Picking up a camera was something that changed the course of my life. In the beginning I just I was just like any other person who held a camera in their hands, I just wanted to capture a photograph of something. As time passed, I became more interested and wanted to capture better images. No great revelation here, this happens to many people who become interested in photography. I learned early on that a better camera certainly did not mean a photographer would capture better images (don’t tell the camera companies). I soon started to learn the rules of composing a photo. Learning all the simple rules such as the rule of thirds, the rule of odds, finding leading lines and so on. As they always say “you learn the rules before you are allowed to break the rules” (if I could only get through a post without a cheesy cliché) .
Still, something was missing… With each camera I would learn every single thing the camera could and could not do. All those buttons and settings that scare the novice camera user became common place to me. Somewhere along the line I learned the most important and simplest rule of all. “If you want to capture an interesting image you need to put something interesting in front of the lens”. Now, of course photography like beauty, art, music ect… is very subjective. However, one element that seems to have a common thread with all our eyes is humanity. When you put the element of humanity in front of your lens you have a great chance of capturing an interesting image. Still the image can be judged subjectively while remaining interesting.
This is what led me to capture more images of people and I did. Often time capturing photos of people who did not know I was capturing them. This drew criticism from some and praise from others. The criticism often came from those who were the subject of the photo but only if they seen the photo lol. If they never seen it, they obviously couldn’t criticize it. I understand it and I get it; I get the fact that some people are not comfortable having their photo taken without their permission. This then led me to learning how to move to a place where I could get people to be comfortable and let me capture them. I found this to be easier than it sounds, just you need to have to have a lot of confidence in what you do, be approachable and very open about what you do. Often times the biggest thing of all is making the person feel that they or what they are doing is very worthy of capturing a photo of. In my opinion it is for the most part, all about the approach you use when asking them.
This photo we are looking at today has a backstory as any photo does and this one is interesting… at least to me.
I had spent the day on a NYC River Boat tour photographing and all-day party. My wife is a Thai lady and at the time she belonged to a Thai lady’s social group. The group had chartered a boat to spend a day of fun with music, food and friends while the boat left out of New Rochelle and headed up the East River to the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier at which point it turns around and heads back. It was June 23, 2013 and it was a rather hot day. I was there as a photographer to capture the happenings of the party. However, truth be told; these kinds of events are pretty boring from a photography stand point. I would essential just take pictures of people dancing and posing on the deck with different sights as a backdrop. Everyone wanted a photo with the Statue of Liberty in the background and that was about the most interesting thing that I would have captured if I didn’t get a little proactive and start asking questions and looking for something special. At one point asked a crew member if I could photograph the captain in the wheelhouse. The captain granted me the permission, I shot about 15 photos inside the wheelhouse. While I did get some very nice images of the captain it still wasn’t what I was looking for.
After we returned to the dock at the end of our day of fun I stayed behind on deck because the crew asked me if I would take some group photos of them and I did. I shook hands with the crew and headed down the gangplank to find my wife and friends, who had fled quickly to the coolness of an air-conditioned car. As I was leaving the boat, I seen this man gathering all the trash bags the crew had thrown on the dock. As I approached the man he turned and looked right at me, I stopped and looked him right in the eye and said “how’s it going today” he replied “I’m fine”. I then held up my camera and asked “would you mind if I took photo of you.” “Why not at all he replied” (in a surprised voice) and I raised the camera took one nice shot (I think). I thanked him and walked away. Because I only took one shot, I wasn’t really sure how it looked.
Now the real story here is the feeling I got from him before I captured the photo. When I first see him, he is wrangling with all these large garbage bags, the weather is very hot and he is sweating. Most people I would think would not want to be bothered and certainly not have their photo taken. But when I asked him if I could take his photo his whole body relaxed and this huge genuine smile appeared as he said the words “why not at all”. For a second, I thought I was going to get a big smiling face photo and that would have been fine by me. However, all of the sudden he takes just a second to compose himself and falls into this very composed demeanor as if he were a CEO and I was capturing a corporate headshot. He gave off this genuine feeling that not only did he not mind having his photo taken he also was very serious about it being a nice photo. There was this moment of humanity & benevolence that had just occurred between the two of us. I’m asking to capture a photo if him and he is going to oblige me with the best that he can do and it was amazing. I walked away sort of dumbfounded not fully realizing what had just happened. It wasn’t until I was in the car on the way back home and looking at the photo that it totally hit me. This man was so happy someone had asked to take his photo, I think happier than anyone I had ever asked before. And this one moment changed the whole way I think about asking to capture someone’s photo.
Later the next week I had emailed a crewmember the photos that I had taken of them at the end of the day and I included this man’s photo and asked if he would at least show it to the gentleman so he could see it or maybe even print it out for him.
Thank you for reading and have a great day.