To me photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
– Elliott Erwitt
I often tell people that I love to capture the ‘in-between moments’ most of all. Searching for and finding quieter moments is a skill that has come through practice, and I’ve found that the more observant and intentional I become as a photographer, the more pleased I feel about my images.
Here, I will share with you some of the things that I’ve learnt along the way, in order to help you recognise that enigmatic, fleeting ‘in-between’ moment.
1. Slow down and be present in the moment
Your everyday life is rich in meaning, and nobody can tell your story better than you can. I’ve found that there’s also a therapeutic benefit from shooting ordinary moments in everyday life. Becoming more observant has certainly taught me to slow down the pace of my life in general, and these days I have my camera close to hand all the time, instead of when I feel in the mood to take photographs. This approach to my photography has fostered a deep appreciation for all that I have to be grateful for, and an awareness that true happiness can be found in being thankful for what I already have. Don’t wait for the perfect time when your home is tidy and everyone is dressed beautifully… look past the chaos and seek out stories that will only get better as time passes and things around you change. It’s not always possible to frame your image exactly as you’d like in camera. Learning to crop out any distracting lines and unnecessary clutter is an important editing skill that will bring balance and perspective to your compositions.
I’ve composed the photograph intensely enough, so that none of the chaos is visible and all of the poetry is centred.
– Sam Abel
2. Be prepared
There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to press the shutter. That is the moment the photographer is creative.
– Henri Cartier-Bresson
If the moment when you press the shutter relies upon your gut instinct, then you need to give yourself as few distractions as possible, so as to maintain an observant eye. Get your camera ready by metering for the light first…if you arrive at the area you want to shoot in before your subject, you can adjust your camera settings and meter for the light while you wait. Once you are ready to start shooting, try and allow time and space for your subject to feel ready as well. Once you sense they feel comfortable and perhaps even momentarily unaware of the camera, be ready to react quickly and press the shutter.
3. Set the scene
I like to shoot with a 35mm lens so that I can tell more of the story and place the viewer in the scene with me. The person looking at the image will get a better sense of the atmosphere and mood if they can place the subject in relation to their surroundings. Practicing shooting in a wide variety of settings will set you up to be a versatile photographer who is able to capture the fleeting moments that life presents you with any type of lighting situation. Important decisions such as where to place yourself in relation to your subject will become instinctive. Gone are the days when I would only plan to shoot during the golden hour before sunset; I now favour the contrast between highlights and shadows that low light has to offer, having had to master metering for indoor light because much of our family time is spent inside during the winter months.
4. Collaborate with your subjects
I often chat to the children I’m photographing during a portrait session, as I would do if the camera wasn’t there at all. Children are often excited to share their own ideas for a photograph or check the back of the camera. It helps for them to realise that their input is valued; good collaboration is an essential part of the creative process. Whether you are taking a directional approach to your photography, or a more unobtrusive documentary approach, it is vital that your subjects are comfortable with your presence as well as the camera. This relationship will have a direct impact on how natural and relaxed your subjects appear in the photographs you take.
In the words of photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt,
It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.
5. Allow the action to unfold naturally
They have been involved in the creative process since infancy. At times, it is difficult to say exactly who takes the pictures. Some are gifts from my children; gifts that come in a moment as fleeting as the touch of an angel’s wing.
– Sally Mann
There is a fine balance between knowing when to interact with your subjects and knowing when to step back and let the action unfold naturally. There is still an element of collaboration between you and your subject here, although the fact that you aren’t directing or posing gives your subject more opportunity to forget about the cameras presence. I find that this type of shooting is easiest with my own children as we know each other so well, they are used to me working in this way, and they know the kinds of images I love to make. However, this is also a useful approach when photographing children that have previously been put under pressure to ‘cheese into the camera’, and as a result dislike having their photograph taken. A documentary based style also means that your subjects will rarely look directly into the lens, which gives a fly on the wall feel that will draw the viewer into the image.
6. Look for the smaller moments wherever you go