Capturing a personality, not a person

Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100Portrait Photography Nikon D3100
My favourite photography subject is people – I find very few other photography subjects as gratifying. I know that the full moon or the sunset won’t compare to what I can see with my eyes and feel in the moment, and wildlife kind of bores me. People are different though, people are often difficult, shy, self-aware, rigid…so when you manage to capture something of their personality, that glint in their eye, it is photographic gold.

It isn’t easy shooting people as an amateur though – I am always careful about shooting strangers and you never really have more than a few attempts to get that shot. Luckily I have my friend Mandy who tolerates me snapping away and she is incredibly photogenic too. The photos above are some of my favorites – friends and strangers. Some of them I like for the colors and composition, but I think the best ones of these tell a story too – the two children in Gabon, the guy and his dog, the old man from Alex laughing.

Often I practice self-portraits, but these are notoriously hard as you attempt to be photographer and subject….and since you can’t see what you’re shooting before you press the shutter, a lot of the shots are complete failures. There is also the issue of being incredibly aware of yourself, conscious of posing, which i find is not great for a photo unless you are a model. But even then it is manufactured, thought out, not spontaneous. The two below are the more successful ones.
self-portrait bird tattooself-portrait by candlelight

10 thoughts on “Capturing a personality, not a person”

  1. “I am always careful about shooting strangers and you never really have more than a few attempts to get that shot” – True, especially when it comes to adults. It’s easier to take photos of kids (without their parents around :).) because they would naturally just pose and smile. I love to be at events because I can blend in and take photos of people.

    1. You are so right – events like daytime parties and horseracing etc are great because people want to be photographed – or at leaste xpect photographers around – so permission usually isn’t an issue.

  2. I love photos of people, but it feels so difficult – do you always ask first? but then you lose the unposed moment. can children really consent to be photographed? I find it all so hard, but photos of people are the best. but I recently got yelled at for taking a photo without asking the person first. I think in the US if you are in public then a photo can be taken without asking, but might not be true in other countries. do you always ask?

    1. Hi Debbie – I completely agree with you and the whole issue of consent is something I have discussed in one of my early posts – a constant ethical dilema for a photographer. I think ideally you can get people’s permission and then hang around long enough for them to relax again…that’s what happened in a couple of these – like the guy and the dog and the baby. In other cases I ask for permission and then give the person a bit of direction, I take a few snaps and eventually ask them not to look at the camera. This usually makes them laugh shyly (like the old man). If I remember journalism training correctly, here in SA in big open pubic spaces you don’t need to have permission per se – BUT if you wan’t to do a close up, or if someone notices you photographing them, then it becomes tricky.

  3. Love these photos! I’ve experimented with this before but I find it hard with friends as it sometimes looks a bit too posed and there’s something magical about capturing moments in the lives of people you don’t know…but on that score I always feel at odds when it comes to asking for permission. Anyways, great collection here!

    1. Hi Erin, thank you for the feedback. I find with permissions it is best to ask and then spend some time with the person as they do their thing, until they relax and are less aware if you. Then you can get great pics, but of course you need to have the time.

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