“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph.” – Andre Kertesz
people behind their backs
Nowadays taking a good photo is easier than it was years ago, it is for many reasons, because our sight is more trained because of all the photos we see in social networks, exhibitions, books, magazines... and because it’s very easy to photograph with the new cameras and other digital devices and how quickly they are edited on our computer. But many times it happens that as much as we have a better trained eye than those who photographed decades ago and although we have better and faster cameras we can’t manage to say anything with our photo which is really the difficult side of this art of photographing and what we as photographers must aspire to,
A photo that says nothing, is to contaminate the sight of whoever sees it.
Normally when we are starting to photograph the street, we choose to shoot people behind their backs, maybe we do it because we have not yet learned to observe, to select our photos before shooting or because we don’t feel comfortable confronting the subject from the front and it’s feels easier and braver for us to photograph people when they turn their backs on us.
During this course I’ll remind you again and again that we don’t photograph only for ourselves but also for anyone who looks at our photo, good Ansel Adam said that in each photograph there are two people, the photographer and the spectator,
and in this course you will learn certain tricks to capture the attention of those who are going to visualize your photos, we’ll learn certain tricks to communicate and explain a story with your images and yes, there are also many stories to tell of the people who turn their backs, we just have to observe and find that there are many stories that complement someone's back with respect to what’s in the background, there are many stories comparing someone's back to another, shooting at the nape of the neck (photographically speaking ) is to do it also on the back and there we see different types of hairstyles, bald heads, clothes, necklaces, tattoos... remember that about being creative, selective and a little provocative.
For a photo to grab someone’s attention it must have certain elements that you will learn throughout this course, I like that there is a bit of humor, emotions, contrast between subjects that appear in the shot, lines, geometric figures, symmetry, in my photos. I like to fill the frame, find a good composition, a decisive moment, a visual journey, a story, a game of planes... and many others that you will acquire as you learn to observe and shoot. In my opinion, if a photo gathers at least three of these elements, it’s a good photo.
First I want to show you a series of photographs that you shouldn’t do, that kind of photographs that wouldn’t say anything to the viewer, those that are going to fill your computer's hard drive and you’ll never print because you are not convinced or proud enough of the result
What do the 4 pictures shown above tell us?
Honestly, they don’t tell us anything.
They are photos taken just because, without looking, taken because I had a camera in my hand and because nowadays it’s very easy to take pictures, but they are photographs that don’t tell anything.
Photo number one would’ve been better if a flock of starlings appeared, a boy with a bow and a mule upside down, in photo number two ... you know, a story to tell.
Don’t take these kind of photos, choose, it’s better to have a good eye and judgement than 64GB memory cards.
Shooting at the back of a man who walks with a shopping bag in his left hand and helped by a 4-foot cane in his right hand doesn’t say much, in fact it’s such a bad photo, as seen previously.
But this back take can tell us something more if we look around, it can tell us a story, it can tell us about the man’s difficulty to move, it can tell us about his effort, speed, it can give us understanding and even a small smile when photographing him as he passes under a traffic signal that indicates to the traffic a certain distance for something in particular.
This signal of 250 meters makes the photo more impressive, something that has a visual path and understanding for the viewer, without that traffic signal we would only see a man walking.
It has nothing more than what it has, there is no more than a just composition in a square format and at a just and precise moment while walking but it’s what we need for the photo to have its meaning, throughout this course we’ll talk about traffic signs a lot, we’ll start to observe them, to be creative and to use them, who knows, maybe we’ll find a back that by its curvature gives sense to a dangerous curve signal.
The photo that opens this theme was taken at Kagoshima airport, Japan, where I went to teach a three-day street photography workshop, when leaving the plane, there was a room where we had to pass immigration control, very disorganized for being Japan, although it’s true that Kagoshima is a very small city if compared to Tokyo and it’s really something that they even have an airport.
The picture as we see it doesn’t say much, many heads facing to the front isn’t what you should photograph, a message is missing, something that contrasts with so many people, a cherry that makes the cake more beautiful... ...immigration controls are slow, to get the stamp in the passport they look at you again and again to see if your face corresponds to the photo of the document and it becomes endless if you are one of those who leave the plane the last, as it happened to my wife and I on this trip, so much waiting and a trained eye makes you look at everything and get a picture that you wouldn’t have gotten if you had left the plane first. A signal that shows you where the toilets are can give sense to our picture, we just have to be creative and a little provocative.
Immigration control was just below the toilets poster but due to the heads of my traveling companions, we can’t observe the officer nor his computer or anything that tells us that it was down there where we were given permission to enter the country, in the picture we only see a sign of ‘Toilets’ and a lot of people waiting for ‘their turn’.
I’ve shown you two photos where two posters contrast the photographed subjects, in the first one, a man with apparent difficulty walking seemed to have 250 meters to reach his destination, in the second one, a simple ‘Toilets’ sign makes us think that a good handful of people take turns to go to the toilet.
You just have to look where you are, to be creative, selective and provocative.
2. Get out of the pattern
When someone gets out of the pattern is always good to photograph them
in my photography workshops in Asia I always tell my students that if we see "a thousand" guys looking east and just one looking west, we should be quick and ready to shoot, the viewer likes those scenes a lot, they are easy to look at and the image impacts.
You can also photograph whoever gets out of the pattern while there are people (or themselves) on their back and detecting or finding these scenes is a visual exercise that will help you learn to observe
Let's read the picture above.
Being in the subway of Hong Kong people do and respect the queue to advance when it corresponds them and in this way they avoid obstructing both the exit and the entrance, a very orderly, civic and enviable way to use public transport, they queue at the sides so that passengers leaving the train do so through the center and nobody bothers anyone, in this photo I have highlighted in blue rectangles those people who wait for their turn to get in the train and an ellipse
in yellow to the one that gets out of the pattern, the one that whether because of their culture, nationality, age... don’t understand that in Hong Kong turns are respected and that can give us a good image with this beautiful composition, this leakage point formed by the line of people and that will end in it, in our final picture.
Meeting people who have some similarity with another person close to them is a photographic moment, and of course, we also find similarity in some people who turn their backs on us, either because of their clothes, because of their height, physical form, hairstyle...
This photo is taken in Nagoya, Japan, in another street photography workshop that I taught there, where at the time I was waiting for our turn to get in a restaurant I realized that the marriage that might’ve been about to happen in front of us suffered from a small alopecia of the same size and shape as the restaurant's lamps, it was too similar not to photograph it, apart from the fact that the door of the restaurant divided the frame into two rectangles (see the lesson about the division of the frame)
There is another topic (topic 4) where you will learn from juxtapositions in street photography, but I didn't want to delay telling you that we can also juxtapose one or more people while they turn their backs on us with something that makes sense to them, I won’t explain you the following photos, they are easy to read and I want you to to read them and tell me in the member area
Another exercise that will teach you to observe the street in a different way is to make sequences of two or more photographs and of course we can also do them when one or more people are on their backs. Creating a story with more than one photograph is an art, it’s complicated but as almost everything it’s improved with practice, and practice should consist of how to detect that a scene can give us more than two photos.
When you think that a certain moment will seem short, but there is still time for some photographs, stop and shoot, only you will know what has happened in real life, you’ll make the viewer think and wonder what it is that really happened with your photographic sequence.
Imagine two people you take pictures of at the bus stop. The bus passes and you take pictures when it stops (you don't see people anymore) The bus leaves and there is only one person left at the stop
It’s a "silly" but valid example which will make you more creative.
Photo 1: Young girls seem to ask something to a lady who cleans up a shop window
Photo 2: The girls seem to talk to each other leaving the lady who looks at them
Photo 3: The girls keep talking, having forgotten about the lady, while she looks at the photographer who has noticed everything
What really happened in this sequence? Welcome to the street photography course on how to observe the street, you’ll love it ;)
Where to find good photographs of people who turn their backs
Observing anywhere... posters, trucks ads, street signs, airports, museums, subway stations, shop windows, people who gets out of the pattern... public transport...
Going to the museum for a photographer is to be nourished by art and new ideas, not only the photographs inspire us, also music, poems, films, documentaries and art in general give us ideas, going to the museum or any exhibition will make you more creative and it’ll open your mind for your new photographs as well as getting very good shots while others appreciate the art
Another place to observe people who are on their back is the subway, patiently waiting for the arrival of the next train that will take them to their destination and if we position ourselves well they will all turn their backs seeing that:
• There are people with wider backs than the people next to them
• There are backs more curved than the rest • There are children's backs comparable to those next to them • There are afro hairstyles next to bald people (from the back) • The prints on shirts/jackets can draw our attention • People on their backs near someone facing us
Tips 1. Do not shoot with telephoto lenses (for all lessons). 2. Photographing people who turn their backs on us is not easy, throw away the
photo if it's as bad as the ones I showed you at the beginning, no one wants to
see bad photos. 3. Don’t despair if you’ve lost a moment with someone on their back, the moment
won’t come back, but you’ve already found it, having seen it means points in your favor.
And what I’ll always tell you ...
4. Be selective, be creative, be more provocative and try not to photograph what everyone already knows and photographs, the trick is to look at the street in a different way.
In this first lesson you will not have any homework's, it will be from next lesson "Slow Shutter Speed in Street Photography" when I challenge you, you will combine both lessons in one photo as below....