Are you as stealthy as a fog horn? Do you have all the grace of a dirigible in a sudden windstorm? Certain genres of photography — wedding and wildlife photography in particular — require a certain physical tact, an ability to be unseen. Check out our tips on how to capture the focus of an event without becoming the focus of the event.
Here's a fun fact about your favorite Fstoppers writer (I am your favorite, right?): I have a dance degree. I'm no Martha Graham, but I have learned a few things about making the most of my body's capabilities. Surprisingly, I find myself using what I've learned the most in photography. I frequently photograph classical music concerts; if you thought you had to be light on your feet when working weddings, try photographing something where they frequently pass out lozenges beforehand and intermission brings a sudden flurry of pent-up coughs that one wouldn't dare expel during the performance out of respect. Over the years, I've learned a few things about how to navigate these types of situations.
Weddings and Events
We've all cringed at those videos of the intrusive photographer or videographer at a wedding. Certainly, at a wedding or any event, your goal should be a balance of getting the best shots (and all the shots you need) while minimizing your presence.
- Know the layout: be sure you understand intimately the geography of each venue of the day. Know not only the floor plan of each room, but know where the audience will be, where the couple will be, where any line of sight obstructions might be, and where all your best angles and alternatives are. This will minimize your movement and help you to move quickly, instead of wandering aimlessly and increasing the likelihood that you'll distract someone. This is one of the big reasons I prefer to visit a venue with the couple before the big day.
- Be aware of your surroundings: once you have that layout memorized, keep it in your mind at all times, but also keep an eye out for obstructions: a light stand, a card table, a stray purse. When we have our faces pressed to the viewfinder, it's easy to lose awareness of what's in our immediate vicinity.
- Have a path in mind: when you do need to move, move with a purpose. Pre-visualize the shot at the location you're going to, so you know if it's even worth moving. For example, when shooting harpists, I know that I'll need to be at very specific locations due to how pianos are normally oriented onstage. Wandering to a new position, only to find out when you get there that it doesn't work and having to sneak back is something to be avoided.
- Be still when necessary: never lose awareness of the proceedings of an event. Sometimes, you're going to need to be still. I frequently time my movements with louder sections of music.
- Get low: I'm a tall, lanky guy with spider limbs. Basically, I look like one of those flailing, inflatable tube-people that car dealerships use to attract your attention when you should be focusing on driving. No one wants me blocking their view of the bride with my Wadlow-ian antics (ok, it's not that extreme, but my point stands). I frequently crouch or bend. I also like low, wide-angle shots, so this works well for my shooting style, but that doesn't mean I won't pop up when I need that perspective. I do try to be aware of my presence, however.
- Eat: I skipped lunch before shooting a recital once. About ten minutes into a rather quiet piece, my stomach gurgled, "rrrwachhhhhh glug glug glug." Noticing the raised eyebrows around me, I tensed my abs in horror and held them for the next hour. My abs were sorer than the time I won the sit-up contest in third grade. Try to have at least a light snack before an event.
- Dress appropriately: besides dressing for the occasion, pay attention in particular to your footwear. Cowboy boots may pass for formal wear in some circumstances, but no one wants to be known as the "Clip Clop Photographer." In weddings and formal concerts, dress shoes are of course required, but I've found that a pair of dressy sneakers works wonders in less formal affairs.
- Learn how to step lightly: here's where that dance degree comes in. Many people walk almost fully upright, striking with their heel and slapping the ball of their foot. Not only is this horrible on your joints, it's rather loud. Practice walking with your legs slightly bent, moving close to the ground, rolling from the heel through the ball of the foot and pushing off slightly as you roll through your toes. You'll be quieter and your joints will thank you.
- Know your gear: for some reason, all modern camera gear seems to have a default setting of 13 high-pitched beeps for focus confirmation, followed by a guillotine shutter, and a noise only dogs can hear, just for good measure. Ok, I'm exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. Cameras are unnecessarily noisy out of the box; disable those beeps, make sure the flash doesn't automatically pop up if you don't plan on using it, and switch your drive mode to silent shutter mode. Just remember, nothing ruins a moment like: "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wif- 'BEEP BEEP KER-CHUNK'."
- Know what's acceptable: know who you're working with, know the venue, know the customs, and make informed decisions about what's ok and what isn't. The rules are different for every situation you walk into. Don't make assumptions.
Trudging through the woods with a gigantic 600mm lens and getting close to wild animals, whether they be of the prey or predator variety, rarely ends well. Most animals will quickly run away from the camera, while some will quickly run toward it. (Note: Be careful out there. We hate it when we see stories of photographers being attacked by animals because they acted in irresponsible or uninformed ways.)
- Be patient: wildlife photography is largely a game of waiting. Be patient and allow yourself to become part of the surroundings.
- Use a long lens: this is important because it not only increases the chances of photographing an animal without it noticing you, but it also protects you by increasing the distance between you and the animal and it protects the animal by decreasing the chances you'll disturb its natural environment, the worst offense a wildlife photographer can commit.
- Stay aware of your surroundings: don't just fixate on the shot or animal you're trying to get. Being aware of everything going on around you will not only keep you safe, but will help you predict the animal's next move.
- Tread lightly: just like a wedding, give more thought to how you move through the environment and how you can minimize both your movements and your presence. Freely wandering wildlife photographers aren't known for getting great shots.
- Blend in: camouflage is to wildlife photography as formal wear is to a wedding. Whether you're wearing it or using a hide, it can make or break a shoot. Don't forget to camouflage your gear as well. LensCoat makes great options for this.
Our jobs as photographers frequently require us to blend in. Often, no one should remember our presence. Knowing your surroundings, being aware of your body, and setting your gear properly can not only make you stealthier, but can expand your options for shots and get you better results.