Get Close & Explore a Subject

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”
– Robert Capa

This year I have been teaching Intro to Photojournalism. This is the first photography course for many of the students.

For many in the class this is their first time taking pictures for an assignment. For most the photos look a lot like this photo here.

Fireman [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/120]
Now when you and I look at the photo we see primarily a BBQ Grill. They see the fireman.

I comment on their photo that they need to get closer. So the next round of photos looks more like this photo.

Fireman [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/105]
While this is a much improved photo, my comments are still “Get Closer.”

Then we end up with this photo.

Fireman [X-E3, XF55-200mm ƒ/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/3.5, 1/110]
They have now switched to their telephoto lens. They are still not close enough. Again I am saying in my comments to get closer.

Fireman [X-E3, XF55-200mm ƒ/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 500, ƒ/4.8, 1/100]
So instead of shooting with their zoom telephoto lens at 55mm they zoomed in to 200mm.

I talk to them about getting closer with their wide-angle lenses.

This is what I show them and talk more to them about.

Fireman [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/80]
I want them to understand getting close means that they move their feet until they are right next to the subject. The distance you would have a conversation with them over a cup of coffee.

Why am I afraid of talking to people while at the same time I wish to talk to someone?

For the introvert you are being held back because you are worried about being judged, or you don’t know what to say or … well, for any reason really. Here is an insight that you need to know. You will discover, without realizing, people you talk to are worrying about exactly the same things you are, and feel just as afraid, they just might not show it. You are not alone.

I’m introverted at heart, but that doesn’t mean I have to be shy. The two are quite different, and realizing that shyness is a habit that can be broken was a big first step in understanding that I can develop social skills.

Realize it isn’t all about you. The trick I learned through the years was to focus on the other person. Make them the center of the attention.

Instead of hiding behind texting or emails, go down the hall and talk to that person face to face.

The cool thing about having a camera and on an assignment it was the ice breaker. Telling them I am on an assignment and I would love to feature them in a photo and tell their story really worked most of the time.

Fireman [X-E3, XF55-200mm ƒ/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 400, ƒ/4.8, 1/100]
What I also learned was that once I was just talking to someone and getting to know them I was now “Close Enough” to shoot with a wide angle lens and the photos were much better.

I would then take photos with those wider lenses and slowly move back to shooting with a moderate telephoto lens. For my full framed Nikon D5 that go to lens is the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 lens for a portrait.

18mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/3.2, 1/200]
Most of the students just have an 18-55mm lens on a cropped sensor camera. So here is me using the same lens as they have on similar cropped sensor. I am showing how to shoot from wide to close as you back out. The other thing I want them to do is to walk around the subject and shoot them from different angles.

28mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/3.2, 1/140]
Now this is the moving around the subject. I am looking for an interesting and captivating image.

44mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/160]
Now when shooting from the back I try my best to still show their face. Sometimes it might work without their face.

42mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/140]
Now go to the other side and see what that looks like.

39mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/3.6, 1/140]
Now zoom in and get a tighter shot.

55mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 250, ƒ/6.4, 1/60]
Move again and shoot more images.

55mm [X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 320, ƒ/6.4, 1/60]
When shooting an event I am doing this exercise over and over and over again. I want to have at least 10 to 30 images of which I will pick only one of them for the photo story package.

“Spray and Pray” is a common phrase associated with the practice of shooting rapid fire, as many images as possible, and then hoping and praying that you’ve got something good. That approach almost never works. Notice in these examples I am moving and taking a couple a frames.

There are a couple times where a motor drive can help. In those cases, such as photographing things like sports, doing panning shots, or anything with action like birds or wildlife – shooting in burst mode, and taking multiple frames at a time, will likely help you get some good images.

I have found that trying to get your first photo to be the one you want is much better than just starting to fire randomly and then picking an image later.

I personally suggest slowing down and actually taking less photos, than the “Spray and Pray” mode. I am always looking.

When you are starting out it is really better to over shoot. You need to push yourself early and as you get more aware of what will work and not work. You will find yourself walking around subject and exploring and picking moments and compositions.

Leave a Reply