows number one what's number two right, what would happen if I shot this standing in the other direction? You would be yelling at me hey, you're supposed to look for the light in the right spot you wouldn't have, I wouldn't see the shadows and I wouldn't the wings wouldn't be let everyone everything would be live in the same exact density is the is the front line just doesn't work and this is what's amazing light is a drug. I mean, you get it and when you get pictures in great light, you start you cannot look at the world in the same way you're sitting in a coffee shop and you're like, and the light over there and people are like, what are you talking about? Look at the light and notice a lot of your work is black and white. Do you find it easier to find the light? Three black and white? Not necessarily easier. I was fortunate because I learned photography, shooting color slides and which is the polar opposite of shooting black and white, but color, great light can carry a color photograph on its own, you know, super late in the afternoon with a dark blue sky and like a beam of orange light, it becomes about color black and white isn't, and what life gives you is exactly what this photo is showing us his form. And so it was it was like learning to speak a language which was color and then learning to speak it backwards was black and white, so it took me a long time to figure it out people assume that black and white is a very easy way to work. I don't think it is you can't there is no color toe to ride on you can't shoot an old red sign and it's like a it's a red sign you shoot black miners like me and looks terrible so it's I feel fortunate I still work in both but it's extremely difficult to toggle your brain between color and black and white. I told myself five years ago I was never going to do it again and I can't stop I keep doing it, I keep going into field with multiple formats and then going ok, how do you think? I don't know what? How do you think differently when you're shooting black and white? Because I find the same thing back in the old film days, everything is different because with color and you're looking for the hottest part of the frame and were black and what you're looking for the deepest shadow so you have to train train your mind and on forty for a little bit slower I'm not like the toggle ing maybe is not maybe I should call it a short circuit is more like it I don't talk all that well and it's just a lot to ask of yourself I mean great photography is not easy and it's extremely rare of all the kids that I photographed over seven years, I could whittle that down to fifty pictures easy and my entire career my entire life I could probably whittled down to ten ten pictures that signify me is a photographer and if you think that's an exaggeration I had lunch with a photographer a legend a year ago sitting at lunch and I was trying to ask him the same question like in a nutshell asking if you had to boil your career down that like not even your career your life is a photographer and I was trying to describe what I would call a life image and before I could even get the term out he goes for there's forty he's machine for fifty years he has a massive archive because there's four pictures that are really significant in my life so it's that rare ninety nine percent of what you're going to do is fail it's totally fine we break eggs ninety nine percent of the pictures I make don't work they never have and they never will that's what makes the one percent so good and so sweet when you go I got it and then when you show it to some other people and maybe they say yeah this is this is pretty amazing because again we all fall in love with with our with our work and you can't see it great light does not have to be early morning late afternoon this was in palermo in the middle in the middle of the night how many people shoot digital what a shock thiss was thirty two hundred speed film the middle the night so it's like wide open on an f two lens handheld super super slow digital is phenomenal. It sees in the dark. I could've shot this at three twenty s a I s o and would have been totally fine, so take advantage of it. You don't have to stop shooting when the sun goes down. Um, but when the sun goes down, it's also a great time to plan what you're going to do it sunrise the next day, because what's, the thing about the light is there anything is like relevance. Good, I can't remember. Okay, so now you know about light and how important it is. And now it's, like etched in your brain when you're walking down the street, talking about portraiture, you want to scout light before you ask for the portrait it's really simple, and I see I watched students all the time and they'll see someone they want to photograph and they get really excited and they start doing this little dance with their feet or moving around, and they're kind of going forward and moving back, and then they go ask someone, and, oh, my god, something terrible happens, they say yes. And then they're totally unprepared, and they don't know where they want to go, so they immediately make a portrait in terrible lighting situation, and then they walk away, but they're so, like, freaked out because someone said, yes, I've done this a million times, and I did it a million times until one day I was like, you know, if I actually knew what I wanted to do with the person after they said, yes, I'd probably be better off. So now I do an a, b and c location and what I said earlier about when your brain starts to think about light and you can't go through life without looking. This happens all the time I walked in here yesterday or saturday, and the first thing I did is and start looking around. This comes from the newspaper world. This comes from magazine world of someone saying, you have five minutes, and so I'm like no worries because I know where I'm going to shoot. So when that magical thing happens when they say yes and you say, oh, that's, amazing, I'm going to put you right here because see how the light is bouncing off the building across the street and it's coming and it's filtering, so I describe to people why on putting him where they are and they suddenly feel like, oh, and they'll say I never I never noticed that before, you know, I've been here a thousand times I never noticed that and then they start pointing out lighting places and I'd be like, well, it's funny you said that because that's the next place we're going to go and I tell them that I want to build this little body of photographs but it all comes from scouting prior you cannot do it after sometimes you get super lucky and something will happen, but so what? You're if you're failing ninety nine, ninety nine percent of the time when you're taking these photographs, making the photographs, do you find that you have a particular workflow for going back through and self critiquing your work after the fact so that you could notice the flaws that you're making and and I know it while I'm making him, but for the most part, but I've done it a lot and I've done it year after year after year I can tell one of making pictures that are not good and I might still do it if it's getting me somewhere with the person I'm photographing because they don't know and typically and people were filtering our work through a set of parameters that are so far beyond what most people are thinking about when they look at photographs were being very difficult on ourselves most people look in there like whatever they react to it or they don't we're filtering all these different things I can typically tell one on messing up while I'm doing it, which is a really nice skill to have the minute you print something, you'll definitely know for sure whether you were on the right track or not it's it's about practice I mean shooting like I told I spent ten years, no exaggeration working full time before I really figured out who I wass I'm not exaggerating, and the only reason I figured it out was I stopped working as a photographer start working for kodak and did all these really weird stories and I'm like, hey, wait a minute that's what I want to be doing everybody practices except for photographers I mean it's crazy, I think people I think are cultural society has been sped up to a degree where people expect really great results right off the bat and it's it's rare I mean, like I said, maybe you know, ninety nine percent exactly failure is is high, hopefully you're maybe not ninety nine percent, but that work in sicily I spent five years working on it and I have about forty pictures total I shot one hundred fifty rolls of film total, which equals two about a single decent photograph per roll of film and some of those rolls of film took days and days and days to get through it's not like you're shooting a ton of stuff at a time, so the percentages are low but that's riel documentary work that's not portraiture, where you're in control and can slow things down when you're shooting digital. Do you show people the images? No ever, you know? They asked no, and I want to talk about that in a minute remind me when I get through these points and I want to talk about that specifically. So let's, move on. Everyone knows light is relatively important. You gotta talk to people that's the best part of going into the field is talking to people and shooting unsuspecting people from across the street isn't portraiture. I don't think that at all who's up who's done that I've done it who's been caught doing that. Yeah, it's a horrible it's like a crime has taken place and they're like, ok, I'm going down, you got to talk to people case in point guy with a lot of cash and a gun in it. I was walking to a photo trade show in new york city. Through a tunnel I look over a guy in black with a pistol in a wad of cash and I was like, I was like, if he says yes to a portrait like anyone will cells like, hey, you mind if I like take a portrait of you? And he just goes, it was like and I didn't choose face because I figured that might not be such a great thing, but I don't not suggesting you do this, but this is kind of people are unbelievably accepting and, like kind of willing to be with you, but you gotta talkto I can't like take that, not talk to him that's like super dangerous s so a few years ago I did a project out of the blue where I went out and I purposely looked for people I didn't know and I said, I want to photograph you I want you to sign a model release and I want to ask you what you were thinking the minute before invaded you and I shot a single roll of film and I ask people in this guy literally said I water box and was wondering whether or not you were going to come over and interrupt me so out of all the people that I photographed these air guys riding a horse and santa c three on the beach in california never seen beaches horse on the beach in california they signed model releases that gave me these quotes they let me into their lives one person said no out of everyone I approached she speaks creole on lee so I had to like pantomime what I was trying to do she went into the apartment's got somebody that spoke english we translated he translated the model release and I have no interest in ever publishing this or using it it was just a test to see so if I can do it you guys can do it but it comes with talking, talking to people working efficiently and moving forward and experiment so just a quick example of this this was a picture of these air photographers in peru in the square and whose go and they wanted me to take this picture of them and so we we talked and I saw them day after day after a period of time and then I just moved around, you know, to do little things that I might have used later or to get them just to work with them into practice. So instead of saying I'm just going to shoot this one picture and then walk away I always do a second picture or third picture and I try to get a little bit more involved and just another example of that I was telling you about the story that I made the picture that changed my life was homecoming picture it's coming up so this was what I saw when I drove into this little town in new mexico with students and I saw this guy on top of this well well drilling equipment and I said that's an unbelievable photograph so I made this picture from a distance and then he saw us and climb down and he was the coolest guy in the world and I made this picture which is a very basic you know, see his face kind of picture shows him in his environment and I just kept chipping and chipping and chipping and we spent more time and more time and more time and lo and behold he goes over to his nineteen fifties well drilling truck and he opens up the passenger door and he's a big dude I mean he's a big guy covered in like greece and mud and everything and he opens up the door and out of the door of the cab comes his little built on and I was like that is the photograph you know this picture I like a lot because it shows the danger and the environment etcetera this picture is very basic I could you know, take it or leave it this is the picture and it came from leaning forward not leaning backwards and getting closer and closer and closer to him and him being comfortable in allowing this little critter to come out there's always a barrier to what you guys are doing and I'm going to give you this really quickly there was a question earlier there's a lot of people have hang ups and each situation is a little different and you have to find ways working around it I was lucky my father that's my dad nine wyoming when I was a kid he was very difficult and I would practice techniques on him much to his chagrin he would drive him crazy but he helped me work with people that were not into being photographed so if you have a family member that's a little a little sticking you could try that no feels terrible it still feels bad after twenty years of doing this but it doesn't always mean no because people are saying no for a variety of reasons no now is an automatic reactionary response no, you can't be here no, you can't take pictures you know what I do? Sometimes I take out my old light now I'm like that's fine, you know, no pictures I'll take out my old light meter and I'll just start like media ring and no one's seen a light meter and forever and so they know what is what is that like? What are you doing? And I'll tell him it's a geiger counter don't be like hot in here and then we'll know it's on a geiger counter and then they'll be like, well, what do you what do you have a light meter for? And then this's very much to your point, there's a big difference between shooting with these two devices, they all have this, none of them have this. This is methodical, clunky, slow, old school, and it makes them think a little bit differently about what you're doing, they become farm or of the process when you're working with a clunky old tool like this and I'm not saying everybody go shoot hasa blood, but it's it's a different experience and you have to know that tool is going to have some translation effect on your success or were not based simply on what it is. Plus, I'm not looking at you, I'm looking down there's a sense of relief from people I mean, I've shot with this camera within three feet of people who have no idea I'm taking their photograph and listen to this not exactly there's even a little lever that place out and you're like, hey, I'm winding it it's like a battleship, you know, it's not subtle at all, but it doesn't matter because people are so engaged by the fact that you're using it to get a very different response my nephew again, you think he wants to pose for these? He always says no and then I badgering look how ticked off is he's really, really done everything so, you know, he looks he's told little stud, you know, he thinks he doesn't know how good he is, my mom's the same way so my mom's an elusive creature, I have to get her super quickly. So this picture is that what? The cabin where she lives and it's very significant part of her life, this place so the cabin becomes a part of it. This is the tree that she sits and looks at when she has coffee every morning. She's like me, coffee is sacred territory, and then this was this was a set of antlers that she had found on her property that she put on the table, and so I'm like a building these little portions of her. But, you know, see, mom, I want to shoot importance of you. Well, I got to do my hair, I got today, unlike none in and then you know, it's always a battle. The bonus point is, if you promise to send prince, you have to do it that's it you just have to do it because anybody who comes behind you is going to suffer or benefit from your experience in the field, so you've got to do that I'm going to skip over little practice I'm just going to leave this up in case anyone needs or wants to find me. I'm very easy to find and I'm very open for communication a photographer large, I had a blogger for years and years and years called smart branch and I ended it about beginning of june, so I'm not blogging anymore in like long form lots of copy conversation but tumbler is just a little bit of a look at my life is a blurred person so it's the photographers I run into the good work that I see it's very little about me and very much about publications and art photography, et cetera, and I'm also on twitter and it's on blur pal dot com or dot com but hell, quite any another question from the field because we only have a couple minutes left absolutely absolutely got so many wonderful questions coming in. I'm not really sure where to start, okay, just one I'm going to this big one. A lot of people don't let's talk about film because a lot of people are not shooting film right now s o question from vivid balu due process your own film print your own prince how much of your work, if any, is digital as opposed to film? Well, I have an interesting history with digital because I went digital very, very, very early on long before any of my friends or colleagues that I knew were doing it and literally I was told by people I was going to go out of business and I thought I said to people, look, I think this digital thing is for real and it's great and I did that for about three or four years prior to most people going digital, so I was a novelty and clients were like, wow, this guy's really high tech and if anyone knows me I'm not high tech it all clearly not real high tech and then about four years into it I really missed I didn't like sitting in front of a computer and I missed the tangible aspects of films so I switched back and the same people that told me I go out of business if I went digital told me I was going to go out of business if I went back to film. So the short answer to your question or their question is yes, I have a dark room that I printed and but also print digitally I will use any printing technique that is available to me anything I print books, magazines prince I use labs that print my work, I printed myself, I do handmade prince anything and everything I'm a total believer in printing depending on what the film is, I will process it myself or I will use a lab one of the great things about labs today is they'll process your film and they'll scan every single image high rez at the time, the processing so what's funny is I might shoot film in the field, but my work flows is very similar to somebody that shooting digital. The only difference is that I'm capturing with a piece of film as opposed to capturing with the digital camera. So other than that it's very simple, I said I'd have to archive things digitally and edit, and and that was that was the next question from visionary art photographer about do you have your own scanning? Do have a drum scan? A wet scan is flatbed scanning at home viable for a professional photographer shooting in all absolutely there's a variety of different scanners out there. I have a flat bed at home. I have a name makhan scanner at home, the scans that I get from the lab or phenomenal and they are absolutely viable because I've been using him in commercial applications for the past fifteen years, so absolutely scanning his tedious lot. Most people seem to test everything about scanning, especially like spotting dust off your negatives. So number one, keep your negatives clean, I for whatever reason love scanning, I can't explain it if I had to guess, I would say you will not like it I like it. I have a friend who's, a black and white very classic photographer, is a great master printer. He doesn't like printing at all what he loves is processing film, so that's his thing, my thing I love scanning its super slow it's methodical, I get a negative in the carrier, I get it's scanning and then I go and I do something else in my office, and then I turned around and it pops up on the screen, and I'm like that's really good, plus it's a lot less painful then going in the dark room and spending an entire day on a print that you realize that the end of the day is not good enough to really print and that you've just wasted an entire day of your life in the dark. So I've done that a thousand times, one of the ways that I thought I don't shoot film as much as I used to. Uh, one of the ways that I found to slow down and being methodical is to get manuals in primes think more about the composition makes me take longer to compose the shot and take the shot. Yeah, I think with digital and you can I don't have any zoom lenses at all. I haven't used a zoom lens and years and years and years I use primes on everything with digital there's tricks you know, and I'm guilty is anyone else you put a digital camera in my hands and I'll shoot fifty times more than I will with the hospital, so I give myself a little tricks one if I had the uses in lends, I would pre focus it and I would move my body as opposed to moving my zoom lens. I think that's a lazy way of working, but give yourself a shot count and just say, look, I'm going to shoot ten frames here that's it I have ten frames I was telling someone earlier when I used to shoot weddings, I would shoot by myself with one hasa blad and two backs, so the on ly think the maximum I had at my disposal at any one time was twenty four photographs and imagine the bride coming down the aisle and there's two hundred people there and I'm by myself and I have that and it scared people to death. It scared the clients it scared they're friends, it scared my friends, it scared the family's everything and I was like, I know what I'm doing so I had everything planned in my head now if that broke out a second camera body, I had to change film at a certain time in the ceremony, all these different things, I know what I'm doing so that's, really it film digital however you want to work, it just comes with practice and knowing what it's more style and who you are as a photographer. I don't recommend this for most people. It's a different way of working. I've just done it a long time. And you saw the black and white square negatives. You saw what that looks like, that's, what I want and then going in the darkroom and having the ability to make a nice big fat silver gelatin print from a black and white negative like that for me is rewarding. I have other friends who will if if you force them and took them hostage, they would not go in a dark room there over it. They spent twenty years of their life on deadline making prints, and that can get real old real quick, so I totally get it. The beauty of today, being a photographer is that we have every single conceivable option under the sun. You know, one one of the best photographers in the world right now shooting digital, writing his digital files back to film and printing silver prints to sell in galleries and exhibition so you can mix, emerge and that's. My advice is to test everything, sample everything until you're know who you are.

Class Description

What’s behind a powerful documentary portrait? Professional photographer Dan Milnor will break it down for you in just 90 minutes.

Dan will explore the motivations behind great documentary work, as well as share his techniques and philosophies regarding how to work quickly, collaborate with strangers and recognize optimal light. Plus, Dan will teach you how you go beyond your current comfort level and build a deeper relationship with your subjects as you photograph them.


Chris Miedema

For a small package, this class packed a lot of useful information, strategies and thoughtful philosophies. Initially I was reluctant to pay even the sale price for what amounts to a 1.5 hour class, but I thought it was worth every penny. Dan has an easy going style, capable of delivering his message in a straight forward and often humorous way. He has lots of examples to help guide the audience. I had to constantly stop the tape to write down key points. I actually think I will watch this again some time in the future to make sure I have consolidated all his teachings.

a Creativelive Student

The presentation was excellent, and motivating!!!