When people find out I’m a photographer, sometimes I’ll get questions like, “Hey, do you shoot weddings?” No! Or “Maybe you could do our family portraits.” No! I photograph architecture, not people. You know, buildings, and that kind of thing. Objects that don’t move or have faces.
Well, sometimes I do photograph people. Like most architectural photographers, I love having people in my images. People bring life to an image. They can transform a space that would otherwise look dead into a living, bustling environment where the viewer can picture themselves and get a feel for what the space is really like.
Sometimes people add scale to an image. In this photograph from the World Market Center, you don’t realize just how big those buildings are until you notice the tiny people walking in the background. It feels like you’re walking through a huge cavern when you’re there among those three buildings. Without the people, the photograph would never convey that feeling.
Usually when I include people in my photographs, it’s unscripted and anonymous. If I’m in a space, I just try to capture people moving through it, or standing and talking on the phone or to someone else. The people are frequently motion blurred and almost always unrecognizable. That’s helpful because it removes the need to worry about model releases. If you’re in an area with no expectation of privacy, you are fair game. And if nobody would reasonably be able to identify who you are, then all the more reason no model release is needed.
But sometimes people play a more prominent role in the photograph. Maybe it’s more of a lifestyle shoot, or an advertising or marketing shoot where a company wants to project a certain image. Or it could just be a regular architectural shoot where you want to show spaces being used in specific ways. In these cases the people usually need to be positioned and directed.
Here’s an example from an office remodel I photographed for the architecture firm. I wanted to show the conference room being used as a conference room. I didn’t want it filled with people, but I thought a private meeting between two people would create a good scenario to help tell the story of the space. I had to decide where to have the people sit, and I had to get them to look natural and look like they were actually having a meeting in that room.
So, now the tough part begins. I photograph buildings, remember, not people. And I’m introverted, polite, and not the most assertive person when it comes to telling other people what to do. How am I going to direct these people and get them to do what I want? Especially when they’re not professional models or actors, like in this case. The three people in this photograph were volunteers from my client’s architecture firm. They may have felt as awkward about being posed in this scenario as I felt about directing them. Then again, they did volunteer for this. We’ll see if they come back the next time, I guess!
What I’ve found is directing the people who are just sitting having a conversation or something like that is pretty easy. I just tell them to have a normal conversation. Talk about the weather, if you want, I tell them. Anything. I just want them to behave naturally--to look at each other, smile, use normal hand gestures, etc.--all without having to think about it. If they have to think about it, it won’t be natural, especially since they are not actors or models. So I don’t tell them to look natural or to look at each other or to hold their hands a certain way. I just say, please talk to each other about something. Then I walk away and go about my business, trying to catch them at the right moment.
The harder part for me given my personality is directing the person walking down the hallway. Every time I do that I feel bad about it. How many times can I ask someone to walk down a hallway, or up and down a set of stairs--slower this time, now faster, now that speed but keep to the right more, etc.--before they’ve had enough! Usually it takes at least two or three takes to get it right, and it’s one of the hardest things I have to do. To say, “OK, could you do that again, but this time….” Ugh! I dislike that so much that I sometimes end up using myself for those kinds of situations. It’s so much easier to do it myself because I know what I’m looking for, and I don’t care how many times I have to do it to get it to look the way I want. Thank you, CamRanger and smartphone!
Working with people can be a challenge, but it’s also fun. Usually the people are good-natured and are having a good time too. But in the end, every time I work closely with people in my photographs, I’m reminded of one of the reasons I chose to photograph architecture!