To Get Noticed, Let Your Character Come Out in Your Photography

Recently I came across a YouTube video on the photographer Bruce Gilden, demonstrating his technique for taking photographs.

It’s interesting to watch. Using a Leica with a wide-angle lens and a small flash, he approaches within a few feet of people as they are walking along the street and snaps a photograph or two of them from low angles. It’s a very in-your-face way of taking a photograph of someone, resulting in people yelling at him, telling him to piss off, or just pretending not to notice him.

In the video, Gilden responds in kind, reminding his subjects that it is a public street and that he has a right to do what he is doing. He comes across as very thick-skinned; the comments from his subjects don’t seem to bother him.

It’s a highly confrontational style — but the end result is that I liked most of his images.

Preferring to Be Invisible

As much as I appreciate Gilden’s work, my style is very different. I am a “stealth photographer.”

I am more self-conscious than most people, and my approach is to be as invisible as possible. I like to blend into the background, get as close as I can, take my shot and move on. If somebody notices me, my cover is blown and I move on to something else.

Obviously, my style produces images that are very different from Gilden’s; this would be true even if we were making photographs in the exact same setting.

Letting Your Personality Come Through

For me, this drives home the point that the character of the photographer is always present in his photographs. A photograph may have something to say about its subject, but it always says something about the person taking the pictures.

Some photographers tend to be technique-oriented, precise and methodical, resulting in images that are perfectly well-composed, exposed and static.

Others are very loose, sloppy, and emotional — resulting in totally different images.

Both styles can result in excellent and interesting images. What’s more important is that the photographer allows his or her character to come through in the pictures.

Wedding Photography with Character

Take wedding photography, for example.

I used to find wedding photography dull and repetitive — totally lacking in creativity. Most wedding photographers that I met had no interest in their craft because their main goal was to make money.

They were order-takers who produced cookie-cutter images. They didn’t care about being unique.

As more photographers have entered the wedding business, however, I am finding that many are injecting their photographs with a personal style to help them stand apart. They are building clienteles by using photojournalist/documentary techniques, pictorial dreamy landscape styles, or other interesting approaches.

Colleges are churning out would-be photographers by the thousands today. On my street alone, there are four kids doing coursework in film or photography.

In this environment, investing your photographs with individuality is more critical than ever to getting noticed — and having commercial success.

Photo © David Saxe

7 Responses to “To Get Noticed, Let Your Character Come Out in Your Photography”

  1. agreed 100 per cent

  2. As I enter into this field I am working on finding my style and have it come out in the portraits I create. I am currently in school for photography and I see two types of photographers. Those that are in it just to make money/fame and those that are in it because they have a passion for photography. Those with a passion are the one where you see their personalities come alive in their photographs.

    So I also agree that photographers need to let their characters come out in the images they are making.

    - john

  3. Agree with this post - mostly. It's about finding a POV and process that fits you.

    My questions, that seem to be ongoing and more frequently asked lately; Is a person walking on the street fair game? Can you legally capture a stranger's image in a "public area" and profit from it? What defines a public space?

    Weddings seem to be a different environment. An almost assumed-there-will-be-photos-taken air about those spaces. I'm sure there is a better description for this.

    I'm all for creative expression and exploration but as a Production Manager, I find myself in heated debates with alleged pros over the right answers. My first response to photographers is What if it was you?

  4. I totally see where you are coming from, and its a popular point of view on the net these days, but I have two different points that are related.

    1. I live in a 'small' town. I believe that while 'everyone' has a digital camera, there are few of us that can take a photo that is a notch above what 'everyone' can and does take. I think that such photography should be available to every one that wants it, even if they cant afford it.

    2. I have always felt that a photographer should be transparent, their roll should be to remove distance and time between the viewer and subject. As such I strive to have NO style, NO character, NO technique that is 'me'. My desire as a photographer is to totally disappear. I feel that people should not be asking me to photograph them to get my 'look', paying me to push my style on their images, just the opposite, the photo should be 100% them.

    Its tough to market and 'sell' such a concept, but I have found the end result is more than worth it.


  5. It is always tricky walking the line between personal expression and knowing what will sell. Sometimes I just go and shoot for myself but 99% of the time it is the customer who decides.

  6. I totally agree with you. I'm a photojournalist who accidentaly started shooting weddings of friends and such. Now, three years later I'm running a succesful wedding photography business with my wife, because there was no such approach to that kind of photography here.

  7. Sorry I stopped reading when you said that you like Gilden's images. True, some them do turn out well, but really? He does not, in my opinion, have the right to do what he is doing. Surely if we are to aspire to be Street Photographers, we can find better role models than him? He is NOT photographing life as it is lived in the street. He is snapping the reactions of people who are (rightfully) shocked by his assault. And in many ways his actions could be legally defined as assault. In 12 months of photographing on the street not a single person has told me to piss off or similar. Mind you, I'm not famous,don't have a huge ego to serve, don't have books and millions of fans following me blindly turning me into a kind of slave to their demands. I prefer to use SP for good, for making statements abut the real world, and not creating false situations or causing reactions to my violent acts. there is enough of that already. street photographers need to do better

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