Photos of landscapes, or stationary objects can become boring. Many photographers go beyond, looking for a vibrant subject of flesh and blood. The easiest way is to do this in the city, but pointing a camera lens on just about anyone for the first time can be scary for both the photographer, and subject. It requires confidence, and courage. Visiting public events is a good starting point to build experience, and confidence.
A big crowd with a lot of photographers in the audience
During public events such as festivals, presentations, public performances, cultural events, etc., there are many people, with their cameras ready. Special events like these draw crowds, and they bring their cameras with them. So keep this in mind, consciously or unconsciously, when you start taking pictures. Many people gear up, while some, are just content being spectators, who don’t bother to record the event.
When you start shooting photos of people who are caught up in their own little world, you can either continue taking photos, or when they see you, and express their displeasure, it is better to move on, and look for another subject.
However, there’s a bigger chance that the participants of these kinds of events, like to be photographed. Some may be budding, or maybe even celebrities, in their own right. Mainly because they are used to having a camera on them. Somehow, you will need the media attention, or be proud of your work, or at least agree to publicity shots, when you want to participate in an event like this. All these reasons make them easier to photograph. Some will even take the time to pose for you, or let you take several shots like if they were attending a red carpet event. This is one of the ways to build trust in photographing other people.
Most of the time, people will pose for you when they see your ‘professional-‘looking camera (using big lenses usually send people the message that you really mean business).
Every weekend, I try to find an event where I can spend half of the day. I often look at the events calendar first, before I search for subjects for my next photo session. Public events are something you can plan in going, months or even weeks ahead. If you arrive early, you can take more pictures, and set up your equipment, ahead of time. The crowd in one-time events can be big, so you might not be able to get close to the stage.
For first-timers, you might want to go to lesser known events, so there will be less crowd, and you’ll have a greater chance of being near the action. The months of May, and June are often filled with lots of great events.
During the first day of Dordt in Stoom, (literally Dordt in Steam, a festival featuring steam trains, or steam boats in action ) in 2008 , the weather was rainy, yet we still went. Thanks to the soft light caused by the cloudy sky, we got great results. On days like these, with the use of a higher ISO value, and wider aperture, black, and white photos turn out just fine. I always bring a plastic bag with me where I can set down my camera and lens. During a drizzle, or when it rains, using a lens hood helps prevent raindrops from getting the lens wet.
I always try to arrive early, with lots of spare time before the event starts. Many get to the event at the eleventh hour, by that time, you’ll be in a hurry and pressured because you don’t have enough time to set up your equipment properly. If the event starts at 12 PM, then you arrive around 10 AM, you will have a full 1-2 hours before the real hustle, and bustle begin. This could mean the difference whether you ‘ll get the picture you were looking for, or not. The sunlight is also less intense at 10 AM , than in the middle of the day.
At events, I always try to make sure that I don’t stand in the way of people who want to take pictures themselves. I also avoid ruining their shot by becoming a ‘photo-bomber.’ (Being in another person’s’ s photo, intentionally or not. )
If I want to take a photo, most people are polite enough to make room for me, (it helps that I’m quite big), but sometimes, I have to ask them so they’ll move, and give me enough room to take photos. Many people complain that their picture is constantly being ruined by others who just walk by.
But, I see this as a challenge. Many ‘normal’ people are not aware that we are working with all kinds of artistic inspirations. The challenge is to get them to participate, in order to get a good picture of them.
When people see that I turn my camera on them for a moment, some of them welcome the attention, and usually give me a pretty smile. I ask permission to take their picture, and when they agree, I often take multiple shots to make sure I get a nice photo. I try to work quickly so they can move on, thank them with a smile, or give them a thumbs up sign to tell them I’m done. Sometimes I also chat with them after, or let them see the result on the camera. It’s also a good idea to tell them about my blog, if they want to see where I post my photos.
At events like these , you need to be always quick, and ready to take the shot. It’s busy, and events happen quickly, so you must ensure that you won’t miss a good shot. That is why on my camera, I set the mode to aperture priority (AV mode on Canon, (A) in the case of Nikon). This means that I can choose a specific aperture in advance, and that the camera will use the correct shutter speed . In aperture preferences, I combine it with the spot metering mode, so the camera has the correct shutter speed, when looking at the focal point. As a result, I can completely focus on working on the composition.
Depending on the focal length of the lens, I often choose standard for f/4-f/5.6 aperture setting. This setting ensures that the largest part of the face is in focus, but is still limited in such a way that the background is out of focus . This will ensure that there is a separation between the foreground, and background. This will draw the viewer’s attention to the subject in the foreground , instead of the people in the background (As long as those in the background have clothing that isn’t brightly colored.)
Furthermore, I set the camera in such a way that it takes several photos in quick succession, so I can take as many shots as possible, taking advantage before the subject moves, or before someone blocks the view. It might mean the difference between whether, or not, that hand of the bystander, gets in the way of your picture.
When seeing a face, the human eye is trained to look straight into the eyes of the other person. The eyes tell a lot about someone’s state of mind, and in evolution, we are taught to either deem someone as a threat or not, or gauge another’s emotions, to distinguish how to properly respond to someone. It is absolutely critical that when taking pictures, the eyes should be in sharp focus on the images you capture.
Choose a focal point that is aimed at your subject’s eyes. Since we often create compositions with the rule of thirds in mind, the person is often, not in the middle of the photo. The middle focal point then sometimes prevents the eyes from being sharp. Therefore, choose to focus at a point closest to the eyes. Sometimes it might take a long time to achieve, especially on cameras that do not have a quick select setting.
For cases like these, choose, then adjust the center focal point on the eyes, keep the shutter-button half pressed, and adjust the composition. Keep in mind to keep these settings on standby, like AI Servo or AI Focus. These steps will help your camera track your subject.
On public events, it is a must to use a fast zoom lens, one that can do both wide-angle, and telephoto range. This lenses are flexible to quickly compose an image on the basis of available space. After all, you usually have little room to move around in. Most pictures I take between 85-135 mm (on full-frame, 50-100 mm on a crop-camera), are portrait modes, where you can achieve the most natural result.
But don’t forget the wide-angle lens, since this allows showing the subject in their environment, and gives you more of the atmosphere of the event. A wide -angle lens, also forces you to get closer shots of the subject, making the viewer feel more involved in the scene.
Puppet theatre festival
A wide angle lens lets you see more of the scene.
However, I often choose to use a lens with a fixed focal length. It is more challenging to use, but I find the final result often sharper. It’s also a good way to get used to a lens, in the end, you’ll be able predict where you need to go, and what the result is going to be, even before your lens gets the right focus. The Canon 50 mm f/1.4, Canon 85 mm f/1.8 and the Canon 135 mm f/2.0 L are my favorite lenses for events like these.
During events, there are many bright colors, advertising messages, or clothing from onlookers, that may cause distractions. During post processing, it’s fairly common for me to use black, and white on my pictures. To take a stunning black and white photo, make sure to focus on an interesting subject. In addition, black and white portraits, in some ways, are more natural. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are used to black and white portraits, from a historical perspective.
Furthermore, there is often also a healthy dose of cropping. More often than not, you have work in less than ideal surroundings. Sometimes, there is someone with a red coat in your picture that ruins the shot, while trying to focus on another subject. Yet the picture can still be salvaged in post processing. Sometimes, I turn it into a vertical composition, a horizontal composition, or vice versa, just to crop out the elements that I don’t want. Most cameras have more than enough megapixels to still yield a sharp image, even after cropping or post processing.
If people are open to the idea of being photographed, if the pictures are tasteful, if they do not denigrate the person, if the event organizers pose no restrictions on photography, then there’s no problem in taking a photo of people, during the event. If they have any question as to how their photos will be used, I obligingly answer them. It is good practice to get in touch with them after the photo shoot. I’ve had several instances when people have followed my blog, even contacted me to ask for more photos, or request for copies via email, or ask if I took any close-up shots of them.
However, if the photos will be used for commercial purposes, someone can invoke his images copyright. The person can also decline, for privacy reasons. If you know ahead of time that you are going to use an image commercially, if the person agrees, quickly write the terms down on paper, then have him sign it, expressing his permission to let you use his image. This is to protect you from legal disputes, if any will arise, later on.
What I like most about shooting at public events, (and also on the street) is capturing unexpectedly beautiful images of people. Searching for possible subjects, hoping they’ll respond positively, and trying to take stunning photos, as quickly as you can, in crowded areas, always give me an adrenaline rush. It’s so much different from taking shots of landscapes, and just hoping weather conditions will allow you to take good pictures of a beautiful location. Finding people who are very responsive to photographers at these events are extremely rare. But once you find them, the challenge is to take distinctive pictures, so the results you’ll show them will be worth their while. In short, this year, you have to get up from your lazy Sunday -chair, go out, and go around town with your camera!