Category Archives: Part 2 – People unaware

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.


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.



Research – People & Place

Part 2 of this module highlights the importance of speed, positioning and framing when photographing people both aware and unaware. The need to be inconspicuous when photographing people unaware means that often photographers switch to auto mode and auto focus to allow for minimal complications and heightened efficiency/speed when shooting the perfect moment.

This reminded me of when I spent half a day outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington waiting for the arrival of Princess Charlotte. I was amongst a huge group of paparazzo all waiting for that perfect shot. The most valuable advice they gave me was to shoot in auto and not fiddle around with camera settings, or you risk missing that ‘perfect’ moment that you may have been waiting hours/days for. They also advised shooting the ‘exact’ moment in continuous mode, or at rapid speed as to make sure you’ve captured a good few seconds of your subject. One shot, and you could end up with closed eyes, or unwanted facial expressions.

I was amazed that the paparazzi and often photo journalists resort to auto mode, but it makes so much sense. What they concentrate on more is their positioning, angles, framing and focal range, while saving time on manually programming camera settings.

I often thought that to be a successful photographer you had to always shoot in manual mode, and never rely on auto mode. But knowing your settings is just a part of being a photographer, the other factors that set you apart from the rest is your creative eye, art of framing, capturing expressions and photographing the perfect moment while standing out from your fellow photographers.