Category Archives: Part 2 – People unaware

Exercise: Standard focal length

My favourite lens for portrait/people photography is my  50mm Nikon prime lens. This lens has been said to be a crucial part of a photographers kit, especially when it comes to portrait photography. The lens produces some of the sharpest images out of all my lenses.

Advantages of using a prime lens:

  • The main advantage for me is the image quality.
  • The lens is extremely light as it’s small. A great advantage if you’re shooting for hours and changing location. Heavy equipment can sometimes be a disadvantage after several hours.
  • The speed of this lens is significantly faster than others.

Disadvantages of using a prime lens:

In all honesty I didn’t find any major disadvantages from a technical point of view other than you have to move more and approach the subject as you cannot zoom. This can cause some discomfort for both the photographer and the subject.

The other disadvantages are:

Cost (it was one of the most expensive lenses i’ve purchased to date) and it means purchasing multiple prime lenses to cover several focal lengths.

With the fixed focal length it can mean you change lenses more frequently when on a shoot.





Exercise: Close & Involved

As a general rule I would not immediately consider a wide angle lens for people photography, unless it were street photography and I was trying to fit as much of the background in as possible. It’s a must have lens for landscape photography as you can fit so much more in.

It is important to be aware of the distortion caused by using a wide lens, and this distortion is predominantly apparent in the corners and sides of the frame. So with that in mind I would imagine it is best to put the subject fairly central in the frame, and also fairly close to the camera.

I’m very aware of not placing body parts such as arms, shoulders, chin, nose etc closer to the camera than other parts as this can cause distortion. Usually portrait photography is a flattering form of photography, so this is something that should be avoided.

However this technique can be used to create a dramatic effect. For example if you were photographing a boxer you may want to position him/her with their hands closer to the lens in order to make the hands/fists look larger.

Exercise: Standing back

For this exercise we are to use a telephoto lens and position ourselves far back from the action/subject, then note the advantages and disadvantages.

I actually used a telephoto lens for the previous two exercises:

Capturing the moment

Developing confidence

The benefits of using a telephoto lens:

I think the main advantage of using a telephoto lens while photographing people unaware is that it is so much less intrusive. I didn’t feel as uneasy as it can put a comfortable distance between the camera and the subject. So much so, that sometimes they are totally unaware of your presence.

Framing subjects is significantly easier with a telephoto lens, and you can avoid getting other people in the shot at times by using a tight zoom.

Something else I’m fond of is that when you’re significantly zoomed in it creates a shallow depth of field, which creates a blurry background – making the subject stand out more, and creating a pleasing aesthetic element.

The disadvantages:

People notice a big lens. While its more comfortable to step back from subjects, people are much more aware of cameras with big lenses. This can make them feel uneasy, and it can make the photographer feel as if they’ve been caught out trying to sneakily take peoples pictures.

Telephoto lenses are sometimes bulky and heavy. They require more effort when carrying around for a significant amount of time.

Telephoto lenses are often harder to hold still when zoomed in which can produce blurred shots. A way around this would be to use a tripod, but for street photography this would not seem like a suitable option, unless you were looking for a fixed position at a location. Sports games would be a good example of this.

A side issue with the disadvantage mentioned above is that you need a faster shutter speed to eliminate the possibility of camera shake.

Lastly the photographer can sometimes feel disengaged from the subject. The distance between both parties can often be evident in the image. If I had used a smaller lens it may have captured more of the action/environment/atmosphere making it feel like the viewer was in the action, rather than observing from a distance.


Paparazzi definition on Wikipedia:

Paparazzi are independent photographers who take pictures of high-profile people, such as athletes, entertainers, politicians, and other celebrities, typically while subjects go about their usual life routines. Paparazzi tend to make a living by selling their photographs to media outlets focusing on tabloid journalism and sensationalism (such as gossip magazines).

Much like the previous post on photojournalism, the paparazzi are aiming at capturing the perfect moment, and therefore work at a quick pace, and often revert to auto modes in order to have the best shot with the best settings (fiddling with aperture and shutter speeds would most likely be time consuming and add pressure.)

One of the more frowned upon areas of photography – the paparazzi are deemed as social vultures that often invade celebrities personal space, follow their cars, and generally try to get as close to their subjects as possible with many ending up being punched or knocked to the floor.

There seems to be a huge invasion of privacy when it comes to celebrities children being photographed, which in many cases results in the celebrity lashing out, perhaps rightly so….


Wikipedia’s definition of photojournalism:

‘Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that employs images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work be both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media, and help communities connect with one other. Photojournalists must be well informed and knowledgeable about events happening right outside their door. They deliver news in a creative format that is not only informative, but also entertaining.’

Photojournalism is an area of photography that fascinates me, and one that I hope to one day have a career in. After reading the introductory sections of ‘People & Place’ I realised how applicable the information is to photojournalism. I find the ethical aspect very interesting, and that it needs to be an honest and impartial representation of a certain situation. The photographer is essentially photographing a moment in time, and that is all. I would assume for such fast paced environments they would probably have their cameras set to some form of auto or pre programmed setting so they can concentrate on their subjects and framing etc.

Here’s just a few thought provoking images when I searched for ‘examples of photojournalism photography’ – Included in these examples is possibly one of the most iconic images for The Vietnam War – a photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc (called ‘Napalm Girl’) photographed by Nick Ut.

Many of the examples are black and white – perhaps due to the date of the photograph, but also as black and white photography can have a deep thought provoking sense of drama and intrigue. That being said, there are more and more colour examples of photojournalism used today, perhaps as it is a truer representation of capturing the moment and not eliminating any details.

Exercise: Capturing the moment

Find a comfortable situation, possibly even the same location. For this exercise concentrate on bursts of activity, from which you try to capture a ‘best’ moment.

When you’ve finished shooting, review your images and pick out those that, for you, best capture a particular moment. Make notes in your learning log explaining your choice.

For this exercise I chose a Morris dance in the centre of town. It was a brief dance, lasting only a few minutes, if that. This meant that I’d have to be organised and work efficiently in taking my photos.

The setting meant I felt extremely comfortable. There were numerous people taking photographs, and the dance is a form of entertainment that welcomes photography. This meant I was very at ease. It also meant there was a crowd, so getting into an advantageous position was a little more difficult.

The brief itself can often make one think that they have to photograph some big action, for example, scoring a goal in football or something similar. I decided I wanted to capture much subtler moments, and had noticed that several of the dancers displayed their badges on different areas of their hats. I wanted to capture these badges as best I could, while the men got ready to perform their dance.

As well as the badges I wanted to at least try to incorporate the stick hitting – something synonymous with the traditional Morris Dance.

I focussed on 4 of the dancers, as trying to capture all of them was going to be too chaotic. They moved quickly and only for a short time period so minimising my subjects seemed like the right thing to do.

I set my camera to burst mode for the stick shots as to make sure I would capture the actual ‘hit’, but used regular single shot mode to capture the badges on their hats, shooting rapidly when their positioning was right.

Exercise: Developing Confidence

Choose an outdoor situation where there will be lots of people and activity, and in which you will feel confident using a camera. Take as many photographs as you comfortably can in one session. When you review the photographs afterwards, recall the comfort level you felt at the time, and consider to what extent this helped you in capturing expression and gesture.

For this exercise I chose a Christmas market where I was fairly sure i’d have a good chance of capturing people unaware without being intrusive. I wanted to fade into the background as much as possible – partly because of my lack of confidence, and partly because this section is centred around photographing people unaware. As soon as people see a camera there is a tendency to act less naturally.

The brief itself is fairly straightforward but I wanted to try to capture peoples expressions as this is something my tutor raised in the feedback for my first assignment.

When I got to my chosen location it was actually much smaller than I’d anticipated and only had food stalls (this meant more photos of people eating than actually perusing through nick-nacks, jewellery or christmas gifts.) However I thought It’d be best to make the best of the situation.


I felt quite limited in what I could achieve discreetly for this exercise. The space holding the food stalls was small and somewhat cramped, and planned out in such a way that people walked round in a circle, mainly going in the same direction. In the centre of the stall was a fountain that had been drained – meaning all foot traffic (including me) had to loop round the area.

As it was mainly food orientated I got several shots of people eating and drinking, and less of people engaging in some kind of other activity.

I used a fairly big lens for the majority of this exercise as I wanted to photograph people relatively close up but without being intrusive.

There was one stall owner who saw me taking his photo and didn’t seem to please about it – so I stopped immediately.

Confidence wise I was fairly comfortable in this situation but did feel somewhat limited in what I could produce, creatively speaking. It did become very apparent that after roughly 5-10 minutes people were aware of me and my camera (possibly because we had to loop round the venue) but this did not affect my confidence.

This exercise highlighted the limitations of smaller venues, the pro’s and cons of using a big lens (pro – You can distance yourself from your subject capturing them in a natural environment, con – foot traffic can get in the way of the shot easily and is almost impossible to prevent/predict while looking through the viewfinder of your camera) and of course, the importance of timing. Photographing facial expressions successfully (hopefully eyes open) takes patience and timing.