Capture a Portrait at a Cultural Event
So taking a portrait at a cultural event, I showed this one earlier, but this woman just struck me as I said, she, it was not just that she was attractive, but there was just something about the feeling of her and the tattoo, and I was also looking at, I was already thinking of composition before I even approached her. I was seeing the circle, I was going around it, and I was thinking, you know, "What's the angle? What can I do with this?" And then I sort of thought, okay well, she will visually stand out from everybody else. Blonde hair, the fact that she had bare shoulders whereas other people were more covered. And so I bent down and I said, "Excuse me, can I take a portrait of you?" I didn't wanna disturb the conversation going on, and then she was, thankfully, said, "Yes, of course," and splashed this big smile. And then I worked with her to get the right angle. And what was really important is I wanted her head, I didn't want any feet coming out of her head or anything like that.
I basically wanted the circle to frame her head. And this was even more of a, if you say, a formal approach to portraiture, where you know, I have photographed them dancing and moving around, but then I thought, you know what, I'd love to do something more formal where I have control of the situation. And you know, as a documentary photographer, really the only time where it's, in my mind, okay to direct people is when you're doing portraits. And then this is just a moment while I was sort of moving around and dancing with them. I don't think you'd call it dancing actually, but, and then this was just a lovely moment. Everyone was dancing on stage and this woman, you know, whatever she went off to stretch and I you know, I'm always looking. You know, when I'm on as a photographer, I'm like an animal hunting, you know, and I'm using all of my senses, all of my senses, even smell. But certainly peripheral vision, 360 actually. Sound, I'm listening for things cause I wanna know if someone's gonna enter the scene or maybe there's something more interesting going over on my you know, behind me. And so anyway, and so I just wandered over. I noticed her in a more contemplative mood, and I don't know if she maybe had hurt herself and she's stretching out a cramp, whatever, and I just sort of, you know, And often what I'll do is I don't wanna telegraph too much. And this is a tricky one, this maybe takes years or just you have it naturally. But I don't wanna telegraph too much cause then, you know, most times, people would like she put her leg down and she posed for you or something. And so I just sorta, I kinda like edge my way into where I think I need to be with the focal lens that I'm working on. And I just got down, and boom boom, I shot a few frames, and then of course she looked at me, and then I was like, no, you know, please, just carry on, and then made this picture. And this of course is a very orchestrated portrait. I thought it'd be cool. Also, another thing. To make pictures that you can give to your subjects that in this case, whether it's a good picture or not, to make a picture, because you wanna honor people who help you if you can. And we've never been able to do it. I mean, god, in the old days, right? You'd have to go back, get it processed, spend money to make a print, mail it to them or drop it off. Now, I mean in 10 seconds, I can boom, it's email to them if I wanted, or text it, right? I'm not saying you should always do that. You shouldn't always, 'cause you could spend the whole day, instead of shooting, you'd be taking, you'd be emailing and texting pictures to your subjects. And this was at the very end, we're leaving. You know I never stop, I never stop, I never stop looking. We literally said goodbye to them, we're leaving, and then there was this amazing, finally, the sun broke on Sunday in Seattle, and it was refracting off of a red wall behind us, and I was just like, "Ah, could you just stand there?" and I made this picture. So, some examples of my own work from my previous life, no. This is in Nigeria, this is at a Muslim wedding, which I had gotten permission to photograph, and people are just so beautifully, I mean, and this was in a very poor section of the city of Kano. But I just love the, I love capturing the dignity of people. And I really learn that when I photographed elderly people during that project, how important it was, I remember photographing this 100-year-old man Ike, in San Francisco. And even in 100-years old, it was so important that his caregiver made sure his bolero tie was perfect and his collar was perfect and just everything about him because it's about dignity, and so, of any age. It doesn't matter, but these are, again, I never thought of this sorta stuff. I've learned all these things because I'm a photographer. This was at a rodeo, and I, it was raining, and I was sort of bored of photographing the rodeo itself. And often, the most interesting pictures are sort of on the periphery of an event. You know, it's like turn your back on the main event and look at what's going on on the edges. And that's often where you get the most interesting and compelling situations. And this young boy was sitting in the car, and he just had this great expression and this, it was just a very beautiful textured scene. And this is actually my wife and daughter at a carnival. It qualifies as a cultural event, right? So I was just playing around. And this is Nigeria again, I spend a lot of time in Nigeria, and this was a traditional form of boxing. And actually, it's a very sad scene because these boys are pretty messed up, and they're really poor, the prize, I mean they're street kids, and but they're, for them, this was the way that they would have a, maybe they earn money and have a purpose in their lives, and you know they're, it's just so, they're like ragamuffins, you know. And they're all bruised and things, and I didn't come to find, I didn't even know that there were kids of this age that took part. I came to photograph the men to do it. But when I saw these boys, you know, it really kind of, well anyway, I was very touched and I was like, you know, "Can I make a portrait of you guys?" This is an Ethiopian woman in South Sudan. This was at a function at a hotel, and I just saw this, you know, just happen to be this great, you know I'm always looking for light, for surfaces, for texture, you know, how can I enhance my compositions not by faking it or, but by with what's there. So, awareness, having awareness. You know, getting back to that idea of when you're an animal on the hunt, right? I mean I can't speak authoritatively, but I would imagine that an animal, their senses are so alive, their smell, their vision, their hearing, because that's the only way they'll succeed in what they're doing. And I really feel, as a photographer, you need to be that way. So this is a video, right? Of me capturing something. A portrait. (laughing)
Excuse me, can I do just a portrait of you just where you are.
Yes, just look right at me. Is it too awkward? Turn your head a little bit more. Maybe just shift your body, so you know twist, yeah, perfect, thanks. Chin up just a little bit, yeah, good. Let's be really dramatic. That's it great, just like that, just like that. Thank you. It's one of the great things about the digital workflow, is that I can review my work, and it's so helpful to know. So I was just, 'cause you didn't know. Well you can know, did I get it or not? And you know, if you got it, great, gonna move on. If not, I can try again. So with this, I wanted to do this portrait. We'll go to the beginning of her. I just loved her tattoo and her face, and I wanted to get her head surrounded by the circle of women. So I got a little higher, and then, But you know, like see her foot is coming out of her head a little bit. It's okay, it's okay, but it could be better. And I know that now because I have the chance to review it. So should I ask her again? Watch me. Excuse me, I wanna try and do it again, cause can you tuck your feet in and turn a little bit cause here, your foot was coming out of your head. Perfect, perfect, okay. Nice, very nice, eyes right in the camera, and chin up, chin up just a little bit. Yeah, that's beautiful, hold just like that. Thank you.
So just sort of present it to me here. Oh my god, that is so beautiful, hold on, hold on. Hold on, hold on, that is so nice, that is so nice. Thank you, that was gorgeous, thanks, yeah. No, I was thinking if you guys lined up, who's an engineer here? If you guys lined up, and I'm thinking with the light, I have to go this, I'm thinking then I'd get reflections.
Yeah, it would have to angle out a little.
Tallest or shortest to tallest?
Oh, this would be so cool. Situation 'cause they were such cooperative subjects. You don't always get, Yeah, this is, You don't always get that. You're in, you're in.
You're wearing tall shoes. (laughing) You know that's good, that's good, I just, what would I wanna do? Alright, cool, look right in the camera.
Nice. Okay, hold on, hold on.
Can we, do you want us to go back?
Yeah, if you could just a little bit.
Alright, here we go.
Perfect, perfect. Nice! Oh, this is so cool, hold right here guys. Ready, one, two, three, right in the camera, go. Nice. Thank you.
You guys are so nice, thank you so much! Okay, that was slightly embarrassing, alright so.
Well, maybe, maybe slightly embarrassing for you, but it is so powerful for us not only to see the final images that you're creating, but to actually see you in action and doing it. So thank you so much, that was just one of a few different pre-shoots that will be integrated into the class. First of all, amazing online comments for you already, Ed. Short Cinema says, "It's only been an hour into the course, and I'm getting so much inspiration for my upcoming trip." I was wondering if we could take a few questions before we head into the next lesson. And raise your hand if you have a question in here and grab a mic. So a number of people are commenting about using the mobile device versus say, a bigger camera, a DSLR. And one question that comes in and says, "Do you feel like it is perceived as less professional when you are photographing with your phone instead of a camera and therefore the reaction of people photographing changes?"
So I think that, that's a great question. It's a very pertinent question too, but so much of it has to do with circumstance, you know, where you are. At this point, I would say for the most part, if I show up, if you have a phone camera as opposed to a DSLR, some larger camera, you will be perceived probably not as a professional, but that also means maybe not as threatening, right? But there are places in the world now it doesn't matter if you could have the smallest phone, and people are still suspicious. So again, you gotta read the situations you're in. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, and it gets back to the same thing, do your homework. And understand if you're about to go on a trip, understand, you know, do and it's so easy with the internet now, to be able to do that research. It doesn't take a lot of time, it's all, the information is accessible. But there's no question that physically, you're less threatening or, when you have a phone camera as opposed to a larger camera. So yeah, that's,
To further on that, Aaron Tater asked, so how do you decide when to put down the DSLR and use the phone, and he says, "Don't you worry about missing a great shot for print while using the phone to shoot?"
Right, well, I mean, increasingly print isn't quite as relevant. Oh, that's a whole another issue. (laughing) But well, the reality is you know, my iPhone, and again, the high-end Androids, the high-end phone cameras at this point take pretty amazing pictures. You know, the image quality is good enough for print. I mean I've had exhibitions with my iPhone pictures. And then I'm not alone, many people have. So I think the image quality issue is less of a, is less of an issue now. And you know the way technology marches on every six months, every year, it becomes less and less of an issue. So I think one should free themselves of that idea that if I, if the great moment happens and I don't have my, my phone camera and not my 35-mil camera, that somehow, the quality won't be as good. Now again, if you're photographing in a low-light situation where there's a lot of noise, where there's movement, then absolutely, your image quality will not be as good. That's for sure, but in general, if there's light, if you're outside, you know, that needn't be a concern. You know, unless you're just so, um, obsessed with making pictures of insanely high quality. And some of it has to do with, I don't remember who said this, but you know it's like the tool that you have is the best tool to use, right? So if all I have is my phone with me, then that's the camera I'm gonna work with. But I don't find that to be an issue.
Well, thank you for sort of that freedom to not be so focused on the gear and to be remembering that what this type of work is about when you're storytelling, it really is about those moments as you've been talking about. Maybe one more question, again coming back to inserting yourself into this cultural event, this is from Isla Jane, how would you explain what you, who you are and what you are doing if you are just there taking pictures for, say, personal fulfillment and not on an assignment of any kind? How do you do that without seeming weird or like a creeper?
Right, right, face it, we're creepers and we're weird. (laughing) No, I mean I've really come to see that and it's interesting it took me like 30 years to realize it, but you know. So you have to get over that and then hide that somehow. Again, I think it comes down to how you, how you, how you project yourself. And it's important like anything in life, to know when do I need to come on stronger or not meeker, it's not meek, but you know, like be quieter, you know, maybe sometimes it's better, I'm trying to think of a situation, you know, if you're, if you're, I don't know, I can't think of a situation. There's too many things going through my head. But I think you need to be a little, as I said before, read the situation, figure out, you know, find that one person who you think you can talk to and then just say, "Hey, is it okay," you know, ask for permission and you know, sometimes they'll say no, and it's game over. And then sort of feel your way through it. But um, I hate to say it but there's never one answer. It's so circumstantial. Does that bother you guys to hear that? But that's kinda how life is, you know. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. And to me, that's one of the magical challenges that I love about it, is that I'll show up in a situation and I'll look at it, and I'll try to figure out okay, this is what's going on. And sometimes, you don't ask for permission. Sometimes, you know, like if there's a dance group in the middle of Central Park, you know, it'd actually be kinda lame to ask for permission, right? Because it's obvious that they're there. They know people are coming to watch them, maybe to give them money, and certainly to photograph them. So does that make sense? Some of this, some of this is just using common sense, being sensitized to what the surroundings and the situation and then when you're out of your culture, doing your homework to understand how that culture works.
Great, thank you.