A GReat day out in Hannover (Part 2)

    ‘Eye Catching’ images and methods.

    Welcome to part 2 of my ‘A GReat day out in Hannover’ post. If you haven’t already, you can view part 1 here.

    In this post I thought I’d share with you all a handful of shots I took covering the subject of ‘Eye Contact’.

    Even though I’ve been doing street photography for about 4 years now, I still have problems, or should I say concerns, about getting caught up in a confrontation with anyone who may be not be too happy about me taking their picture without their permission. I do think that an image with eye contact is ten times better than a shot where the persons eyes are looking away from the camera. There’s definitely more of a connection when viewing an image where the person is staring straight back at you.

    So how do I go about getting that sought after eye contact when out in the street and at the same time avoid any undue attention & possible arguments? Well, I have a few methods which I have found work well for me, some of which you may already be familiar with.

    Method 1. ‘Unbelievably Close Candid’.

    I find with this technique I get some great results because I’m practically standing right next to the person. I’m standing so close to the person, they probably don’t believe that I’m taking their photograph, hence the name of this method. For this method it is best to use a wide angle lens and zone focusing.

    A wide angle lens allows me to compose the shot without actually pointing my camera directly at the subject….the wider the lens the closer I can get, and still get them in the shot.

    By using the zone focusing method I can get very close to my subject and still have them in focus. If I didn’t use zone focusing then I would have to point my camera directly at them, focus the shot by pressing the shutter button halfway and then recomposing. If they spot me composing first of all for the focus then it could lead to one of those uncomfortable moments that I have experienced in the past and also the ‘candid’ moment would be lost. If the person is looking away from the camera then it would possible to focus, recompose and wait for them to turn around.

    The moment they turn around it’s time to hit that shutter button! Humans are very inquisitive and things out of the ordinary attract their attention…..things like a camera :0) Yes, they have all probably seen one before, but 9 times out of 10 I’ve found that they look at the camera first, then at me. With my Ricoh GR there is no built in view finder so most of the time I don’t take photographs with the camera at my eye level, however due to the amount of eye contact images I have achieved, it just goes to prove the fact that people are more likely to look at the camera first…and hey presto…eye contact through the lens.

    At the time I spotted the young lady on the phone she had her back to me so I just waited next to her, poised for the shot and when she turned around I grabbed the candid eye contact shot. I didn’t lower the camera or immediately walk away after the shot, I stood for a moment and slowly panned the camera to the left as if I was using the camera in video mode. The young lady just looked the other way and carried on with the telephone call as if I wasn’t there.

    Method 2. ‘The background shot’.

    I use ‘The background shot’ method for when I want to photograph someone who may have already seen me heading their way and who look as if they will be stationary for the next few moments. Either sitting on a bench, leaning against an object or waiting at a bus stop….etc. They can obviously see I have a camera in my hand but don’t yet realise that they are going to be the subject. Avoiding eye to eye contact with the subject, before and after the shot, is paramount. One look into their eyes and the game is over. They know there’s a good chance that if I lift my camera and point it anywhere near them that they are going to be in the shot, which again creates the possibility of confrontation.

    Like in method 1 above, wide angle and zone focusing are the key. I walk in the general direction of my chosen subject scanning the area behind them (but keeping them in the corner of my eye without directly looking at them) and when I reach the point from where I want to take the shot, I raise my camera and pretend to take a shot of something in the background just off to the left or right of the person I’m photographing. I will then pretend to ‘chimp’ the shot I just took and then either move closer with the subject now out of the frame to make it look as if I’m taking another picture because the first one didn’t work out, or I make it look as if I’m happy with my shot of what was behind them and walk away.

    I actually spotted this lady as I walked passed her from the left hand side of this image. I liked the way she was just chilling out with her coffee and cigarette so I decided to walk a little further up the street and swing back to get the shot. My only regret is the composition of my shot. I should have pointed the camera at the background to the right of her so she would be sitting to the left facing the right hand side of the image. Then again the empty chairs and tables indicate that she was the only one there at that time of the morning giving it that slight ‘lonely’ feel to the image.

    Method 3. ‘The Ambush‘.

    For this method there is no need for a wide angle lens or zone focusing, just a bit of forward planning, quick feet and any camera lens set up that has a good auto focus capability. The ambush method is, as it sounds, I ambush my subjects as they appear from around a corner.

    First of all the forward planning part…..try and predict in which direction they are heading and see if there are any corners, bus stops, parked vans or alley ways in which you can position yourself to ambush the subject as they walk into the shooting zone. Once you spot a suitable location it’s time to get jiggy and get those feet moving.

    Once you are there you and get the scene composed it’s just a matter of waiting and hope that they actually pop around the corner right into your shooting zone. As they appear, their human nature takes over and guess what?…..they spot a camera :0)

    Take the shot (or shots if you are using continuous burst mode) and then drop your shoulders, sigh and smile as they apologise for getting in the way of your shot. This has happened to me a few times and as I’m writing this I’m actually now wishing that I had used those moments as an ‘ice breaker’ to get into a conversation and maybe get a photograph or two for my 100 Strangers project. That’s something I’ll have to try out next time the situation arises.

    The ambush method can also be used in wide open spaces when you see someone heading your way from left or right. Just raise the camera as they pass in front and normally the movement of you raising the camera will attract their attention and what d’you know…an eye contact image. The only draw back for this approach is that some lenses may not focus quickly enough for a passing subject. this is where the advantage of zone focusing comes into play.

    A couple of other tips for when using this method are, look out for reflections in windows or shadows on the ground of people coming around a corner towards you or even look through corner shop windows where you can see people heading in your direction.

    If you’ve ever seen a ‘Digrevs’ video on Youtube you will know that Kai, the presenter, likes a good old ‘Hong Kong trolley shot’ whenever the chance arises. I thought immediately of him when I spotted this guy pushing his trolley of fruit and veg through the streets of Hannover. He was heading towards a street corner, where the morning sunlight was streaming down. It was then I decided to get moving and hopefully ambush him.

    I managed to overtake him and disappear around the corner. It was only a matter of seconds before he came into view and not only was he met by the beautiful sunlight but also with me and my camera. I got my shot. I then made it look as if he was in the way and pretended to take another shot of the town center as he passed by me :0)


    This was taken as I was heading towards the railway station to catch the train home. I spotted the lady and her shopping trolley heading my way so just as she was about to pass, I raised the camera, she turned her head to see what I was doing…and there you have it….a nice eye contact image with the added bonus of a friendly smile.

    Method 4. ‘The Direct Approach’

    As in ‘The Ambush’ method any camera set up can be used for this direct approach providing the camera has a live view option & preferably a silent shutter. Basically this involves heading straight towards your subject and getting the shot.

    The trick is in what you’re doing with the camera at the time. With the shutter sound on my GR turned off, I walk directly towards my intended subject with my camera slightly out in front of me around waist height and my head down, using the viewfinder to see where I’m going. All this time I am framing the person I wish to photograph but also, at the same time, I pretend to swipe the LCD screen as if I am viewing images on the camera.

    By using zone focusing, I can keep walking and snapping within the set zonal distance, knowing that the shot will still be in reasonable focus. This may not be so easy if I was using a camera lens setup that wasn’t too great on continuous focusing.

    When I’m finished taking the shot(s) I look up from the camera, before bumping into them, and pretend that I didn’t see them there and apologise for being in their way by saying something like ‘ooops sorry, I didn’t see you there’….and away I go.

    As you can see, I was on a collision course with the lady in the center of the shot using the direct method which has a good effect of making viewers feel as if they were there in the shot, and the ladies on each side helped frame the main subject. If you notice the look of the lady in the middle and the lady on the right you will now understand why I put all these methods into practice when shooting street photography in order to avoid any unpleasant confrontations which would inevitably ruin the day.

    Well there you have it. Those are the main techniques that I personally put into practice when out and about on the streets looking for my ‘candid eye contact’ shots. The methods I’ve just described may not be for everyone, however I hope someone out there who is maybe new to street photography or thinking of starting this genre of photography, will have found something of interest that they may want to try out at some point. If you are a seasoned street photographer and this was all something that you already knew before then I hope at least you enjoyed viewing my shots from Hannover.

    I have already published a post in this blog showing how I set up, took and edited an image using the ‘Unbelievably Close Candid’ method which you can read here

    Thanks for visiting and reading this post. Any comments or feedback are very welcome and greatly appreciated. If you have any other ‘eye catching’ methods that you think would be of interest then by all means share them in the comment box below.


    1. phil anker | | Reply

      Wonderful informative blog Grant accompanied by some great shots.
      I use some of your techniques as well. Although the ambush is one that I am now keen to try. Avoiding eye contact with your subject is something I always strive for. All to do with the body language I guess, the majority of people are less likely to maintain a reaction if there is no eye contact.
      I have taken to wearing a cap when out shooting to keep the sun out of my eyes. But I have found this is useful to help avoid eye contact with a simple dip of my head.

      • Mister G.C. | | Reply

        I look forward to seeing your results after trying the ambush method.
        I also wore a cap once when I was out with the Nikon but the skip kept getting in the way. Maybe I’ll try the cap again when using the GR. Sunglasses are also a good way of avoiding eye contact but I hate wearing sunglasses, just does my head in :0)
        Thanks for your kind words too Phil….greatly appreciated.

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