Aesthetic Considerations when Photographing an Intimate Event
You know, again, I'm always thinking about composition, and the awareness of the foreground, middle ground, and background. And furthermore, also looking laterally through my frame, diagonally through my frame. You know, just really looking whether you're working square, whether you're working rectangle, vertical, landscape, whatever it is is like that's your canvas. And you wanna figure out, you wanna be in control of how you organize the information in that canvas. Unlike a painter, we don't start with a blank canvas. Sometimes we start with a very busy canvas. And our job is to figure out what to remove from the scene, right? Other times, we might focus on a person, but then, we need to figure out how do we integrate them into the background, right? Or what do I wanna add to the scene to make it a more interesting or a richer picture? Does that make sense? Okay, so we're gonna roll some video here, I think. We're at Alphie's birthday party. He's turning five today. Actually, today's...
not his actual birthday but that doesn't matter. And we're at this lovely, very creative place where I guess they have kids' birthday parties. And so this is to me what we would call an intimate event, where it's people we know, you've been invited to it, these are not strangers normally, like it might be a family gathering or friends gathering or co-workers gathering, which is what this is, co-workers. And so here, I'm looking for pictures that are, of course, I wanna do a portrait of the birthday boy and we'll see if we get something with him and his parents. It might be a little too crazy today for that, but then to capture moments, just moments of joy. Here, we're trying to capture memories, memories for people who would either be family, friends, or co-workers. What are you guys looking for?
We're looking for magic. (laughter) (children playing)
Oh, sorry, sorry.
Ooh, I see this color.
I think this might come from the magical forest. You know, I think we might have to go to the magical forest to get the dragon layers.
Where's the magical forest? (laughs)
It's all around here.
(laughs) Right, open your eyes. (laughs)
Why are these things here?
I don't know, but you look great right there. (children playing) I'm gonna get him, I got him, I got him, I got him! (laughs) So in terms of aesthetic considerations when photographing an intimate event, this just struck me. I was photographing this sweet boy getting his face painted, and I realized that I'm trying to make this like really weird party picture. But is that really gonna be the memory that his mother or father or grandparents would want? So I think it's really important to think about, you know, when you're trying to as a photographer or an artist trying to make images that are interesting or weird or photographically say something that you might actually end up making a picture that doesn't preserve a memory anybody would want to see again. So when you're photographing intimate events, it's important to keep that in mind, that while, you know, someone like myself and maybe many of you are trying or striving to make very interesting photographs, challenging, sophisticated images, that might not be what people want. You grandparent, your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your friend, they just want a beautiful, happy picture of their kid. You know, it's genuine, but I think it's again that idea of when human interaction and people feed off your energy, as like with the dances, I fed off their energy. But people also feed off of your energy. So if you're glum and you're all looking around like you're negative, you're not gonna make people, you're not gonna engender much warmth. So that's a really important, and it's gonna be genuine though. People pick up when you're not genuine, you know? (woman tells story) I think it's that idea in life, you know, when they say if you act like you're supposed to be here, then people will believe you're supposed to be here. That kind of thing. If I act-- You know you look how close I got to him, and this was the kid who was potentially cranky. So it's a mixture. It's eye contact, Sometimes it's touching in a way, or just making contact. Alright, well we're wrapping up at Alphie's birthday party, a five year old's intimate event that we were privileged to be able to photograph. And I think we got some really nice stuff. We got a real variety of family portraits, some portraits of the kids, including Alphie, the birthday boy, and then just scenes capturing some of the energy and some of the mood and flavor of the event. So, we're done here.
What I've been wondering as I look through you going through these images and photographing is how do you actually decide which image of those to publish? Or, when you're thinking about multiple images in storytelling, of all of those, how are you then deciding what to do with them?
Yeah, so the answer to that has to do with what's my purpose. If I'm trying to tell a visual story, then I'd want a variety of images. I'd want that overview shot of the circle. I'd want the portraits. I'd want the tight shot of getting the makeup. I'd want to show the parents, and the mom. In other words, I'd to sort of flesh out the story through a variety of images, both in terms of the distance of the subject, and setting a sense of place, capturing characters. But, let's say all I want to do is have the best picture I got of Alphie at his birthday, then that's what I'd be looking for. So, as with anything with photography when we're editing, because I think that's really an editing selecting question, you know, it's what's the purpose? It might be that, let's say the parents might want that whole scene captured, right? From the overview pictures and all that. But, you know, the friend who brought their kid, maybe all they really want is a picture of their kid at that event. So, it's important to be mindful of that. And, going into it, it's also important to be mindful of what it is you want to capture. You know, are you going there to photograph just your kid? Are you going there to do that for Alphie and his parents? Is it that there's some-- like the mom's British. Maybe there's some family member in the UK and so I'm thinking, oh man, I wanna make sure I cover this scene so that the mom can send pictures to the grandparents in Britain, you know, that kind of thing. Does that make sense? And again to me these are motivations that not only enrich the experience for me, but they sort of compel me, they give me the energy to go in to shoot and to look for those things.
So along those lines, my question is-- and I realize you're kind of explaining an intuitive feeling. And when you're in an intimate event, how do you feel your way around moving yourself so that you can capture what you want, and then directing other people just a little bit so that you can actually get kind of what you were trying to explain to me, the shot with my friend Wyanne and someone so I could get that woman's face. Or when you're at a birthday party you want the kids in their moment, but at the same time you know the foreground, the background. Like aesthetically, it's instinctual for you to set that up after all these years. But how much do you move other people to do it, and how much do you move yourself?
How much do I move other people, did you say?
Yeah, like direct other people a little bit.
So, I mean, if I'm working in a generalistic documentary mode, it's pretty rare that I ever direct or move anybody.
I mean I've done it, but it's pretty rare. It's really for expedience sake, and I would never ask anybody to do something that they don't do or haven't done, right? In this situation, no, this is theater. This is, we're just-- I wouldn't apply those strict standards or ethics, if you like, to this situation. It's really more about, you know-- Well, having said that, I wouldn't say to the kid, hey, jump off the roof. You know, or whatever, or do something. You know again, it's all within boundaries. But, it's more about what do I need to do to capture the spirit of the event or the character of the person, you know? And in that sense, there might be a little more direction, as I did do on some of the portraits, which I think we'll see. But, yeah, I would say that that would be the way to approach it. And, this idea of knowing where to stand or how to physically navigate through a scene, I think that's something that, you know, you either have it or you don't have it to begin with. Some people just have it. If you don't have it, it's something that you really would want to learn. Because again, if you're awkward, people will feel awkward. So I don't think about it. But you know, hey, even I make mistakes. Like I might go up to a kid and touch them and say hey, and you know, it's like that's the worst thing I could have done with that particular kid, is touch them on the shoulder. Or that it was completely inappropriate to do that with them, you know? And so, you live and you learn. And you'll have to learn how to react to-- you have to learn how to save yourself. How to react if you get a negative response, because you can't just fall apart. You can't get angry at them. Sometimes it's like, oh, I'm so sorry, or, you know. And I'll tell you, there've been times where I have done something that ended up being a miscue, and it ended up with an even better result because of how I handled it. Because I reacted in a way that was graceful or remorseful, or in some way that it increased the human connection.