As a photographer I find myself, oddly enough, taking lots of pictures. Whether it’s of food, people, or events there always seems to be a camera in my hand. I float from here to there snapping one shot after another in search of the best composition. Never staying long enough to do more then just skim across the surface. By the time I’ve gotten what I came for the lights have gone dark and everyone has gone home, leaving me to stand there by myself.
It’s something that I began to pick up on as I traveled through Southeast Asia and I thought the lesson had been learned. I know somewhere back in those archives there is a post which talked about remembering to participate in a scene, not just capture it. Sometimes instead of taking the shot, to just put the camera down and mingle, so to speak (trees aren’t very good conversationalists).
I spend a lot of time looking at other photographers work. Studying it, figuring out how it was done, trying to replicate the things I like. What I have seen is that the pictures I most connect with are the ones where the photographer dove in and broke the stiff meniscus that surrounded their subjects.
That layer of resistance might be ignorance of something. For example when shooting events in a foreign country, if you don’t understand what is going on and how it came about how can you truly get the shots that represent what’s happening? Not knowing or understanding the motivations leaves you blind.
The same goes for portraits, knowing who they are and what they want can make the difference between an okay picture and a true image.
That layer of resistance might be social. The fact that they don’t know you might keep them from truly being themselves.
The important thing is to step from behind the camera and connect. Separating yourself from everyone and trying to be just an observer attempting to document what’s going on isn’t enough. It’s something that I have to remember to do every time I head to a shoot. Whether it’s food (great idea to talk the wait staff or if possible the chef/cook), portraits (simple get to know you banter), or events (press the flesh, kiss babies, smile) sometimes the lens cap needs to go on.
Pictures taken at the Art of Mixology, an event that was held at Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 7, 2011, for Alcoholmanac magazine.