The people and places we see everyday can often make us feel like there is nothing there to be inspired by. We see our homes, streets and attractions everyday and therefore it can be taxing to see them from a fresh perspective and to decide that they are worth photographing. That they could make even remotely interesting subjects to someone who is already familiar with the area.
I found this to be my biggest gripe with photography when I was starting out. I would wait all week for the chance to be able to walk and shoot without time constraints or interruptions. But by the time the weekend had arrived and I failed to formulate any plans for a shoot, it could often disipate into wandering aimlessly and being uninspired by what was around me. For the simple fact that these were scenes I saw everyday and no longer felt were that interesting to look at, never mind photographing.
So while having one of these very days I took my first street portrait of a local street vendor and seeing the quality of the expression and the fact that it was an off the cuff street portrait, I knew I was onto something. The buildings in Galway city might not immediately inspire, but the people do. There are so many characters in Ireland in general that you just need to think outside of the box to who might look good in a photo.
This was taken on one of my first days hanging around Shop St. looking for unsuspecting passers by. I saw him at a distance and I forgot why but I walked right out in front of his path knowing that he was worth photographing. His face, for what is probably his muted expression, has a lot to tell. And to rear sling his bag like that was very unique, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Dunnes Stores Bag For Life thrown over someones should in that way.
Next up was a scruffy dog tied to a post just off Grafton Street in Dublin. I took a tonne of photos that day, some came out pretty well but I wasn’t watching my histogram and the sun was blowing out colours and whites in nearly all my other shots. The light in this road was perfect and complimented the shadows of his fur pretty well. He looked really scared and wouldn’t stop moving around, although very obedient as he wasn’t barking at all even though it was clear he didn’t enjoy being tied up and left outside for what was probably long periods of time. His owner was in the shop behind me and the only addition he made to the photo was to yell “Kill! Kill!” like I was a tourist and not deserving of snapping his dog. I quickly turned around and yelled something back to him in my thickest northside accent to show him I wasn’t a tourist and not likely to let him be a smart ass. Wearing sunglasses indoors in a dimly lit sidestreet said enough about his personality for me to consider stealing the mutt from him, but his face dropped and he recoiled a bit realizing he might have made a mistake so I pet the pup once more before heading off.
I think it’s important to realize that while the streets and houses around you might stay the same, the people that are around them change every few minutes. I can relate better to any picture or painting of another person or animal than I can a building or another bloody flower, and I think many people feel the same way. We see a bit ourselves in everyone around us. Whether it’s simply recognizing a similar habit someone has, a piece of clothing, a haircut or a visible situation someone is in, there’s something there worth shooting.
My best advice is to stay low key. If you have a large camera and your preferred lens is a little on the phallic side, think about how your going to track your subjects. Let them walk into your frame. Spot your potential target from a distance and stand holding frame before they enter. This way you wont look like your raising your camera to target them as an individual, and more like you were trying to shoot whats behind them when they happened to wander into your line of sight. Also set your auto focus point to one of your outside points so that the subject can feel like the camera is not pointing at them even though your auto focus is no longer centred. Picking the far left or far right will add more creative framing to your image and will also no give away that are in fact the subject. More on this when I get down to equipment presets and photo-journalistic style shooting.
It’s commonly said that you should photograph what you know. We’re all human so why not give people and pets a go. But remember that the subject is sometimes only as interesting as their surroundings so use the street and the ambient light it provides to capture people where we recognize them the most.