Hidden faces

When I’m running workshops, most participants are keen to find out what the best way is to shoot strangers on the street. That is to say, without being noticed, or without being verbally or physically abused!

As Capa famously said- ‘If  the picture’s not good enough, you’re not close enough” and  it’s certainly true that if capturing people’s expressions is what you’re after, then generally speaking, you need to be in close. Shooting with a telephoto lens can make a good portrait shot, but you really need physical proximity and a sense of context to seize a moment of someone interacting within the urban environment that has sufficient meaning and photographic force.

From my own experience I know there is no magical formula, some days you feel up to the challenge and on others you find yourself bottling it. As a general rule I advise adopting an open smiley attitude, that way, your “photographic victims ” can feel less aggressed. I have also come to realise that, to quite a significant degree, I have been taking pictures over a number of years whereby I deliberately find a way of shooting people in a non-confrontational way. This means observing how people express themselves physically within the public space, but not concentrating my eye on facial expressions. I like to get in close, but at the same time I try and make a virtue out of not directly invading somebody’s sense of identity.

Take the case of the Sikh man I photographed in Trafalgar Square in the following 2 pictures.

I was immediately captivated by his unusual (for me) bright pink turban, and I followed him for a while, able to approach fairly easily as he was busy acting the tourist with his camcorder. I was fairly satisfied with the first shot at the top in terms of composition and colour, but it was only when he turned and had his back to me that the defining image revealed itself to me and that all the elements came together. I was admittedly a little under the influence of Martin Parr at the time and I guess this image, with the use of fill-in flash, best captures his kitsch style of visual humour.

This example taught me that you need to adapt to the situation in hand and that often the more interesting or original picture is not the direct shoot in someone’s face approach (though I do also love the work of Bruce Gilden), but a more subtle rendering of the scene where people blend into the decor. I have called this series Hidden Faces and demonstrates different techniques I have used to capture people at close range without revealing their full identity.


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