Paweł Jurgielewicz Photo

Home photographer’s dilemma

It is finally over. You are back from your quite intensive vacation with images of what you have seen there, situations, emotions leaving reminescence deep in your mind. Of course, you also have your SD card – just in case. You are happily copying your digital memories to the disk and that’s it. Your inner photographer is going for the desrved rest.

The time goes by and one day your friends/family during the reunion ask you: “How was it in ### (put the name here)? Do you have some photos? Why don’t you show us them, then?”

Right then you realize that you have not looked at those pictures since copying them to the safe place. It means that you have a situation when:

  1. You have lots of pictures (hundreds, thousands) which are probably unsorted.
  2. You are unaware of their quality.
  3. Probably you have no idea what some of them present.
Shopwindow somewhere in Annecy, it is a giftshop

So what are you going to do now?

Are you going to bore to death everyone or will you be picking pictures in a hurry looking for the best of them? To be honest – none is the solution.

To begin with, people are able to keep concentration for relatively short period of time. Flooding them with tons of pictures, which are out of context from their point of view will make them yawn sooner or later. What makes perfect sense for you, who were there, will not make for the others. Just because they do not have any emotional charge connected with these moments.

The second option is not a real solution either because if you start jumping between file explorer and image viewer you start the loop of distraction. If you do not respect your audiance what is the reason for them to care about you?

So what could you do?

The solution is fairly simple and works. Prepare for such a situation beforehand. Spend some time after the journey picking the best from the set of usually very similar frames. In that way you should go down to 5-10% of all pictures – the reduction will be obvious. However, it does not mean that you have to permanently delete 95% of your work. This 5% is for the others, 100% is for you!

Pick your finest gems, louvre

It is more than just sorting the images.

The truth is you will not have any problem marking 5-10% of your pictures as good enough. Either because of lighting conditions, focus problems or composition.

Personally right in that moment I am asking myself: “What am I doing wrong?”, “What is wrong with the autofocus of my lens?” and so on. If you start to think about your work (even afterwards) it is always a good sign which can give the impulse to do things better next time. These kind of questions are part of the phenomenon which I am calling:

Home photographer’s dilemma

You are going on sightseeing-focused tour with a group of friends or family. Everybody called you their personal photographer just because you took your camera and they did not. Everybody wants also to have decent pictures at all possible places so you have to be watchful all the time so that not to miss any opportunity. All days are thoroughly scheduled to optimize time and place of the visit.

Did I mention that you are also the one to carry backpack with snacks and water?

In that way you are always in the tail of the group, because you are responsible for freezing the memories. They are just looking at something saying: ‘OK, that’s nice.’ and are going further with a thought that you will take care of everything or are asking you for taking pictures of them with this fountain/church/flowers/… in the background.

The question is whether you (or the person you take picture of) will be satisfied with the result similar to the millions of others. So you start looking for the other frame, other perspective with better light but you are hearing that the second person is shouting: ‘Come on! We are behind the schedule!’…

Tilting your camera can add more dynamics to the picture, Eiffel Tower

Secondly, if you are always behind the lens how are you going to show that you were there? Personally, I am always accused of having to few pictures from every expedition. You can ask somebody from your group to take simple picture of you. This very often ends with very poor results since that person does not know your camera at all. You can try selfies but they just look awkward (for me):

de gustibus non est disputandum

Thirdly, most people look better and more naturally when they are not (that) aware that you are taking the picture right in that moment. You should take it as a good advice. It is not that you have to do everything by surprise, it is about the fact that as a rule in such situations not posed picture is better than posed. Here comes another ingredient that rules documentary photography:

The luck

If your model is not posing he/she can actually do anything. From one point of view it is the blessing and the curse from the other. He/she can blink with eyes, have a strange facial expression, make rapid movement, the Sun can reflect from the glasses, the stranger may come into the frame and anything else you can think about. There are only microseconds during which your picture will be the best. It is very difficult but it is definitely worth to try.

Wind in the hair, nice smile but this anti-glare...

It may happen as well that your picture will be almost perfect but you will realise that there is only one component to improve (let’s say focus on the model) and you will ask him/her to freeze in that position. However, in that way you make your model to pose: -5 to naturalness.

In rush all the time so why not to choose automatic modes?

If only your camera was thinking like you this would be a perfect solution… Many photos that I could be happy about in presented conditions were mercilessly treated by automatics (especially by choosing wrong autofocus point). It is not that I am saying that you should avoid it – just use it cautiously. I recommend semi-automatic modes like aperture preference. Many people just feel uncomfortable when the camera is not just doing the hard work for them. I still remeber the situation when the person from my group was thinking for quite long period of time that her camera was broken. In fact her lens had been switched by accident to manual mode…

Trying to conclude

Being a home reporter is not an easy task at all. You have to be resistant to whether conditions – carrying all the stuff in the full Sun for 10 hours 😉 . The moments have to be captured in a proper time and place to satisfy you, people on your pictures and others to whom you are going to show your work. Probably showing them ‘I have seen this famous cathedral. Look this is a nice river. What a lovely kitten!’ will not be enough. You need something more to enchant your audiance.

Did you say something about kittens?

The solution could be to extend the duration of the trip to relax the schedule to give you as a photographer more opportunities and time to breathe but it is not always the case for many reasons.

Documentary photography is just different than a regular photo session. If you remember the shoot in the crops, I was in charge then. Everything was posed of course but all in all it resulted in lots of great pictures.

Anyway, you should always concentrate on having the best time during your stay! If you start thinking that you have to do this because they insist on you to do so, leave your camera in a hotel. In that way, you will grab your smartphone only if you find something worth to take picture of and you will be looking more happily on your selfies!

Good luck!

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Post scriptum

This post was partially inspired by the history of the Adbuster who fullfilled his dream about going from Poznań (Poland) to Porto (Portugal), which is the most remote to the West place in the Europe, on motorcycle. He saw so many beautiful views during this journey but it was simply impossible to stop in every place and take photos. His trip was also tightly scheduled.