Introduction to Documentary-Style People Photography: Digital Photography Review

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12/25/11 8:08 PM Introduction to Documentary-style People Photography: Digital Photography Review Page 1 of 6 http://www.dpreview.com/articles/0710773201/introduction-to-documentary-style-people-photography/print Introduction to Documentary-style People Photography Gioradan | Photo Techniques | Published Dec 23, 2011 Photo documentary is a discipline in photography that tells stories about a place or an issue by observing and photographing people in their environment. In the past few years, I have been lucky enough to shoot photo-documentary images for several geographic magazines and the marketing departments of Panasonic, Sony and Nikon. On these assignments I often get to travel to places that are completely new to me. As budgets across the indus try have dropped in the last few years, my visit s are often very short and my job is to quickly find images that portray the spirit of each destination. Photo documentary is arguably one of the most challenging branches of people photography. In many cases, you, the photographer, are not naturally part of the environment that you are photographing in and having an expensive camera in-front of your face makes you stand out of the crowd. Frequently time and the light are not on your side. This article examines three methods that I often use to achieve strong images in unfamiliar or trying conditions. Spontaneous, unplanned shooting:
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    Introduction to Documentary-style People

    PhotographyGioradan | Photo Techniques | Published Dec 23, 2011

    Photo documentary is a discipline in photography that tells stories about a place or an issue by observinand photographing people in their environment. In the past few years, I have been lucky enough to shoophoto-documentary images for several geographic magazines and the marketing departments ofPanasonic, Sony and Nikon. On these assignments I often get to travel to places that are completely newme. As budgets across the industry have dropped in the last few years, my visits are often very short andmy job is to quickly find images that portray the spirit of each destination.

    Photo documentary is arguably one of the most challenging branches of people photography. In many

    cases, you, the photographer, are not naturally part of the environment that you are photographing in anhaving an expensive camera in-front of your face makes you stand out of the crowd. Frequently time andthe light are not on your side.

    This article examines three methods that I often use to achieve strong images in unfamiliar or tryingconditions.

    Spontaneous, unplanned shooting:

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    Sugar candy boy Patan, Nepal. Sony A900, F2.8 1/250s

    Despite what the name suggests, this does not mean that the photographer shoots thousands of frameshoping to get lucky. I'm talking about a well thought-out process that demands good knowledge of yourcamera gear.

    The main idea behind this sort of spontaneous shooting is that the image is taken with the camera awayfrom your eyes. This disguises the fact that you're taking a picture. People dont suspect that you may beshooting from the hip, or while holding the camera to your chest and so are more likely to continue tobehave unselfconsciously. This allows you to 'sneak' a shot.

    One way to prepare for random shooting is to expose for the light conditions while not pointing thecamera at the subject. I use manual exposure or exposure lock so the exposure values will not shift as Irecompose. At the same time I also chose the focusing point according to the desired composition orassess the distance and manually focus.

    The 'Sugar candy boy' image, above, was taken in Durbar square in Patan (Kathmandu valley, Nepal). This a wonderful location. As well as containing architectural marvels ,it is also a cultural and socialcentre. The local Nepalese are quite savvy when it comes to tourists with cameras. Some refuse to be

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    photographed, others will happily pose for a small fee.

    To capture this image with a wideangle lens I put the camera to my hip and look toward a temple as Ishoot a short sequence of frames.

    Circus Performer

    While shooting an article about a school of

    circus, I was wondering around in the backstage area. I noticed this performer practicingbefore her act. Not wanting to disturb her, Iwalked by and shot from the hip. I underestimated the speed of the arms, but I like themovement blur that was captured.

    Dart-Throwing Monk

    This image of a dart throwing monk wascaptured at a game outside his monastery.Thecamera was on the ground tilted up. I manuallyfocused as I could not see through theviewfinder and shot a burst of frames.

    Even with lots of experience and an intimate knowledge of your gear, shooting spontaneously like this isby far the most wasteful way to photograph people. Back In the days of film, I remember vividly thewelcoming smiles at the lab as I walked in with a small mountain of film rolls...

    Planned / Setup shots:

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    Boatman, Chitwan national park, Nepal. Nikon D300s, F3.8, 1/25s

    By contrast, this method of photography is all about predicting a definitive moment that you want tocapture and shooting the frame just as that moment appears. In 'predictive' photography you do all thepreparation for the actual exposure before the camera is put to the eye.

    Frequently it starts with checking out the location once or several times before you actually go to shoot.This allows you to familiarise yourself with patterns of behaviour and light conditions. It means you canpredict what is likely to happen and when. Because you know what is likely to occur, you can anticipate

    moment and put the camera to your eye at the very last moment.

    The reason to use this method is that if the camera is held to your eye as you wait for the right moment,that moment might never have come because people become self aware and alter their behavior. They mwish to pose or even ask not to photographed at all.

    The 'Boat Man' image, above, was taken while I was leading a photo tour to Nepal last year. We spent fewdays in Chitwan National park looking for wild life and enjoying the beauty of the jungle. At the end of along jungle walk, we were picked up by a narrow river boat to go upriver to our accommodation. I foundmyself with this photo opportunity within a meter of my eyes.

    For this photo, I considered what would be the right light for the image, then waited for the sun to drop

    beyond the horizon to get softer light. I followed the rhythm of the boatmans stroke so I got his arm justthe way it appears in the image. Then, just like as in random photography, I prepared the exposure andfocusing point before lifting the camera to my eye and firing away, and looked through the viewfinder tomake sure that the horizon was relatively straight.

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    Girl on Verandah

    While getting my breath after a long daytrekking I saw this verandah. I was fascinatedby the limited palette of colour in the sceneand as I thought about shooting it, the girlappeared from the door. While keeping talkingto my porter (to my left) I set the exposure andfocusing point. The girl looked above me to thestreet and I shot this frame quickly.

    Outside the Central Temple, Lhasa

    Late afternoon in Lhasa created a dramaticpattern of light and shade between the centraltemple buildings. I had checked out the venuea couple of days before and discovered that thecrowd goes around the central temple in onedirection. I walked with the crowd, passedthrough the light patch, counted six steps(about 3 meters) turned around and shot whoever passed through the light patch.

    Unlike spontaneous photography, once you lift the camera to your eyes and shoot, when you plan a shotthe person you have photographed is usually aware of what you are doing, so a second 'take' is not alwaypossible. That makes choosing the precise moment even more important.

    Confrontational shooting:

    On top of a barn, Kagbeni, Nepal. Sony A900, F1.4, 1/800s

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    At times there is no way to conceal the fact that you are in a place with a camera and you and your subjeare facing one-other. Sometimes people are very happy to be photographed and even ask you to do so.However, most times, these moments are over within a split second and one must react very quickly. Inmost cases I try and have a narrow depth of field focused on the eyes and keep the background soft. Thakeeps the viewers' 'focus' trained on the face of the person photographed.

    The image above was taken in Kagbeni, in Nepal. This is a medieval looking village in the Annapurna

    range. I was on top of a barn to get a better look at the sky line of the village as I heard a sound behind mThis boy popped his head up to check who was making noise on the roof of the family barn. There was nway to pretend that I was not there with a camera, so I decided to capture this interaction between us.Quickly I changed the exposure setting to the widest aperture to isolate the boys face from the backgrouand shot a quick burst of images before he disappeared.

    Inside a monastery

    I photographed this monastery as part ofUNESCO assignment. Inside there was oneyoung monk and one photographer (me!). Inoticed side light from an open door lifting theboy from the dark background.There was noway to go about it apart from taking anenvironmental portrait. It was too good anopportunity to miss.

    Mule Driver

    I was approached by this mule caravan driverto be photographed. Shallow depth of fieldlifted the face from the background.

    Either in a far away exotic location or in your local weekend market, these methods can help you createstrong images of people in the environment.

    Giora Dan is an internationally published documentary and commercial photographer based inChristchurch New Zealand. His images have been widely published in geographical magazines in NorthAmerica, Europe, Africa and the Asia/ Pacific region, including NZ Geographic, the Smithsonian

    Magazine and British Geographical. You can see more of his work at his website,www.gioradan.com