I once knew a young woman, named Eilis. (You can listen to the Irish pronunciation) Okay, just for the record, we dated for a period when she was a senior in high school and I was a freshman in college. The dates didn’t last long, she sought something and someone else. Later, I’m sure she left the Midwest and in my mind, is now living in sunny Southern California. I remember her well for her courage.
She thought of herself as shy, but when she had a camera in her hands (trained via her high school newspaper) she became fearless. I didn’t understand how this personality change occurred until I started my own photography long after college. A camera can make a shy person brave. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen it many times. (So those who are in a shy person’s therapy group, buy a camera. At a minimum, you can take picture of your therapist at work.)
Many years later, Elena (my partner) and I were teaching travel and quilt photography courses on a Caribbean cruise through Electric Quilt Company and Deb Roberts’ Tours and World of Quilts Travels. Armed with my camera, I approached two different sets of workers who, if I didn’t have my camera with me, I would never have approached. I walked up to them, smiled, and showed them my camera, and then asked if it was okay to photograph them. They all said, “yes” and continued working.
Let me back up and say, a better approach is to first meet the people you would like to photograph, without your camera visible. On this trip, they saw me photographing before I made eye contact with them. Not having a camera with you puts people at more ease–it’s easier for them to say no if they want. Once you have permission, then bring out your camera.
A great “working” shot comes after you’ve disrupted your subject and then they return to their work. Want you often want is their being lost in their work. In the beginning, they will look up at you a couple of times (you’re still here?) but soon their focus is back on their work. That is when you want to really start photographing them–they are no longer aware of you.
Most importantly, remember to thank your subjects when you’re done with your photography; they could have said no. As an exchange for their courtesy, time, and patience, some photographers show the person the photos (greatly appreciated), or offer a handshake, even a small sum of money. Some take the person’s address/e-mail address and offer to send the person a print of the shot. I like to think a bit more larger, I like to offer to buy them a swimming pool for their backyard. Needless to say, I don’t have many images of people working, but then, no one said taking pictures would be profitable.
And Eilis, if you are reading this blog, send me a photo of yourself—but preferably not working, because fondly remembering you, I’m hoping you already have a big pool in your sunny Southern California backyard.
Till then, shoot often and stay brave.