It seems like everyone is a photographer nowadays, and with technology getting cheaper and cheaper, it seems like every which way you look you are seeing another person snapping away on a DSLR. The question is how do you separate yourself from the masses. It can be a daunting task to do something different. But It’s not as hard as you think. It might be something you stopped using a long time ago.
There are self-help guides of how to be creative, how to think outside the box, but I feel that the best success stories are from people who do what they love, and have fun exploring unknown territories. I have been in the event business for quite some time, mainly photographing celebrities. You have to understand stars face mobs of photographer’s flashes and screaming fans on a regular basis; bouncing between movie premieres, galas, and private events, it can become a dreaded moment having to face a line of eager photographers waiting to upload your image to the latest news feed. A similar feeling can arise in the photographer as well. Seeing the same subjects day in and day out, one can develop a distaste for shooting events quickly as it becomes an all too familiar routine desensitized to the faces and names being photographed.
One day a friend suggested that I start bringing my film camera to my events. It made sense. I loved shooting film and spent most of my time off running around shooting, scanning, and developing negatives from shoots. Shooting with film it makes you step back and really think about what you are shooting and the esthetic value. I find I take better images, and I’m more selective of what or who I photograph. Shooting with a digital camera, you tend to forget about important details. You almost develop the mentality of "Oh I’ll get it the next shot," or "We will fix it in post." Imagine going to a wedding or any other event with sixteen shots. Sixteen shots to tell an entire story. You want to make it count; you begin to think more about how is my subject standing? Is there a better background they could be standing against?
So I decided to bring my Polaroid 600 along to all my gigs that I would normally do just digital work, and now and then I would sneak in a little Polaroid shot. My first attempt at shooting film was at New York Fashion Week. Backstage is filled to the brim of photographers running around trying to get all the first look shots before scurrying back to the front row. Lesson number one - nothing will get a group of model’s attention faster than whipping out one of these classic relics. Instead of taking the typical hair and makeup shots, I was making them a part of the process. Your subject will be more engaged and dynamic if they feel like they can relate. Breaking the mold and bringing out a different format that they don’t encounter on a daily basis makes your subject do a double take. Having that small nostalgic conversation starter can really make or break getting the shot. I quickly discovered by just carrying around my Polaroid and grabbing a couple of shots I was a standing out more and making a lasting impression upon those I photographed and met. Models remembered me from show to show, designers would ask to have their photos taken. This was a stark contrast to what I had experienced in previous seasons. Even in the pit people started to remember me as “The Polaroid Girl.”
I decided to make a list of rules for when I was shooting Polaroids. Due to the nature of having one shot to make perfection it can make it daunting to step out and ask for a different shot. This list works for a lot of everyday photo situations, not just celebrity photography.
- Don't be afraid to stop and ask someone for a photograph! What's the worst they will say? No? Well then at least you can say you tried.
- Everyone is human. You might think someone is too cool and WAY out of your league to talk to, but don't forget they are normal people and we all started somewhere! So if you have a photographer, model, makeup artist, or designer you worship, and think they are amazing, TELL THEM! Start a conversation! You never know where it will lead!
- Follow up! Be in the forefront of that person's mind, if you see they post a new photo on Instagram write a comment! You might be surprised the next time they see you that they will remember that and start up a conversation with you.
After NYFW had passed, I was approached about doing Polaroids for the nightlife section of Interview Magazine. Before, when I was shooting the same thing as every other photographer on the line, I wasn’t making anything different than the person standing two inches next to me, but just by adding a couple of Polaroid shots that took me maybe 20 seconds to make, I became different. Celebs stopped on the carpet to talk about what I was shooting with and how they remember taking Polaroids as a kid. One evening during the Hateful Eight movie after party, it was me and about four other photographers covering the event. It was a lot of waiting around for the big names to arrive at the event from a screening. While some people were annoyed it was taking so long you have to put yourself in your subject's shoes, they have already walked a blinding red carpet, sat through a three hour Quentin Tarantino film, and now their publicists are sweet talking them into making an appearance at the party super late at night. It can be very common once the party rolls around for celebs to refuse photos. Which is totally understandable, they are just wanting to unwind and chill out like any normal person.
Channing Tatum was the number one celeb attending to capture from the party. When he finally arrived, his publicist made it clear Channing was doing no photos what so ever. Naturally all the photographers there are muttering under their breath, fuming that they weren’t going to get the shot. I decided instead of someone telling me what shots I was or wasn’t going to get I was going to take the incentive and walk over there and ask myself. The other photographers shot me a sarcastic good luck as I went into the VIP area. I could have done two things: I could just start snapping away and hope I get a shot, and just assume he would say no and get kicked out of the VIP area. But instead, I asked him if it would be ok to take a Polaroid of him and promised to send him a copy if he wanted one at the end of the night. He was beyond excited, and ended up rounding up his friends nearby, and we made a killer shot! I ended up being the only person to get a photo of him from the night, but I also made a real connection.
This small change in the way I shoot has not only added clients to my books but has personally made me a happier and has pushed me to become a better photographer. I encourage everyone to apply the same methods to their everyday shoots and do something different! Stand out in your field and mix up the way you shoot! Next time you go out to shoot bring along a 35mm, or if you want to get the same gear as in this article. Check out my camera here and you can get the same film here! My Instagram is @Polaroid_Famous if you want to see more.