On my drive home one day, I stopped by the Coney Island boardwalk for a short stroll. As always, I had my DSLR on me, this time mounted with the Canon 85mm 1.2 L II bokeh monster. I wasn't looking to photograph anything in particular, but seeing as how this is a portrait lens I took on the challenge to photograph people.
Sometimes there's no need to search. A story is just waiting to be captured.
Who said the mega slow focusing 85mm can't do a bit of wildlife?
Tip: When photographing small or large subjects have something else in the photo to show a relation of size.
30 minutes into my sauntering, I saw a young girl playing in the sand. She's got a stuff toy in one hand, Nathan's famous french fries in the other, and playing without a care in the world.
I'm aware that a majority of people feel shy to engage total strangers, let alone photograph them. Knowing how to approach the situation is half the challenge.
How does one approach such a situation you ask? Well first locate the parent if it's a child. I saw her father briefly glancing back at her across the boardwalk while buying another order of fries. I'm also casually dressed without anything obstructing my face. Baseball caps, hoodies, sunglasses, bandanas, etc.. while fashionable, can make you seem awfully suspicious. I smile genuinely and make eye contact with both my subject and people around her. My camera is always visible and there is always a mutual acknowledgement of me photographing. I can't begin to list the numbers of times I see someone snipe with a telephoto from 100 feet away. It feels obtrusive and just darn right creepy.
If it's a young girl or boy, like the subject in this instance, I ALWAYS make certain that I make direct contact with the adult/parent acknowledging their permission to photograph their child. Approaching people with confidence is great for disarming people that otherwise wouldn't want to be photographed. Offering your subject a photo you have just taken or why you find them interesting to be photographed is always a method I use to build rapport. Sometimes your subjects will find themselves flattered and happy to take part!
Even in the heat of the shoot remember to check your settings periodically and photograph in multiple angles, remember to slow down and engage your subject. I often see other photographers snap away as if their subject is fleeting. Remove that the sense of urgency. Be focused, but also relax and enjoy the moments you're capturing and creating!
This angle works, but how about something more engaging?
Tip: A slight bend in the knees or sitting down will offer a vastly different perspective.
A story is much more than the image itself. Be open about your intentions, try not to be judgmental, remember to always stay respectful, and you'd be amazed how much people are willing to share. In the hour of photographing his daughter, I spent 55 minutes talking, and 5 minutes of actual shooting. Why so much chit chat? The more you know about your subject, the more you can use angles, shadows, lighting, interactions, environments, to convey their unique and personal story. Plus, it's also fun!
The 28 year old father had just picked up his daughter from school. He's a single parent whose priority is his daughter's well being and education. He shared that while they are legal immigrants, the current political climate has him feeling unwelcomed and scared for their future in this country. He was initially scared that I may judge him for his Latin American background, but felt more comfortable sharing after he saw my interest. Always think before you talk in these situations as the last thing you'd want is to offend your subject. I can't begin to count the times I've seen well meaning people say racist or offensive remarks. Again, I stress that I know most people are well meaning, but being sensitive to other people is also granting myself a chance to learn something new.
If you happen to feel strongly about certain political views, remember that this is about their story. Regardless of how you may favor or oppose their point of view, the session that they've granted you is all about positive sharing and respect. The more empathetic you are the deeper the meaning of your photos will be.
As a wildlife photographer I naturally gravitate to anything that has wings. I don't discriminate!
I was trying to get all three gull heads in focus. Dialing my aperture from F/1.2 to F/2 gave me more depth of field to work with. A high shutter speed is also essential for high speed gull action!
Tip: As someone who works with wildlife it is also my duty to remind people not to feed wild animals (impossible to do in NYC), especially with French fries, but more importantly approach the conversation with compassion and do so through empathy. No one likes to be "taught" or talked down upon. I generally give some interesting facts about the animal's natural diet and state how that is what keeps them most healthy. The goal is to build awareness not to be a jerk!
Sometimes getting the shot you want means waiting at a spot and having the subjects walk pass you. There is so much story waiting to be told.
Walk around and observe. Sometimes interesting moments happen right before your eyes! Keep your finger above the shutter and always pay attention to the backgrounds of your subjects. I thought the red danger sign behind her was most appropriate for the situation.
Look around for colors and straight lines. I loved the green bars and red benches at this outdoor gym. Composition can either make or break a photo.
I often refer back to my histogram when shooting, but sometimes blowing out some whites can lead to interesting results. I felt that the blown out highlights in this photo gave the feelings of staring at the sun.
Before I left I wanted to get a shot of the boardwalk where so many people have walked along. Somewhere where I had once walked and photographed.