For many years I believed that I wasn’t good at shooting people (photographically speaking). I was never happy with the results when I took photos of people and so I concentrated even more on landscapes. With landscapes, it’s all about composition and lighting. Except for rare exceptions, like those fleeting moments around sunrise and sunset, you can take your time and get the perfect shot. People move and they frequently change expression. Plus I have found that most adults don’t really like to be photographed, making them even more troublesome. Landscapes just are – you can zoom with your lens or with your feet to change your relative perspective, but you don’t have to worry about the mountains shifting around or making a fake smile for the camera. Kids are a little less problematic, mostly because they get bored quickly and start ignoring you, which automatically makes them easier to photograph.
I first started to realize that I might not be such a terrible people photographer when I switched from a manual to an auto-focus camera. It seems incredibly stupid in retrospect, but I just wasn’t that fast at focusing and so I never really got the shot I wanted. (refer back to the comment about movement and expression) Most of my early “serious” work with people was centered around racing. Pit crews and drivers are pretty focused on their work and they are used to photographers constantly buzzing around, so they completely ignore you. I have some pretty decent images from the late 1990’s, which I’m sure I’ll get around to scanning in someday so I can share them. But don’t hold your breath, it’s pretty low on my list and you know what happens to low priority requirements.
My second revelation in regards to photographing people came when I switched to digital. When I would shoot a 36 exposure roll of film, I would be pretty happy if 2 or 3 of the images were really good. I threw away about 70% of the prints that came back as being unworthy to keep even for my own amusement. I only showed about 10% of what I shot. With digital I can get nearly 300 images on one flash card using my 20 megapixel camera. So it’s a numbers game. If I can get 10-20 really great photos out of that 300 I’m happy. It costs nothing to discard the others. Or consign them to purgatory on my computer, which is more often the case. Photo snobs will argue “real” photographers don’t shoot 1000’s of images, hoping for a few good ones. Screw ’em. Digital has freed me to be more experimental and try a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have when every photo had a cost associated with it. As a result, I’ve become a better photographer. Even with people.
This photo was taken in 2005 out of the window of a van while stopped for traffic in Beijing. I would never have tried something like this using film. I had enough time while the van was motionless to take this one shot.