One of the best tips for getting better photos – in my opinion – is to get closer. Real close. Particularly when photographing people, as in portraits, it can make such a difference, not so much because of the different perspective that a close-up position creates, but more for the interaction that happens between you and the subject you photograph. By getting close – literally in their faces – something extraordinary happens in the human exchange between the two of you. The person in the photo will have to relate to you, as you will have to relate to him or her. That often initially hesitant and tentative relationship that arises with such an encounter can transcend into some remarkable and captivating portraits.
If anything, such an exchange is maybe the best example of the photographic dialectics I was writing about in an earlier post this week. There is no way that the outside – the person that you photograph – and the inside – yourself – can avoid interacting. At least not when you move in close enough. The result, photographically, is something that goes beyond what each of you could have produced yourselves. True dialectics in other words.
I am not saying that everything has to be photographed close up. However, it’s a good place to start when for instance your intention is to show the personality of the person you are photographing. On the street for instance, sometimes the photographer stand back and observe the scene from a distance and capture life as it unfolds in front of him or her. But, sometimes the photographer encounter a person on the street that touches him or her in a maybe intangible or unconscious way. Then it’s time to move in.
And when I say move in, I mean exactly that. Go beyond the comfort zone of both, when a moment of indecisiveness occurs between the two of you, a flickering moment when neither of you feel comfortable nor feel sure of each other’s response. It’s a very fragile moment, that you as a photographer, can benefit highly from. For me it’s also a moment where both of you are equal to the situation. When you photograph someone from a distance without their knowledge, you have an advantage, but when you move in beyond the comfort zone of both, you feel equally uncertain about the created situation. For you as a photographer it has the increased benefit of you becoming more alert.
I often tend to start photographing a person only one – 1 – meter or yard away from their face. That is very close, if you haven’t tried yet! Most people feel uncomfortable about being photographed this close. However, it gives me as a photographer a chance to create an immediate response and interaction. It also forces me to face my own fears, which I think is necessary particularly if I am shooting on the street. From that first chock encounter I can then move out and shoot more environmental portraits or scenes where the person is only part of it. But I have established a relationship – albeit a somewhat bizarre and delicate relationship – that will still be with us.
Have you tried to go close – real close? I would strongly recommend it. It means facing your own fears and move beyond your comfort zone. However, once you have tried, there is no turning back (although it never becomes easy and customary).