After the recent posts on point of view (POV), I realized I had been taking it for granted. It’s the kind of thing that experienced photographers model naturally when shooting. But they gloss over it and don’t talk about it enough when teaching. Novices tend to be busy figuring out their cameras, exposure, where to focus, etc. As a result they may not pick up on how important POV is until later on.
But here’s a simple fact: the sooner you learn to quickly and purposefully adjust your point of view, the faster your photography will improve. Why is POV so important? Because it’s all about finding the best compositions. And in photography composition means everything. So be sure to check out POV Part I and POV Part II. This week let’s take a step back and look at some consequences of changing POV in the quest for the perfect shot.
Okay. You got the message of the last two Foto Talks. You’re moving around with purpose, shifting POV in all directions, shooting away. You’re well on your way to better photos. And maybe on your way to trouble as well. Here are some quandaries common to photography, along with ideas on how to handle them.
POV & Ethics
- Be Kind to the Environment. Moving closer to your foreground subject could mean trampling delicate vegetation or disturbing other living things (stirring up sediment in a sensitive aquatic environment, for example). Just last night I saw a portrait photographer trampling flowers while shooting a family, and this was inside a national park.
- Be Kind to Fellow Photographers. In places with other photographers around, working a subject with many different POVs (normally laudable) could result in you selfishly “hogging” the subject (next post will have the counterpoint to this).
- Strike a Balance. While a strong commitment to getting the shot is necessary to get good images, it’s also important to avoid being insensitive or rude.
- Be Aware of where you are and of those around you at all times. I’m not saying to take your mind off the photography or to worry about what others think of you lying there on your belly. But at the same time, be conscious about damaging sensitive habitats. Think about the critters, including your fellow photographers.
POV, Legality & Permission
Are you going to hop that fence to get closer to your subject, grab a quick shot and get back before the property owner comes along? What about entering a questionable area in some foreign country? Laws are different there and enforced in different ways. Do you really want the shot that badly?
- Example 1: Unexpected problem in a Foreign Land. In a busy public area in Malawi I was shooting a cute little baby with big brown eyes, after asking her mom. The unexpected result: a policeman became suspicious, approached me and wanted to take my camera away. I had to do some quick talking, show them my pictures, and get the mom to back me up.
- Example 2: Dangerous & Illegal POV turns out OK. Another example is the image below, which is a few years old. I had driven past this spot with a fantastic view of Portland, Oregon many times. But I could never see a safe way to shoot there. For the same reason that makes the spot such a great POV: it’s on a busy, curving freeway ramp that swings out over the Willamette River.
But one day I noticed a spot where the ramp widened, with just enough room to park. It even had a curb for a bit of protection from traffic. It required a quick maneuver in the heavy traffic. The first time I did it was on my motorcycle, which made it quite easy. But I knew it was illegal to be there so didn’t stay long. I quickly set up my tripod and captured the shot I had been after.
SOLUTIONS: Asking vs. Apologizing
You’ve probably heard the old expression “better to ask forgiveness than beg permission”. Sounds good, right? But in the real world you have to weigh risks and be able to handle things diplomatically if you get caught or challenged. Here are a few examples:
- In villages and on treks I’ve seen photographers surround some poor kid doing something cute, with no thought of whether it was okay with the parents. That is horrible ugly tourist behavior. With kids you should almost always ask the parents first. Or be ready to be apologetic and honest about your motivations.
- For sensitive areas (political or military), I would avoid them outright. If you insist, always ask first.
- Photographing someone’s property (including their bodies) also begs you to ask first. But we’re entering a gray area. If you make it a rule to always ask, you may not get many good shots. You could miss the light, for example. Then in reality you’re asking to return another time.
- One more example: on a city street photographing people. Unless you shoot first, you’ll probably miss that great candid shot. For some subjects, however, it doesn’t matter, street performers for example. So you may as well ask first.
SOLUTIONS: The Quandary
The last two points above illustrate a quandary unique to photography. Do you forego the quick shot and engage first, or do you strike while the iron is hot and talk later? Each of us have to handle it in our own way, realizing that each situation is different. Ultimately we need to accept responsibility for our actions. It’s safest to ask permission first, especially if there is the slightest doubt. But whatever happens, it’s important to be honest and pleasant.
Okay that’s it for now. Next week we’ll look at other issues to be aware of when actively changing your point of view. Happy shooting and have a wonderful weekend!