So after reading Henry Carroll’s other book discussing how to take great photographs in general which I posted on this blog and absolutely loving it, a couple of months later I walked into Waterstones and found that he had written another one but this time it was only to do with people, my favourite subject to photograph.
The first thing Carroll tells us to do before reading this book is close the book and ask yourself who am I and why do I want to take photographs of people. I think what he is trying to do here is telling us as a reader that no one is born ready to do something and until you know what your purpose is then you are not ready. In my opinion the question he asks when rephrased would work for any subject so think about what job you want to do and ask yourself that very same question who am I and why do I want to do the job or hobby I want to do and until you know then you are not ready.
The Answer is also personal because everyone will have a different answer to the question and the way I’m looking at it on a deeper level is that not everyone will be asking himself or herself the same question. My Answer is to the exact question Carroll poses who am I and why do I want to take photographs of people. My name is Lucy and I am a media graduate with a passion for taking photographs. Yes I love taking photographs but why people in particular, you ask? I love the way that you can tell a lot about a person by the way that they express themselves and I want to capture that in my photography. Photographing people for me tells a story and every person has a different story to tell and I want to convey that message in the photographs that I take.
Carroll states that when you are composing a shot of a human subject you need to trust your instincts and think about whom you are photographing. What is their mood? What is your mood? Where is the shoot taking place and what’s going on around you?
In photographing people the rule of thirds is the most important aspect of composition because placing your subject in the centre of the frame or in the far right third of the frame creates an essentially perfect composition.
Carroll depicts that linking layers is a brilliant idea as you keep one eye on the subject and the other on the background. In my eyes this means that you need to let the background compliment the subject and not the other way round.
Think about who you are shooting and where and play around with different camera angles to change the perception of a subject.
My favourite idea Carroll has is that nothing impacts your composition more than your choice of lens. I have three lenses now and for my first studio shoot since university I only had the lens that the camera came with (18-55mm) so this was restrictive as you could see too much of the background which was distracting. Now I use a Nikkor Telephoto Zoom lens (70-200mm), which is a lot better for portraits, and you can see more of the subject. A couple of months ago I bought a brand new Petzval (85mm) Lomography art lens, which so far I have only had the opportunity to test once. This lens is made for portraits but on a recent shoot to Crosby I used this lens to get a different perspective of Anthony Gormley’s Another Place because I had already shot it a year before. The Petzval lens comes with fixed aperture plates that allow me to change the aperture according to the setting. It is also manual focus, which means the lens pushes me to find my own clarity to the extent that I want it to be. The best thing about this lens is that it allows me to obtain different shaped apertures where the light hits the out of focus areas of an image or reflects off a subject.
Breaking the Rules
It is important in photography to create your own rulebook by thinking outside the box or recreating interesting images. In life I always go with my instincts and I feel that these rarely fail me. Carroll illustrates that the same rules apply with photography: “Shoot what your comfortable with, step outside of the comfort zone but don’t shoot anything that makes you feel uncomfortable to be shooting.” In my opinion if you abide by this then you will develop your own style and others will be able to know your images by sight.
The subject has to blend into the environment and you can also use a plain backdrop to isolate your subject so nothing distracts you from them. When taking an image of a person always be on the lookout for juxtaposition because in photography opposites attract. You can reveal a lot about a subject by the traces they leave behind. So don’t always photograph a person photograph things that belong to them in order to obtain a different dimension to their story.
One of the hardest things that you aim to do when photographing people, is to achieve a natural look because in order to do that you have to appear unobtrusive. This statement is one of the most accurate descriptions of my beliefs about photographing people that Carroll expresses: “ A smile is a mask that a person wears, you can see a lot more by breaking your subject out of their shell to see another side of them.” This means a lot to me because only when your subject gets comfortable with you do you start to notice what they are trying to tell you through their body language and their attire.
There are many different techniques you can use in order to photograph a subject. You can make them feel a little bit uncomfortable for a different dynamic to a shot or you can give them something playful in order to expose their subconscious.
Nobody is perfect so looking for flaws in a subject is what makes them unique and interesting. But always remember the only subject you have complete control over is yourself. This last statement has stuck with me and I am planning an exciting new self portraiture project that so far until I complete it, only one person other than me knows what I’m planning which makes it all the more intriguing.
Black and white or colour
I tend to shoot in colour and when I envision the shot as black and white I use a Silver Efex Pro filter taken from the Google Nik collection on my photoshop and typically choose the high structure black and white effect as it is usually images where I want to add depth to the background that I add these too.
To conclude in referring back to Carroll’s original question who are you and why do you want to take photographs of people? This post is my answer so yes I love taking photographs but why people in particular, you ask? I love the way that you can tell a lot about a person by the way that they express themselves and I want to capture that in my photography. Photographing people for me tells a story and every person has a different story to tell and I want to convey that message in the photographs that I take.