Pictures of People

This photography course that I’m taking is only about four weeks long, so I thought I would follow up with updates on each week’s progress. I’m not going to write extensively about the lessons taught each week, but at least I’ll be posting new photos to Flickr — now organized neatly into their own set, called “Photo Class” and making some brief comments. Don’t worry, if it bores you to tears, we’re already near the halfway point, and it will all be over before the Fourth of July.

Up with People

As I mentioned, the structure of the class is: shoot on Saturday afternoons, select five un-cropped and un-retouched pictures, and critique on Wednesday evenings. We spent this past Saturday afternoon downtown, near City Hall and the World Trade Center, focusing on portraits and people.

It was a haltingly sunny, usually cloudy afternoon, but I had a great time shooting and I felt much more engaged in the process than I did in our first shooting session when we focused instead on the milieu and details of an elevated subway station in Brooklyn. It’s clear to me now that I’m enormously more interested in people as subjects than anything else; the implicit narrative inherent in just about any photograph of a person is endlessly fascinating to me.

Below: I’m a people person. Selects from my second week of class photography, taken in downtown Manhattan. More shots in my Flickr photo set.

Saturday’s Child… and Other People

We started out by taking pictures of one another, then moved by foot to various tourist spots around lower Manhattan. Near the latter part of the session, we passed an alleyway where, as it turns out, a film crew was filming a music video for the up and coming British band The Subways. It was a small set, and they let us move about freely. Part of the video’s concept, apparently, called for young women to buzz around the alley on roller skates wearing short shorts and little else. Talk about implicit narrative. The instructor, Joseph O. Holmes, posted a terrific tableau of the scene on his photo blog yesterday.

I was using a 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens the whole afternoon; I’m a hugely fond of the effect of compressed space that such a lens has on the shots it produces. But this particular lens was bought on the cheap, which is to say it rang up at the B & H Photo cash register at just a few hundred dollars, and not in the higher price range that a similar, more professional lens might have cost me. For good reason, too: it’s extremely prone to shaking, and the majority of the shots that I took with the lens zoomed out came out blurry. It’s a shame, because there were some very nice shots in there that I wish had come out better; it looks like I’m going to have to fork out the eight or nine hundred dollars for a telephoto zoom lens with vibration reduction technology built into it. Sigh. When do these artistic pursuits start getting cheaper?

  1. When do they get cheaper? When you get famous enough that people give you everything for free. That’s why I’m working on being famous by the end of the month.

  2. When you say the lens is prone to shaking do you mean the lens is or you are? :-))

    Seriously though, anything over about 200mm and you either need much faster shutter speeds or IS/VR or a tripod (which is a whole other matter!)

  3. Great story and great shots. When is any hobby cheap? 🙂 Photography is still a great outlet for creative expression. Wait until you decide you want prime lens (fixed focal) and decide to start racking up more lenses. But remember to enjoy and take plenty of photos.

  4. Photography’s just light, mate. If you’re big fat zoom lens photos are blurry, you need more light, not VR. I’d take a f/2 over a f/3.5-5.6 with VR any day.

    Or even better, remember what Capa said: If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. Ditch the big heavy zoom, get a nice light 35mm and get up close to interesting people. You’ll get better shots, I guarantee it. It’s more fun, too.

    Either way, keep it up! You’ve definitely got an eye for it.

  5. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but up-close people photography (i.e. not the shot of a person’s back taken with a 600mm lens) is my favorite kind of photography, particularly in other countries.

    For my purposes, a 70-300mm lens has several drawbacks as a portrait lens. The focal length range is of course useful, but it always comes at the expense of speed and size. Canon has a 70-200 f2.8, both with IS and without, Nikon has 80-200, but it’s a monster. With crop-factor cameras, 70mm at the low end is far too long to take any pictures indoors or in tight spaces like city markets, so I find wider fast zooms and primes absolutely essential. I tend to carry 35, 50, and 100/135mm primes, all fast (the 50 is a 1.4, and I shoot with it the most) and together, probably weigh as much as a larger decent zoom. The longer lenses compress space as you mention (and the Canon 135mm f2.0 is the ultimate portrait lens given the working room, imho).

    I can’t wait for you to come back from your next trip to Vietnam, loaded with portraits, Khoi.

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