Saturday, July 31, 2010

Photographing people in natural light

Perhaps you are like I am when it comes to photographing people. I'll see an interesting face, and imagine it as a photograph, particularly if the light is interesting also. But I hesitate to approach people with a camera, feeling intrusive. Of course, the fact is that most people are flattered when you take an interest in them. So let's be courageous, genuinely interested in the person, and arm ourselves with some suggestions with an experienced people photographer, Patrick Roddie.

Photographer Patrick Roddie is, according to the interviewer Marc Silber, perhaps the most well-known Burning Man photographer. Although this annual gathering in the Nevada desert is known for demolishing inhibitions, Roddie in the interview provides some universal tips for successful natural light portraits. Here are some of the take-aways I found, perhaps you will find others:

Natural light portrait tips from Patrick Roddie . . .
  • Most important is to keep people at ease by maintaining eye contact. Maintain contact with your eyes while you are talking to them, then raise the camera to make the exposure, lower the camera and continue the eye contact.
  • Don't fuss with the camera, as this will break the contact. Keep the photography setup simple - one lens, one focal length, one mode, if you need to, so that the photography is automatic and does not interfere with the rapport.
  • Without focusing on equipment, be sure to have backups in the event something is broken or your battery runs down. Have an extra body and backup lens available. "Don't get stranded if your one body jams up or your lens drops in a puddle".
  • Be ready. Have a "go to bag" with your basic equipment in it and ready to go. Preparedness begins with the end of the last shoot, when you make your backups, clear out your cards, charge batteries, etc.
  • For good light, go near something bright that reflects light into shadows. But watch the color of the reflected light - "grass is horrible".
  • "I don't create light; I try to find light".
  • On composition - remove anything that is not essential to the photo. Move around and back and forth to get rid of the post or whatever in the background. But if there is a background distraction, keep eye contact and keep shooting to maintain the connection as you move to get it out of the frame.
  • Have an "autopilot" mode that you are totally comfortable with so you don't have to fuss with the camera. It can be Program mode, if necessary, and equipment that you are extremely familiar with, so that you can "just go and do it", and concentrate on what you are seeing as opposed to the camera.

Marc Silber interviews Patrick Roddie about his technique for natural light photographs of people.

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