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Scouting a strange location

From: Narrative Portraiture: On Location in New York City

Video: Scouting a strange location

This is a chapter where we get to put into practice the things that we've discussed and learned. This is a chapter where the rubber meets the road, where you get to put the pedal to the metal, where you really get to go for it. Because here in this chapter, I am going to share with you a few assignments that will require that you pull out your camera, that you get out into the world and that you create and capture photographs. So here is your first assignment. What I want you to do is to scout a location but to do so in a strange way. Let me explain.

Scouting a strange location

This is a chapter where we get to put into practice the things that we've discussed and learned. This is a chapter where the rubber meets the road, where you get to put the pedal to the metal, where you really get to go for it. Because here in this chapter, I am going to share with you a few assignments that will require that you pull out your camera, that you get out into the world and that you create and capture photographs. So here is your first assignment. What I want you to do is to scout a location but to do so in a strange way. Let me explain.

Find a location that's close to your home or your work or whatever it is, and find a location that has a lot of people in it and then go there with your camera, scout it out. Now, typically when we are scouting, we're paying attention to light, to backgrounds, to what's happening, but this time I want you to go a step further. I want you to photograph strangers in that context. Let me explain how this works for me. So say with the Jerry Mason shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge, well, I intentionally arrived in New York one day ahead of time.

The day before I walked around New York, and just enjoyed New York City and then of course I wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, as I did that, I photographed strangers along the way. It was my chance or my opportunity to get some experience with this context. How does this work photographically this time of year? What's happening on the bridge? Who are these people? What is New York? So how did I approach the strangers? Because that's really difficult to do, right? Well, here is what I would say.

I would approach them and say, hey, I am a photographer from California. I am working on this little project, taking pictures of people here on the bridge. Is there any chance I could create a portrait of you? And they almost always said yes. And I know a lot of people get nervous, they think "gosh, I can't photograph someone I don't know" but here's an idea for you. Blame your photograph on someone else or something else. Here is some verbiage you might try out. For example you could walk up to someone in that location and say, hey, I'm going through this online photography course and I have been given this assignment, this homework project where I have to photograph strangers.

Now, I'm not very good at this but I was just wondering is there any chance that I could create a photograph of you here. Again, you are blaming it on me or on this assignment, saying, hey, could you help me out? I am doing something new and I am interested in trying to do this. Could you help me? Give me a hand, lend me a hand. A lot of times people will respond positively. Now, of course there always will be those who say no, I am too busy or just not interested. That's fine! Let them go and go move on to the next person. Because what this can do for you is in a sense it can help you to develop a really unique familiarity with the context.

It can also require you or force you to work really, really fast, because when you photograph a stranger,like me on the Brooklyn Bridge, I would take one or two photos and that's it. I had to nail it. I didn't have much time. And that really sharpens your skills. It kind of increases your overall flexibility and gets you primed and pumped and ready to create the photographs in that context on another day. The other thing that it does for you is it helps you to think about your camera almost like a sketchbook.

This isn't the most important photograph. This isn't a photograph that someone is paying for. This is just for me. I'm just sketching here. I am just drawing some ideas. How would that work? Okay, that, that. I'm trying things out, I am experimenting, and I think that that is so essential. If you want to make the transition from where you are photographically to being better than that, you have to take some risks. So take that assignment to heart, try it out, photograph strangers in new location.

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Narrative Portraiture: On Location in New York City

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Chris Orwig
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