Candid Portraits Show Hidden Qualities
Did you ever stop to wonder about how the tabloids get those utterly fantastic photos of your favorite stars for their covers each week? "It's simple, really," says European paparazzi Jean Luc Meyer. "I go to where the beautiful people are, or where I think they will be soon, and I wait. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes for days. And when they come, I wait some more ... for just the right moment. Then, 'Snap,' and the rest is history!"
It's not usually the celebrity, alone, that sells the photos, of course. Otherwise, the tabloids would simply publish one of the thousands of studio pix that Hollywood cranks out by the truckload. The thing that makes the tabloids pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single shot of Frank Sinatra, Barbara Bush, or Marlon Brando is the person caught in the act.
"Ahh," Meyers smiles. "That is the key. Maybe I'll catch a movie star in the act of swallowing a huge fork full of spaghetti or a professional athlete playing catch with a dog. It's catching someone doing the unexpected that makes my work valuable" While Meyer's work is confined to shooting celebrities, his approach is applicable to photographer's everywhere. Although a photograph of a five-year-old boy swallowing a fork full of spaghetti might not be so valuable to a publication as a similar shot of an actress doing the same, it would certainly be no less endearing.
It's called candid photography-taking photographs of people doing something. And while it's not as simple as standing someone against a wall and firing, it's well within the scope of most amateur shooters. To take candid portraits, a photographer needs three things-a telephoto lens, fast film, and patience. The rest comes courtesy of the subject, himself. And if you're worried about invasion of privacy, don't be. As a general rule of thumb, people can be photographed anywhere they appear in public, although most professionals shy away from shooting subjects engaged in religious services or in compromising positions ... for obvious reasons.
Here are a few tips to help you bring home those once-in-a-lifetime candid shots.
- Stay back. Unless the person you're photographing is comatose, you're going to need to be 20 to 50 feet away in order to catch him unaware. From that distance, you should be able to crank off as many shots as you want without arousing suspicion. Shooting from that distance requires a good telephoto lens-preferably a telephoto zoom so that you can zero-in on the subject without sacrificing composition. Some of today's new generation of cameras feature built-in telephoto lenses, while others accept them as accessories. (Use a motor. Cameras with either built-in or accessory motor winders or drivers enable you to reel-off several shots in a row without drawing attention to your-self by having to lower the camera from your eye to cock the shutter.
- Select a fast enough film. A film with an ISO of4OO to 1000 (depending upon the amount of available light) will allow you to shoot with a shutter speed capable of stopping fast action. lust how fast the film should be depends upon the action. If you're photographing a jogger in medium light, a film of 400 150 and a shutter speed of 1/250 second should be sufficient. For shooting a bicyclist in low light, a film of 1000 ISO and a shutter speed of 1/500 second should work.
- Be devious. That's especially important when you come up against a subject who suspects he's being photographed. Pros like Meyer use tricks such a pretending to shoot something between the intended subject and the camera while actually focusing on the subject in the distance. Mike Erickson, another candid specialist, has even gone so far as to switch to a wide-angle lens and walk right up to the subject to snap the shutter.
- It may sound drastic," admits Erickson, "but it's sometimes the only way to get a candid shot. I've used it in Buddhist temples and in political caucus rooms, as well as with kids at the zoo. It's amazing what you can come up with when you're sneaky enough. And the low camera angle adds an exotic flavor to the shot."
- Choose interesting subjects. They might include members of your own family caught in the everyday act of living or perfect strangers trying to get through another day. Some examples: people nodding on the bus, walking their dogs, planting a new garden, diving off a springboard, hailing a taxicab, and even eating a huge hamburger.
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