A Face In The Crowd

Ian Warren asked on the Street Photography List about capturing that elusive “face in the crowd”. Here’s some quick tips:

From: John Matturri
Assuming it’s a moving crowd maybe try keeping the camera at your eye as you shoot, shifting the camera and your body (knees are underrated as a compositional device) to get the moving mass framed the way you want. You can pull it down slightly and quickly to scope out who is coming. I tend to shoot like this with a 24 (or digi equivalent). It’s amazing how willing people are to walk around you and even in big crowds. Also amazing how unconfrontational they are with a camera that’s very close to their face: for one thing when shooting like this they don’t have a sense that you are singling them out. When are noticed shooting look up and give a quick smile. If you want to dramatically pull someone out of the crowd look for shafts of light and use a film (lots of it) with alot of latitude (Bauhaus-type photogs from the Chicago seem to have been special masters of this sort of thing).

From: Luis
You have to be fast. Nothing will stand still for you in a fluid situation.
This means you must anticipate the shot. If you see it, it’s gone.

How does one do this ?

Prefocus (whether with manual or AF). Use an ISO that allows you some DOF & a decent shutter speed, and pre-set exposure. Pre-set white balance with digicams. Preset your focal length on your zoom to the wide end. This will reduce the distance between you and your subject, minimizing the chances of someone stepping into the frame. In tight crowds (among other things, people accept you more once you’ve breached their defense perimeter), lenses between 17-28mm work well. Place your attention in wide-field mode (as opposed to pin-point). You need to see everything in the frame, not just a particular figure.

Keep the camera at, or near your eye (unless you have one with an LCD panel, keep an eye on the panel. Scan the visual field around you, learn to pick up patterns in things that interest you.

Spend some time observing people in crowds as you walk through them, and it pays to walk against the grain or along the edge in a crowd. Going with the flow is generally less productive. Watch expressions, how people move and react to your body plowing through. Learning this will later enable you to gain experience in predicting how others will move.

Use a digital camera, or be prepared to burn a lot of film. This is a long & steep learning curve. Be prepared for a huge percentage of misses, and zillions of hours acquiring the necessary experience and skills. The more practiced you become, you’ll hone your 6th sense & the luckier you’ll become.

Luis also suggested going to John Brownlow’s site and I’m just reading over his general tips. Great stuff!

By Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Twitter.

3 replies on “A Face In The Crowd”

What are the laws in relation to taking photographs of strangers? I do not like having my photo taken and do not want anyone doing so without my permission, as you know! I feel that someone’s permission should always be obtained before taking their photo?

In a public place there’s nothing to stop someone taking a photo of you (except for a well aimed punch or a kick I suppose but I don’t advocate violence especially as I might be the one taking the photo!). It’s only when the photo is to be published for commercial use that the photographer has to get your consent in the form of a model release form.
Publishing as part of a news article is exempt from this law AFAIK.

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