Getting Over The Fear
I mentioned, in my previous posts, that most photographers are ‘fraidy cats. To put it more accurately, we are introverted. It isn’t an essential mark of the breed – you don’t have to be chronically shy in order to be a good snapper – but it is something I have seen in most of my friends and colleagues. I suppose it has something to do with the artistic temperament. Taking pictures of people means overcoming that shyness. You can try practising on your pets and even willing family and friends, but you will eventually have to get used to the idea of sticking your lens in the faces of total strangers. For me, events photography was the key. Read on to discover my event photography tips.
Event Photography Tips – Make It Your Job
I have to admit, I did have an unfair advantage when it came to getting over the shyness – I had no choice. I was the photographer for a magazine in Pattaya for a couple of years (and the editor, writer, page designer and pretty much everything else, but that’s a different story), and had to cover a lot of parties, knowing that I had no alternative but to succeed. I had to learn a lot very quickly, or else the whole evening would be wasted and there would be a blank space in the magazine. I can’t pretend that I did a perfect job first time but, by the third event, I had it figured out.
How does this apply to you? You could start your own magazine, but that’s a lot of effort to go to just to improve your photography skills. Instead, maybe offer to cover the event for one of the existing mags. Big Chilli, BK Magazine and Bangkok 101 are all good general features publications with photo sections and would certainly not mind getting some free photos (you could try charging for your services, but you might not find them willing to pay an amateur). If you happen to know the event organiser, offer to photograph the event for them to show the pictures on Facebook. If all else fails, just announce that you plan to take pictures, so you at least have a little pressure of expectation from your friends. It is a bit of a ‘sink-or-swim’ method, but it is the most effective.
Event Photography Tips – Hide Behind Your Camera
I got a lot of my photography training from my sister, who has been a professional snapper for about 20 years now. She said that she treats the camera as a sort of a barrier between her and the subject, like a mask to hide behind. The subject isn’t seeing you taking their picture; they see “a photographer”. It doesn’t take long for this sort of barrier to work both ways.
Once you’ve got the “I’m a photographer” mentality ingrained in your mind, you will find yourself feeling like you’re not really seeing events that you go to. The framing of the world through a viewfinder makes me feel like I am just watching it on TV. I become so focused on looking for the nice scenes and best angles that I fail to stop and smell the roses! Apply this to taking pictures of people and the nerves soon disappear.
Event Photography Tips – The Hunt
You now have the drive and mental barriers to start pointing your camera at strangers – it’s time to get to work. The Movers & Shakers parties, which used to be a monthly feature in Bangkok with a quarterly gala in Pattaya, are great for practising at, and I would strongly recommend them. Not only does the free-flow wine and beer help make the subject more amenable and fill you with a little Dutch courage, but there are usually dozens of other snappers there from the local media, so guests are already used to having their picture taken. Say hello from me, if you get talking to any of them.If you watch me or any other events photogs working a crowd, you’ll see us prowling around like predators, looking for prey – in our case, the people who look like they are open to having their picture taken. In Thailand, this is actually really easy. The vast majority of Thai people love having their picture taken (especially the ladies) and will quite happily line up and pose for you at the slightest indication. Middle-aged farang men, particularly in small groups having earnest conversations, are the polar opposites and, while they may reluctantly stop talking long enough for you to take one quick picture, you can always see the resentment in their eyes. Larger, more boisterous groups are usually safe bets, as are people taking pictures of each other with small cameras and phones.
Event Photography Tips – The Approach
This is the bit that it is theoretically easy, but practically challenging. You’ve found your prey and it is time to go in for the kill. The approach that I have found most effective is to catch the eye of one of the group, smile and flourish my camera in one hand (in this case, size does matter and a larger camera will get you more willing subjects) and gesture at the person or group with the other. I may chunter something along the lines of “do you mind if I take your picture”, but the background noise is usually so loud that they can probably barely hear me. Only proceed if the are willing. If they’re not, thank them and move on. Use the usual rules to frame the shot, take one or two, check them on your screen and, if you’re happy, thank them and give little nod/mini-bow. Being ingratiating is part of the deal. Many will ask if they can check the picture and you should definitely oblige them. A few will ask you to delete them and, again, do so. I had a situation in a nightclub in Phuket where a couple of Russian women effectively monopolised me, asking me to take picture after picture of them. Draw a line, once it starts getting silly, and explain that you have to take some other shots.
What I do is make a circuit of the room, pick out the easy prey first, then go back to a table with my friends and have a bit of a drink and a chat. Once the conversation is getting stilted, I’ll do another circuit, aiming for different prey. If your earlier prey is in a new group or is a little more drunk, don’t be afraid to go back to them, particularly if they were very willing the first time.
Photography is a fantastic ice-breaker and a good way to spark a conversation, making it as much a cure for introversion as shyness is a barrier to photography. Implement these event photography tips and watch yourself evolve. It is an excuse to talk to someone, even if that conversation starts out as just “do you mind if I take a picture?”. Once they’ve asked to preview the shot, you’ve taken a few more until their satisfied, maybe they’ve asked you where you plan to publish it or if you’d mind emailing it to them…it doesn’t take that much extra nerve to turn it into a full-blown conversation. Most of the friends I made in Pattaya were made through events photography.