Photographing events. Being polite.

I'd been looking forward to Eeyore's Birthday party since......last year. It's kind of silly.  Some of my attraction is nostalgia, I've a been attending since the early days when there were fewer than six or seven dozen people in the park celebrating the arrival of Spring and the happiness of being in a wonderful little city, filled with wonderfully creative people.  No matter how the event grows or changes it's still a testimony to our city's spirit.  Our collective will to honor weirdness as a potent antidote to the relentless homogenization of world culture and, at the same time, a wonderful market differentiator for a city that attracts smart and creative people in droves.  

But honestly I love the event because I can go and immerse myself into the fun and take images to preserve what the spirit of the city was for future generations.  Or even just for my son.  The people who come to Eeyore's seem to welcome photography.  I would add that people in general welcome photography that they perceive as gentle and well intentioned and that's how I try to proceed.  But I'm only human, like the rest of you, and I slip over the ethical line from time to time.  I don't hide or try to sneak images.  I don't stand WAAAAAAY back and try to snatch photos with my 70-200mm lens or a 300mm lens.  I think it's only fair to be close enough and obvious enough to give people a fighting chance to object to being photographed, if that's their desire.  But unlike most street photography there's a hint of complicity and permission on the part of the subjects just by dint of coming out into the park in an unabashed way.  Costumed and on parade.  And anyone who has been to an event like this before understands and accepts that they'll be surrounded by our generation of new documentarians.

When I walk through areas of the park where people are in small groups I smile and ask first.  That might not work for your style but I'm less of a candid shooter and more of a photographer who is interested in a visual and social collaboration.  Conversely, if someone is making an ass of themselves in public they are abrogating the rules and become fair game for whatever your style of photography might be.  But that goes both ways.  If you, as a photographer, are in a subject's space without at least their tacit permission then you've also broken the unspoken agreement and are subject to disregard or push back.

While there are no real rules about what gear you drag along with you it would seem to make sense to me to travel as lightly as you can.  I'm a big adherent of one camera, one lens but I watched some photographers take a different approach, finding a space off to one side, setting up a background and a few slaved strobes and inviting party goers to step into the imaginary confines of their temporary "studios" to have their portraits taken.  Seems fun.  And if you don't want to be photographed you don't step into their "studios."

There are some photographers who seem like fish out of water.  They come loaded for bear.  As though they were on a once in a lifetime assignment for National Geographic.  They've got a camera criss-crossed over each shoulder on the fetishistic para-military strap of the moment (because, like their holsters for their handguns, their new straps give em western style "quick draw" capability...).  They've got the "big iron" long zoom on one body and the wide angle zoom on another body.  They've got a big, black camera bags with lots of attached lens sacks hanging like goiters off the sides.  They actually take up the "footprint" of two humans as they swing their optical baggage to and fro.  These guys (and it's always men) make the enjoyable, non-professional documentation of a happy party look like serious and painful work.

I saw my friend, Andy, there. In his usual elegant style he had one little Olympus EP3 with a 45mm lens on the front. It was all he needed.  So minimal that he didn't even include a VF2 finder.  He would just glance at the screen on the back and "use the force."

I saw my friend, John Langmore, there and he held a small Leica rangefinder cupped into one hand.  He was shooting black and white film.  Anything he needed, other than his one, handheld camera had to fit in the pockets of his pants.  No swinging, bashing bags for him.  

(I don't actually ask dogs for permission but I listen closely if they protest...)

In fact, this year most of the photographers who were working the crowd did so with gear minimalism in mind.  They mingled smoothly and seemed to be finding their decisive moments. 

I worked in a very loose stye this year.  I took one camera and one lens.  I chose the Sony a57 and the 85mm 2.8 Sony lens.  The whole package was light and mobile.  The 85 is kind of long on the APS-C sensor of the camera but it's so sharp, wide open, that I came to like it very much for its ability to push the background out of focus.  In the past I've worked in a very controlled way.  I used to shoot with manual exposure.  Last year I used a manual focus 50mm lens on an older, Canon 1DS2 body. This year I set the lens to f3.5, the camera to aperture priority and the ISO to Auto.  If the camera chose a combination that looked to dark I'd punch the exposure compensation button and dial in as much compensation as the monitor in front of my eye indicated would be enough.  It was a fast, fluid and almost unconscious (from a technical point of view) way to shoot and it appealed to me very much.

Since the camera is too new to have a raw conversion profile in any of my raw converters I chose to shoot everything as a Jpeg. If you can't nail shots outdoors without using raw you probably have some practice to undertake...

Using the full 16 megapixels and the highest  quality Jpeg settings I had the potential of cramming about 2400 images on my 16 gigabyte SD card.  No need to carry a spare.  I fudged a bit on the idea of absolute minimalism by sticking a back up battery in the pocket of my shorts.  Didn't need it.  I shoved $20 in my pocket and headed out for fun.

There were several younger people who didn't want to be photographed.  I didn't photograph them.  There were shy tourists in the crowd. Woman in smart polo shirts, Coach bags over one shoulder, beer in hand, gawking at the people in lavish costumes.  They didn't want their pictures taken either.  So I didn't photograph them.

Stylistic Camera Minimalism.

 Chimping with style.

 These guys did both unicycle jousting and unicycle football for an appreciative crowd.

I didn't realize till later that this guy's hat was a Green Lantern hat.  I wish I knew where he got it...

In the end it's really all about having fun and not being such a dick that you ruin other people's fun.  Doesn't take much to be a welcomed presence at a party.  Smile.  Engage in conversation. Don't stare.  Share.  Be open and honest.  And above all, remember that "getting the photograph" is really secondary to being a part of the whole function and helping to make it work for you and everyone else, equally.  There's something about putting a camera in some people's hands that makes them feel entitled to special privileges, to a better vantage point and to be included.  Most of us find out early on that inclusion is earned.  And access is more important than perfection.

The comments are open but....please don't argue that we have a RIGHT to do whatever we want with our cameras in public. I know that.  But sometimes manners make more sense.


Robert Roaldi said...

"In the end it's really all about having fun and not being such a dick that you ruin other people's fun."

Wise words to live by.

Bill White said...

The collage hat looks like the hat. http://www.stylinonline.com/green-lantern-hat.html

John MacKechnie said...

This is an interesting issue. I recently spent time casually photographing at an Amish mud auction in Lancaster, Pa. (Mud auctions occur in March and are often, you got it, muddy.) In any event, the Amish object to being photographed squarely in the face at a close distance. I used a tele zoom which allowed me to stand off and shoot, and I have always tried to be respectful with the Amish. I did forget myself in the excitement of a horse auction and found myself in the thick of things. I focused on the horses and only incidently on the handler.

On a few occasions, I have asked permission to respectfully photograph individual Amish farmers and have been granted permission. At Mud auctions, there are thousands of Amish. It is a truly fascinating experience and I can't wait to go again next year.

Anonymous said...

A technical note first: Lightroom 4.1 RC2 has support for the A57.

Thank you for saying, "In the end it's really all about having fun and not being such a dick that you ruin other people's fun." It might feel like a flippant sentence but it really helped clarify something in my mind about photographing at events and parties and so forth. Thank you.

gj said...

Love your work. In my estimation you are one of the most I the resting photographers on the web. And you are a working pro. Cool. I am having a problem navigating your site since you changed your blog software or whatever. I read on an iPad and it's a struggle. If I'm the only one who dislikes the new format then so be it but if others do also, please consider going to what you did before.
Thanks for listening.

Paul said...

I believe in karma ... of the instant kind. Act like a dick and you get treated like one. Politeness and gentleness cost nothing yet ultimately reap more.

Fletch said...

I totally agree, I live in Jakarta which is a photographic goldmine, there are amazing street shooting opportunities but I (almost) never try to hide. I walk around with a big smile, big camera and try to interact. Occasionally I'll try to be stealthy if I think my presence will alter the "story" of a scene but I'd never pretend I wasn't taking a shot and normally try to get some acknowledgement after, a simple happy nod/thumbs up adorned with a smile and an attempt at the local language makes the whole thing that much more rewarding and often leads to great follow up shots.

I think some people take this stuff way too seriously. Unless there is some real journalistic merit I don't enjoy seeing pictures of uncomplicit people enduring suffering. Self proclaimed authorities on forums that define pics as not proper "street" if the subject is interacting really need to get a life :)

Great pics as always.

Fletch said...

What lens are you using with the shallow depth of field shots of the blond girl and boy (with red bandanna?)

The out of focus areas have an interesting glow, is that post processing?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Fletch, you are correct. I'm trying to embrace the digital mindset and I post processed the crap out of those images with SnapSeed.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Tommy, Thanks for letting me know about the a57 and Lightroom 4.1. Good info. Also, thanks for appreciating the thought behind the flippant sentence.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I have found (sometimes through hard lessons) that this is nearly always true. There is no free ride for the insensitive.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Forgot to answer the first part of your question: All the photos from Eeyore's were done with one lens: The Sony 85mm 2.8.

BruceK said...

For a Green Lantern hat try your local comic shop.

cfw said...

When I am in public with a camera I feel very far from "entitled to special privileges." Rather, I always feel like I'm intruding into someone's little slice of life at that moment and by definition unwelcome, so I try to be as low key as possible. I guess that is probably a flaw for street shooting type stuff. I just know how much I would resent someone sticking a camera in my face and snapping away.


Henry Richardson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry Richardson said...

Hey, enjoyed your article and I sometimes check out your blog to see what you have going on. I am from Austin although I only occasionally get back there these days. I like making people photos too. For 4 years I have even done photos at an event sort of like in your article. Here are my photos of people at the 4th of July Waikiki Outrigger Canoe Races that I did just like you describe:


Incidentally, sometime back I saw a link to your blog and read your write-up about the Panasonic G3. I had not paid much attention to the G3, but really wanted a smaller/lighter camera to carry around that was more than a tiny sensor digicam. Also, wanted one with a viewfinder. Your article helped to convince me so I bought the G3 + 2 lens kit a couple of weeks ago and have been having fun with it taking street photos here in Tokyo. Thanks for the heads-up!

sixtyfive said...

Hey Kirk, enjoyed your article and I agree with it mostly. Just one thing: you talk about permission a couple of times, but some of the pictures look like they couldn't have been taken if you'd asked permission beforehand and made it an official thing, a decision that people would feel forced to making in that moment then. So how do you do it? Take the photo and then walk up to the person asking permission and delete the file if you don't get it?

Cheers, Raphael

Anonymous said...

Your statement matches very well with my photo philosophy (photolosophy?): Do what it takes to get the picture, but don't be a dick or break the law doing it (by trespassing, etc).

-Bobby Salmon

Anonymous said...

these are some very nice photos Kirk. You have a fluid unobtrusive style with people, whether shooting them posed or candid. I enjoy seeing your photos of the event as I could not make the event this year...you are welcome to check out my photos from last year, shot with my nikon d5000 ( Nadine Kelly ) and the 55-200vr on sport mode...maybe a few frames were manual but I was there to enjoy myself mainly!