I’m a generalist. I shoot many different types of photography from scenic to journalism, from still life to portraiture and more. My favorite, and the style in which I shoot the bulk of my imagery, is candid people photography. To be successful in this style requires quick reflexes, fast equipment and an intuitive sense of the situation at hand.
The equipment I carry into the field while shooting people is chosen for speed. In this sense I do not necessarily mean a fast aperture often referred to when using the term “speed” in photography. Although a wide aperture is important, what I mean is blazing fast focus acquisition, and a burst rate that would make a machine gun blush. This means that my equipment is hard on the pocket book. I use the best journalism and sports camera body made. A Nikon D3s. Of course that is just my opinion, but it is an opinion shared by a majority of sports and press shooters. The D3s has instant on, super fast focus acquisition and 9 frames per second. Couple that with a fast focusing sharp lens and you have the tools needed to stand on the sideline at the super bowl, or a fresh food market in Thailand.
Quick reflexes takes nothing more than practice. You can practice on anything, and I frequently do. Raise the camera aim and fire. Fire from the hip when you need to. (When I was learning to shoot from the hip I practiced in a mirror). With time you will begin to not only get the subject you are after, but will also learn to frame the subject and add good composition in a the wink of an eye.
The hardest part of this style is intuition. Intuition comes from observation. Photography is capturing moments. Tiny slices of time. Knowing when a smile is about to blossom, or a tear is about to fall is paramount to capturing the moment to capturing the essence, the emotion.
I have seen colleagues meticulously focusing and composing a street shot. They take so much time they have become part of the photograph. The person invariably notices the photographer and adopts that “my photo is about to be taken” look. Yeah, the death of candid photography is that look. No longer candid the image is is of a silly smile or of shock and hands coming up to cover the face. Not the stuff of great images.
The inset image above is a great example of the moment. I was sitting on my porch in Ubud Bali enjoying some morning Balinese coffee. My camera by my side. I noticed the children of the innkeeper were sneaking around in the bushes, curious about this white haired fair skinned tourist staying in the cottage. Without letting them know I was aware of them I glanced at my camera. The settings were correct to make
an image in that light. My hand resting on the camera, I looked in the direction of the children. Having been “caught” the little girl Bella raised her hand to wave at me. In that instant I raised the camera and fired. The moment after I fired Bella’s hands came up and covered her face as she began giggling. The second image of a boy and bucket of water was pure instinct. I was in a cremation procession in Bali. The day was hot, I mean frying eggs on your forehead hot. Several times during the procession as we passed by streams people in the villages would toss water on the casket bearers to keep them cool. I was looking ahead of the procession when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye almost behind me. Turning with my camera raised I fired. A second later it was over and the boy disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. Not always, but sometimes it is all about reflexes, intuition and equipment. When its all said and done still photography is the isolation of a single moment … tiny slices of time.