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