I'm really happy with the photo above.
It's not necessarily the technical aspects, or the composition, that make me feel proud of the photo I took, either, but it's something that has less to do with the shot itself and more to do with me and the way I approach what I do.
There are a number of big events going on in Amsterdam over the course of the year, Kingsday and the Gay pride being the biggest and most colorful.
These events offer a huge opportunity for any photographer to go out and take some awesome shots, but they can also be a hard wall to walk into, once you get home with a memory card full of images that are all the same, highlight nothing, and do not click with you.
In my opinion this has to do with the massive availability of interesting visual cues these events put in front of you at every corner. It's like a constant parade of the most creative, outlandish, fun and crazy costumes, and it's often easy to start shooting everything you see just because it's interesting, not because it makes for a photo you want, or like.
This has been my mistake in the last couple of years: approaching these days as if I was going to shoot a safari, from a distance, without really interacting much with the events around me.
This has to do with my approach to things, I guess, as I don't like walking up to strangers to take photos. I generally feel I'm invading their space and interrupting what they are doing, which really bothers me.
The consequences of this wanting to be at a distance, as a photographer, are that I either attempt to sneak a shot (which inevitably sucks), or I will just let the opportunity slip, telling myself there will be more and better photos to take.
Now let me tell you, should you be having similar thoughts, that is not the case.
The photos you don't take are gone, the ones you take in a hurry or without motivation are bad, and nobody gives a shit about how many chances you had to take awesome photos, if you didn't actually take them.
So after a few years of being disappointed by the days that are supposed to yield the most interesting street pics, I decided to change my approach, this time, and actively pursue the images I wanted to take home.
It took me a couple of hours walking around town to actually sync with the vibe of the city and start approaching the people I wanted to take photos of, and the one above is the first shot I was really happy with, because it's a mix of all the elements I was looking to capture in an image.
I asked if I could take some photos of this really cool man and his awesome outfit. Lucky for me, he was nice enough to take some time posing and talking to me, and I tried not to rush it, and maximize the time he was willing to give me, rather than take one pic and keep going.
Well, soon enough there were people around us, asking to take selfies and enjoying the show, and my photos transitioned from a still image of an awesome costume (and person), to something more alive, where some elements were planned, and some popped randomly into my viewfinder, like the two girls taking a selfie.
Once I took this photo, I knew I had what I wanted, and I had it simply by asking, interacting, and being part of the environment I wanted to capture, rather than an observer.
Once I had this realization, everything became easier, and I was able to enjoy my afternoon walk, choose what I wanted to photograph and do it the way I felt was right.
As an added bonus, most people I asked, were nice and friendly, so I also got some decent human interaction out of the whole day. Seems like a win to me.
So my advice to myself and to anyone who wants to take it is to let go of all the burdening rules you set out with.
There is no extra value in a candid photo rather than a staged one, there is nothing tangibly different between a true moment of life you capture stealthily, and a moment you ask to be a part of, and actually, I would argue there is much more life in an image you have a story for, or in the portrait of someone whose hand you shook.
And the next image is a perfect example of this.
As I was turning around I saw these guys kissing and I immediately thought it would be a great shot, because of how intimate it was, yet part of a massive party in the city.
By the time these thoughts crossed my mind, they were leaving, each going their own way.
I quickly debated what to do, and how comfortable we might all be if I asked them to try and kiss again for the camera, or how awkward, but then I decided to give it a try, and approached them.
Well, it turns out that was their goodbye kiss, and they had no problem kissing again for the camera.
In the end, the image is exactly what I saw when I turned around the first time. I had the choice to let it go and consider it a missed opportunity, or I could try to get my shot.
I decided to go for it, and could not be happier with the result.
Furthermore, I noticed that once you break the ice, it becomes easier to concentrate the energy you would put in taking millions of snapshots into actually choosing your next photo even on the basis of the surrounding environment.
The most beautiful model will not help if your photos are taken with distracting shit in the background, in uninteresting settings, or without any though as to what you are trying to portray, and yes, the time you have available to make these choices in a context like a street party is a matter of seconds. Possibly minutes if you are very lucky.
In the case of this image, I like how nothing is cut in the frame, from the church towers to the people crossing the road on the left, it makes me feel like this image contains all it's elements fully, and that makes me consider it a success.
The next two images also show how I tried to focus on the full context of the image, rather than the subject.
It's a quick realization. The real issue is putting it into practice, and accepting that a good photo will, most likely, require some thought, work and interaction, even for the most interesting subject.
Once you do start putting the work in for each one of your images, once you decide you will bring that photo home the way you like it, rather than let it slip, things become easier, and you will notice an increase in quality for most of your work that day.
So after this long post, here a re a few tips, should you be taking photos ad a street party or parade:
- Interact. People are there to party, and they will likely be happy you appreciate the work they put into looking good.
- Know what you want. Don't be clueless about what's happening, have your settings adjusted, know how you want to frame the shot, explain why they might need to move, or what you are trying to achieve.
- Let life happen. Once you are set, welcome the unknown. If someone randomly steps up, see if they can be integrated in your frame. Don't expect this to be a controlled environment.
- Network. This will be an awesome chance to create contacts, spread your work, and possibly meet new colleagues or friends. Embrace it.
- Be aware. You are asking people to stop their things to give you some time. Don't abuse it.
- Have fun. There is no reason to go back home disappointed. The good shots are there, nice people are there. Go out and have fun.
And there we go, a little account of my afternoon at Amsterdam's Gay Pride celebration. Thanks for reading, everyone!
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