Africa Geographic Travel

On photographing people

I was recently given a wonderful compliment by a fellow travel writer and photographer: that I had a knack for photographing people. I responded by saying that I found one of the best ways to put people at ease in front the camera was to turn the tables: hand them the camera and let them photograph me. She said it had the makings of a blog, so here goes:

Not only does this make people feel more involved but handing the camera to a kid in particular reminds me that the purest images are taken by people who haven’t learnt HOW to take photographs. I believe this is fundamentally important. We get so wrapped up in the technical and theoretical side of photography – correct exposure, the rule of thirds and so on – that we lose the sense of time and place. While we are trying to take a photo according to our ideal, a kid will raise a camera for the first time, look through the eye piece and click the shutter when they believe what they see is right. I will usually check the exposure, check the composition, assess the balance of light and shade, gauge the expression of the subject and then click the shutter. Who do you think will capture the purity of the moment?

I am often disappointed by my own photographs. I am never disappointed by a child’s photographs – not because I am a softy, but because their images are the purest. The images of mine I like the most are often moments – an expression or the way someone is behaving – that I have shot quickly and without thinking. The key seems to be that I have put myself in the moment by making myself comfortable with the surroundings, the people and visa versa.

Often a smile is enough to achieve this. With kids, it’s about behaving like one – this comes easily to me. Sometimes it’s about getting right in on the action or in someone’s face – a wide or standard lens forces you to do this (I shoot chiefly with a 50mm). Sometimes it’s about giving something – that’s when I hand over the camera. I don’t believe I’m a good photographer, I’m just happy getting involved in the moment.

Here are a few moments from a recent trip through Southern and East Africa.

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Former editor at Africa Geographic.

Africa Geographic