Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gotta have that gift of the gab

I love taking personality portraits that go beyond photographing a face that shows some interesting aspect of the subject’s character or personality.

My wife, Amy, has mentioned throughout the years that I can be embarrassing when out in public taking pictures. “How can you walk up to a perfect stranger, talk to them like you’ve known them for years and then get a picture?”

I don’t know, maybe I’m one of those photographers who have a special knack for setting my subjects at ease and a gift of the gab. But, mostly, it takes, experience, being very perceptive and extremely stubborn. When I want to make a picture of an interesting person, I don’t care how long it might take. Once, while trying to take a portrait of a carnival worker, he asked why I wanted to take a picture of him? “You have an interesting face”, I replied. Still, he refused, so I hung around talking, asking him about the life of a carnie, some of the towns he’s visited and how long he’s been a ride operator. Soon, kids started lining up to ride, as he started taking tickets, he asked, “You’re not gonna leave here until you take my picture are you? I smiled, and said, “I’ve got all day” and like I said, “you have an interesting face.”

“What the hell, take my picture!”, he snapped back, stuck the cigar in his mouth and glared at me.

My favorite technique is moving in with my 70-200mm lens for a close-up to ensure a strong center of interest and simple composition. One of the things I try to do is capture the subject’s character and emotional appeal.

In order to produce a good personality portrait, especially when dealing with those subjects who don’t want their pictures taken, a photographer must be part psychologist and part interviewer. To me, this shows the subject that you are interested in them, not as just a subject, but a human. Sooner or later, if they are busy, they’ll give in and allow a photo to be made. Besides, having that gift of the gab, doesn’t hurt at all either. Being a photojournalist, it’s our job to return with a
grabber shot…the one that tells the story or captures the character of someone.