- Guaranteed for 2 full months
- Pay by PayPal or Credit Card
- Instant Digital Download
This is a subject that runs to the very heart of what makes photography special for many people. The convulsions that many had when Steve McCurry decided he was in fact a visual storyteller show just how passionate people are about this subject.
Indeed, a more recent example of this occurred when a photography contest winner was found to have submitted an allegedly staged photo. To a certain degree, we’ve allowed photography to be romanticized by believing amazing photos are all about the moment of capture. That’s certainly an idea many travel or photography magazines have encouraged. In this article, you’ll learn about staged photos, spontaneous photos, and why learning both approaches will improve your work.
Getting the moment of capture is often what makes or breaks a photo. Landscape photography isn’t always about this, but a lone hiker in your landscape photo can add narrative. Of course, street photography is almost always about moment of capture. So what can you do that will improve your chances of adding that x-factor to your frame?
If you want to exercise your body, you go to a gym, visit the swimming pool or perhaps go for a run. If you want to get good at taking spontaneous photos, you need to visit places that have lots of decisive moments. These places will train your eye to be razor sharp and alive to the potential of a decisive moment before it happens. This is the opposite of a staged photo.
You’ll want to visit the following places:
The majority of decisive moment photos you’ll take will be street photos. These will be on the street, or perhaps within a street market. The general rule here is to use a 50mm prime lens, though experimenting with other focal lengths can also give you good results. Using a longer focal length means you can stand in a less noticeable location, allowing the action in front of you to unfold naturally. You’ll also feel more comfortable at a distance, and can anticipate your moments of capture and build your skill for anticipation. Once you have a knack for this anticipation, use wider angles and see how your results turn out. Of course, as mentioned before, sports and often event photography require longer focal lengths to capture the action.
This is a little like staged photos, except it’s a natural moment. It could be argued that this is the very opposite of spontaneous, but it is nevertheless a moment of capture. When you take this type of photo you will have a pre-composed frame, and you’re waiting for a person to walk into the right position within your photo. You will need a lot of patience, as you could well be waiting for at least an hour.
Of course, there are times you’re just going to have to be lightning fast. You’ll need to have eyes everywhere, constantly alert to possibilities, and seeing things to the side of you as well. Having your camera setting already setup is essential in this scenario. A more forgiving aperture of say f/8 rather than f/1.8 will also help with quick focus.
In some cases, you will have to use a larger aperture according to the light levels you are photographing in.
If you’ve been practicing in the market where there are many chances to capture a decisive moment, you will get quicker at bringing the camera to your eye and getting the shot immediately – the same skill you’ll have used to capture people walking into a shard of light.
The opposite of spontaneous photos is staged photos. This style of photography will be what you practice regularly if you work with models, or perhaps take pre-wedding photos for people. Of course, the recent controversy surrounding these is centered on travel photography, which is all meant to be natural moments. If you want the most striking photo possible, though, the ability to control all aspects of the photo will give you maximum creativity. So what goes into a successful photo of this type?
The photographer who recently ran into trouble with their winning image allegedly used a staged photo from a group photography event.
Of course, it’s quite possible to make a staged photo look natural, and for it to carry a strong message. In fact, if it doesn’t, you need to go back to the drawing board.
The question is, however, when you’re photographing with a group of other photographers, how much are you in control of the creative process? How much is that photo really yours because you pressed the shutter?
Learning with the group is a great way to improve your work. However, to really allow your own creativity to come to the fore, it needs to be you (and only you) who controls how the photos are staged.
Control the narrative, and you’ll get the photo. To be a good visual storyteller, you need your photo to have that strong story as you guide your viewer’s eye through the frame. So you no longer need to capture the decisive moment. Instead, you’re going to create it.
To do that you’ll need to think of the following:
The management of the photo can go beyond what’s list above. You will want to really micromanage your photo. That means controlling all aspects of it from lighting to what people are wearing in the photo.
Unlike spontaneous photos, you can use creative techniques with your staged photos. In most cases, creative techniques take time to set up – time you only have when you stage the photo. There are many ways to be creative in your work. You don’t always need to use techniques like these. So take the following as some ideas you could use:
With staged photos, you are almost certainly aiming at the commercial market. You’ll be photographing with a model who it’s very likely you’ll pay. If you’re new to this type of photography, you might consider building a relationship with your model, where you both give each other time rather than money to build each other’s portfolios.
There is a temptation to say “I’m going to be a street photographer,” and not look to other types of photography. There is merit in becoming the master of your field and not diversifying. However, a model can transition to photography. They have the advantage of knowing what’s going on in front of the camera. Taking the time to take staged photos will allow you to see the potential for spontaneous photos in a different way as well.
Having staged the photo using off-camera flash, and seeing where things should be positioned in your frame is a skill that can be brought across to the more organic environment of street photography. That is to say; you should be a fashion photographer for a day, learn those ideas, and see what you can bring from that across to your street photography.
The desire for that perfect photo is always there. The purist is likely to want to achieve this organically, using honed photographer instincts to get that moment of capture. There is a lot to be said for learning the other side of the coin and getting in touch with your inner visual storyteller.
Which style of photography do you prefer and why? Would you consider photographing in a different way, even for a day? Here at digital photography school, we’d love to see your example photos.
Please let us know if you took them spontaneously, or if you staged the photo. You can even post an image, and see if the community can guess whether you staged the photo or not.