Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shooting from the Chest

Boardwalkers, 2010

When you’re walking in a crowd and you want to take pictures of people without draw such attention to yourself as will cause people to change what they’re doing, it’s helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

Some photographers resort to long lenses in such situations. They’ll sit way off to the side and cherry pick shots of people without being noticed. I can understand why they might do this. But I’m one of those people who believes you need to get a little closer, even to the point of interacting with the subject. Besides, long lenses flatten the perspective. When you’re dealing with people it can look as if you were just phoning in the picture from another planet. I prefer pictures that make you feel like you were in the crowd.

Neptune Festival Crowd, 2010

Last Saturday I was back down on the Virginia Beach boardwalk getting in a walk and watching some of the festivities of the Neptune Festival, an annual event conceived thirty-seven years ago to bolster the tourism “shoulder season.” The first Neptune Festival was mainly a big weekend seafood party. These days it includes several weeks of parties, balls, 5k and 10k foot races, a parade, art show, bands, sailing regatta, sandcastle building competition and probably some other things I’m forgetting.

Channeling my inner Martin Parr, I decided before I left home that I wanted to get close to the crowd. I loaded the 18-35mm wide-angle lens on my camera and headed into the fray. This used to be my default lens because I like to see “wide.” But now I use it mostly for the slightly distorted perspective it gives, especially in low angle shots.

Normally, I’m obsessive about looking into the viewfinder to compose pictures. But for this outing I had to let that go. What I did whenever I saw someone walking towards me that I wanted to photography I lifted my camera to the middle of my chest and took a picture without ever looking into the viewfinder. As these pictures show, if you do that people don’t even look at the cameras.

The downside of this technique, of course, is that composition can be hit or miss. Some of the shots I took this way completely missed the subject. Some, like Fame, Like a Good Figure, is Fleeting, have focus issues. The man in Portrait of an Unknown could have been better positioned. Clearly, I’ve got some work to do perfecting this technique. But if I practice it some more I’m pretty sure I’ll get better at it.

Fame, Like a Good Figure, is Fleeting, 2010

Portrait of an Unknown, 2010


  1. Nice pics Chris - love the fleeting fame shot. One thought/question; as I recall the beginning of the neptune Festival, it wasn't created to fill hotel rooms - it was supposed to be a celebration of LOCALS as we take back our beach from the out of towners. Nancy Creech and friends may have morphed the Neptune Festival into a business lobby strategy to fill hotel rooms, but that wasn't really the idea behind the Neptune Festival.

    -Reid Greenmun

  2. Great idea--I like the effects you got a lot.

  3. Chris, one of the reasons I enjoy your blogs is that I always learn something, or at least view a subject from a different perspective just as this technique does. One of the things drilled into my head by firearms instructors was the need to develop muscle memory when acquiring a sight picture which is what you're doing with your camera.
    BTW, thanks for pointing me towards Martin Parr.

  4. Hi Chris, I'm just catching up on my blog-reading/-viewing. Love yours, as usual. I hope your inner Martin Parr stays inside. I get your point, but I don't really like his stuff. He does interesting things with colour and has an interesting view of things, but I find him to be mostly mean-spirited, and not just celebrating the unusual or weird.