Photographing people

Getting out the comfort zone

Like a lot of photographers, I find it hard to take photos of strangers. A lot of my work is landscape based purely for that reason. Sure, the odd person may creep into the middle distance as part of the picture, but I usually don’t make it the focal point.  However, over the years as I’ve started to gravitate more towards a ‘documentary’ style of photography, people inevitably start to make more of an appearance. People are interesting. People help illustrate a scene. People add to the narrative. Photographing people scares me a little.

‘Scares’ may be a little strong, more mildly hesitant. But like most things, I’m usually over thinking it. Where I think they’re thinking “why is that man taking photos”, they’re probably thinking “Where can we buy chips?” It’s a common scenario, and probably the reason why a lot of photographers avoid taking photos of people. Not wanting to get in the way, annoy them, respect their privacy, or being scared of confrontation are all valid reasons why we often don’t take too many photos in public. But nearly all of them can be resolved by being professional and courteous, and just thinking about the photo rather than other people.

I admire the works of Chris Killip, Martin Parr and David Hurn to name a few, all of whom as documentary photographers focus on people’s way of life. They manage to capture a fleeting moment, in both an artful and descriptive way. Obviously photographing the socioeconomic changes of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is vastly different to what I’m doing, but we all have to start somewhere. I also recall watching a video of Gregory Heisler years ago that has stuck with me in which he says to photograph what you know, in your style, and eventually people would take notice.

Practice makes perfect

Obviously the best way to get better at something is to practice. Practice is something that we photographers don’t really think about doing too much. However, I think it’s just as important to practice photography as it is say, the piano or juggling. Practicing helps us to work on our weaknesses and hone our strengths. With this in mind I’ve been purposefully heading out to events around the island to practice my people photography. But it’s not just photographing people, but actually trying to capture a glimpse of life.

I’ve chosen to concentrate more on the social makeup of the Isle of Wight, rather than do pure ‘street’ style photography. As the Island is mostly rural it’s just generally a lot easier to do. Plus pure street photography is just too scary. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to get to some events on the Island, to practice taking interesting photos. Ones that hopefully have a bit more narrative than a plain shot of some people. This is the hard part.  Sometimes I’ve gone to shows and there’s not really been anything that has looked like it’d make a particularity good photo. Others where I’ve seen the potential but the elements haven’t quite fallen into place. I’m still learning and looking, and of course researching inspiration.

These are the first photos I’ve been fairly happy with. As always there is room for improvement, but the summer has just started so it would be interesting to see what my photos look like in September.

Documentary photography from the Isle of Wight - Mike Osborne Photography
At the ‘Steam Up’ on the Easter Bank Holiday
Documentary photography from the Isle of Wight - Mike Osborne Photography
The Car Boot Sale
Documentary photography from the Isle of Wight - Mike Osborne Photography
The Car Boot Sale
Documentary photography from the Isle of Wight - Mike Osborne Photography
The Car Boot Sale
Documentary photography from the Isle of Wight - Mike Osborne Photography
Isle of Wight County Show