Monday, January 14, 2013

So You Want To Be a Sniper

It's known by many names, Candid Photography, Urban Journalism, and my favorite, "Sniper" Photography. Capturing photographs of people in their element, doing the things they like best (or just being themselves) can be both rewarding and challenging. It can also result in some really awesome photographs. So how do you get that cool shot? Here's a few helpful hints....

Blend In
Sniper photography is not the time to make a fashion statement. Wear bland, generic, vanilla clothes. No florescent T-shirts with pictures or "cute" sayings on them. I'm not talking about showing up in a Ninja outfit. That, in itself, is going to call attention to you. Dress so as not to stand out. An extreme example would be don't wear a tuxedo to a rock concert or don't show up to a black-tie affair in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. Know your venue and dress appropriately and even then, dumb it down. Be the "Plain Jane" in the crowd.

Become "White Noise"
Even though your clothes won't attract attention, the simple fact you are walking around with a camera will. How do you overcome that? The answer may be counter intuitive. "See and be seen". Walk around...take (or pretend to take) photos of other things. Signs, flowers, statues...whatever. After a very short time, you will become old news and just another face in the crowd. People's attention spans are very short and once you have been "seen" their attention will be off to the next new thing. 

Go "Long"
© David Toczko
You are not going to get a natural, spontaneous photo if you are in your subject's face. You will need to be some distance away and certainly not in their personal space. In order to do this, a "long" lens is  essential. I shoot these types of photos with at least a 70-200 mm or (even better) a 100-400 mm lens. I am far away enough to be under the radar, but can get the close-up I want. Don't worry about that big dog lens you are packing. They have seen you, seen you "taking" pictures and have moved on. 

Be Patient...Be Observant...Be Ready
© David Toczko
There has to be a reason you want to photograph this person or persons. Is it their looks? Is it what they are doing? Is it what they are NOT doing? Is it the way they are interacting? Watch what they are doing...try to figure out "their" story. Who are they? Why are they there? Why are they doing what they are doing? You don't have to be right about this, but it will help you anticipate what they will do next and prepare you to get the shot. Think "wait and watch" at this stage. Once you get a "feel" for your subject, watch them through your view finder and be ready to shoot. Have your settings worked out. Have your subject focused. I usually have my shutter button pressed halfway down so as to be as ready for the shot as I can be. If you are afraid you are going to miss that perfect moment, you can set your camera on a burst mode and take several shots in sequence. Be aware this may "blow your cover" and call attention to you once you have fired off a series of shots either by your subject or other potential subjects around you. 

Be Aware
© David Toczko
Even though you have "stalked" a subject, you have watched, you have waited, you have made up "their" story in your mind and you are ready for the kill, there may be something that just "happens" that will provide a good, and sometimes even better, shot. Be aware of your surroundings and what is going on. Keep your head on a swivel and be prepared to break on the shot you are waiting for and grab another, spontaneous moment. You can always go back to your main subject and this may provide even more cover for you.

"Sniper" Photography can result in some of your best images. You'll be able to capture people as they really are. No poses, no stiffness and let their true personality shine through. This, just like all types of photography, takes practice and patience. It also comes with some legal considerations. I'll give you my take on the need for model releases and other "CYA's" in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. Do I detect the down payment on a New Years resolution here? No matter. Good topic. Good tips.

    I am of two minds on this. I snipe but I also ask permission to shoot. A semi-candid shot - usually a head shot. But I have a variation on this approach also which works in groups of people at events - that is people who might be in the target area for a while. (I'm not sure I like all these hunting references.) After I get their permission and get a shot and maybe share the image with them I wander off and wait a bit and then get more shots of the same person/people in full candid form. As you observed, they have forgotten about me and for my part since I have their permission I have no anxiety at all about the effort. I remember the first time I did this wasn't really planned. I was roaming an event in a city park and there was this young guy with his dog I wanted to shoot. But he had locked onto me and it wasn't working. So I walked up and told him I really needed a human/dog shot for a club photo challenge - semi-true - would he mind? He and the lab posed for a couple of shots. I said thanks and walked away. Went about 10 yards, swiveled and ran off a series of shots. It worked mainly because I had started something between him and his pet and they had continued to play. And that was what I wanted. They never knew what hit them. :)

    Happy New Year!