On photographing people
The best advice is simple: take it one step at a time, practice regularly, and don’t be afraid of failure.
Angela photographed in my studio on film. March, 2020
Today is World Vitiligo Day. If you don’t know what Vitiligo is, it’s an autoimmune skin condition that causes a loss of pigment in the skin and usually results in visible white patches all over the body. Not much is known about it and there’s no cure. It’s something I’ve lived with since I was eight or so years old after it was triggered by a seemingly innocuous mosquito bite.
I’ve always wanted to make work about it, to connect with others who also have the condition. I had a go during university for my final year assignment, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t until this year, more than six years on now, that it finally felt right. I managed to photograph a couple of people just before the world went on lockdown - the first of which was Angela, above.
This got me thinking about photographing people and my own experience with learning how to photograph people. It was and is a huge thing for me; I was so incredibly shy as a child and basically all-around extremely socially awkward. This carried on well into my teens and twenties and it cost me several opportunities along the way. So that I’ve come to portrait photography is really mind-blowing, and every so often I look back and think “well shit who would’ve thunk it”.
It’s still a challenge for me to photograph people and probably will be for a long time - I get nervous so easily and always worry about appearing stupid or foolish in front of the people I’m photographing, especially because people often assume I’m super young and inexperienced.
However, there’s no listicle or five-step guide here for you today because the best advice is simple: take it one step at a time and practice regularly. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of failure. In fact, try as much as possible to open yourself up to the experience of failing, which comes with the chance to experiment, correct mistakes and learn new things. This is where you’ll find confidence. Soon, despite being nervous or worrying about what other people think (hello me!) you’ll know yourself and trust yourself without question to do well.
If you’re like me and find it difficult to photograph people, start easy - use yourself to model. I did this a lot when I was younger - the photographs are incredibly awful and cliché for sure but you really are your easiest model. Not only does photographing alone remove all the usual pressures, it can also be an interesting and eye-opening experience when you’re in front of your own lens. A lot of the way I work now comes from understanding and knowledge gained from the time I spent making self-portraits.
Then, when you think you’ve got the hang of it - and don’t wait until you feel “ready” because I guarantee that you’ll find ways to put it off as long as possible - move on to photographing family and friends. People you’re already comfortable with and happy to order around, joke with. Do this many times. Then, and don’t even think about it, start to photograph people you don’t know; perhaps a stranger in the street or a planned collaboration.
For me the key thing has been to not overthink it because that’s when I start to spiral and I end up in a black hole of “OMG I CAN’T DO IT WHO EVEN AM I”. If I get asked to do something that’s a bit scary and makes me just want to hide away - and not just when it comes to photographing people, but in general - I always say yes without thinking much about it. It’s been the only way to push myself to do things that are out of my comfort zone (shout out public speaking!). It was so tough in the beginning, but do it once, twice, a few times, you’ll find it only gets easier every time.
I could write a lot more on this topic and I may do later on. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions my DMs are always open.
Happy Thursday all! x
“Self-portraits by photographers can reveal not only who they are but also the world they are seeing.”
“Rather than agonizing over ‘writer’s block,’ maybe we can accept that we aren’t blocked at all, and that resting might just be part of our process.”
“The day we met, I stepped through the narrow streets with my arms folded against the tide of people. As I emerged by the Ganga, I was pushed into a small procession headed out towards Manikarnika, the spot on the riverbank where the business of cremation was in full swing.”
“Don’t forget to spend some quality time with a friend even if it’s just a video call”
Hey! I’m a freelance portraiture, documentary and adventure photographer working in London. Community and culture are the cornerstones of my work, and I also run of the land & us, an online journal for photographers exploring our relationship with the natural world.
‘Notes on Freelancing’ is my attempt to make becoming a freelance creative a bit less scary.
If you like what you read and would like to donate a strong cup of tea, you can. This twitchy-eyed creative will thank you for the support and the caffeine.