Red, White, Blue and Purple? 2012
I’m convinced that all’s that’s standing between me and more interesting pictures of people is a good line.
It’s kind of ironic that I would be hesitant to approach people to take their picture when I’m in a business that requires me to talk to groups of strangers—and sometimes hostile strangers—regularly. But there you have it. The fear is, of course, that they’ll say no. Even researchers don’t like rejection. The more important artistic concern, though, is that they’ll stop doing whatever they were doing that drew my attention in the first place or, worse, they’ll want to pose. There’s nothing that’ll ruin a good environmental portrait more than the subject wanting to pose. You can lay odds that whatever pose they strike isn’t going to be natural.
The professionals say, “Shoot first and ask for permission later.” I do that when I can get away with it. But sometimes you have no choice but to engage the subject if you want an interesting photo.
This past Saturday morning I went for a walk on the oceanfront boardwalk. It’s a great place to walk, and an even better because you can people watch and take pictures. I was there ostensibly to take photographs at a kite festival. But I couldn’t help but be drawn to all the tattoos, bling and other expressions of fashion and individuality that some people bring to the beach.
There are people who come to the beach to actually step into the sand and swim in the ocean. There are also a lot of tourists who come to a beach resort and never touch the sand, much less go near the ocean.
This isn’t such a rare thing, it turns out. Our local newspaper interviewed some people who’d driven all the way from Idaho to Virginia Beach just to be in the audience of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club television program. When asked what else they intended to do during their stay, the people said, “Nothing. We came to be in that audience. We’ll go home now.” They’d driven more than 2,500 miles—with no more than food, gasoline and bathroom breaks, they claimed—and wouldn’t go 13 miles more to see the Atlantic Ocean.
Anyway, the reason it’s hard for me to approach some people is that what makes me want to photograph them is them in the act of being themselves. The two girls in the photograph above, on the other hand, would not have gone walking on the boardwalk in those costumes unless they wanted to be noticed. It was very easy for me to approach them and say simply, “You’ve got to let me photograph you,” at which point they stopped and posed. Easy as pie. But it was a pose. Ugh.
I’ve got to come up with some other good approach lines for people who aren’t out to be exhibitionists.