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|Contributor SourceMay / June 2006|
Whether you are editorially or commercially driven, shoot from the heart. If the moment does not touch you, it will not touch the buyer's heart. Equal opportunity has no fences, so practice tearing down your own, and your lens, will in turn, frame each person with the same deserving light.
First of all approach all subjects with honesty and integrity. I mainly photograph "real" people in "real" situations and very rarely use models.
Whether photographing disabled people, people of different ethnic backgrounds or alternative sexual preferences, I always try to make my subject feel relaxed and non- threatened (usually a chat about what I require but also how the subject wishes to be perceived. Oh!!! A cup of tea often helps!)
Do your research before going on the shoot. Find out what's been done before so you can try and come up with new fresh exciting ideas. If the situation allows, try and shoot both the negative and positive side of being disabled / belonging to a different ethnic group etc.
Be creative with lighting and ideas. The wonder of digital photography is that you can see what's working and what's not in real time!
Within the area of disability, I never assume that the person being photographed is incapable of making decisions. I treat all disabled people (however severe) as human beings - always making eye contact with them and informing them what and how I wish to photograph them. If they cannot communicate or understand you, their carer will always intervene.
I have found that disabled people are just like everyone else and often enjoy being photographed - so you can make it fun!
Most disabled people that I photograph are for clients (organisations and charities) and most request that I do not photograph looking down onto a disabled person (for example someone in a wheelchair) since this "belittles" the subject.
Within the area of sexuality I approach the subject as I would any other subject. I find the best images are those that are taken with an open mind and without prejudice. Of course sometimes one needs to do the clichés or stereotypes in order to make a point but with a little creative thought it is possible to come up with alternative images.
Research is important even with an area you think you may know well. Local papers are a good source of information about future events that may be worth attending.
Going to events such as a fun fair or religious festival can be very productive. People often get dressed up and some people who don't ordinarily like to be photographed relax and may agree. I make a note of future events and festivals down in my diary so can prepare in advance.
Get there early. Spend time in the area before shooting by walking around, perhaps going for a coffee or food in a local cafe. This can help you relax and also blend in.
Talk to people. Tell them what you're up to. Many people are flattered that they or their area is the focus of attention. And it's a great way of finding out about local celebrities and future events.
Keep your equipment simple. I usually just carry a SLR with a couple of fixed lenses - maybe a 50mm and 35mm lens. Also, in some cities security can be an issue. Carrying lots of gear can attract unwanted attention.
Try to respect people’s culture and religions. For example, some Jewish people don't like being photographed on the Sabbath. Also, perhaps ask if it's ok to shoot near a mosque, synagogue or temple. And be very careful photographing women in particular.
Interesting locations can really make a picture. it's sometimes worth hanging about for a while and waiting for someone to arrive. Otherwise, just make a note of the place, or even better take a few frames for future reference.
Showing a negative is always difficult; the exclusion of a class of people is usually invisible. Exaggeration can make an issue visible in a striking shot - an ultra wide shot from ground level looking up at the step onto a bus to illustrate difficulty of access would be one example.
The temptation is always to focus on the differences - a wheelchair, a clearly transsexual way of dressing or a member of a minority group in their traditional clothing. But picture buyers frequently ask for positive images that show inclusion rather than exclusion and images of that kind are more likely to find buyers. New developments such as London's Docklands are built for disabled access and there are many opportunities for positive imagery.
Humour is a good way to defuse the accusatory implication of discrimination that can make strong images difficult to place. However it's essential to be sure that the joke is focused on the exclusion and will not be seen as a joke against the person or group excluded.
There is a constant demand for images that show a mix of ages, races, genders etc but real life rarely puts such groups together. Some high end stock photographers spend tens of thousands setting up shoots to fill such a brief but these can look rather too perfect for uses outside advertising. If you can spot events likely to attract such an audience they will be well worth visiting.
If your photograph concentrates on a particular person in a situation showing their exclusion or inclusion then you will need a model release but if you make the point with a group in which no individual is specially featured the image will be saleable without needing a release.