A Face in The Crowd

    I have previously posted this feature on my own blog on 23rd July 2014 at justard.com and thought it has good value to a different audience. I hope you can pick up something out of it.

    Capturing people in crowds or groups has positive and negative sides. On the positive side is the fact that you are able to blend in. On the negative side is that others get in the way. Being photographers, especially in “Street” we cannot think negatively otherwise we should just give up. We have to continually work to turn those negatives into positives.

    There is sheer frustration when there is a beautiful, well composed shot right ahead of you, except, people keep passing, or a person or people decide to take up residence in your line of view. It could even be the people the subject is with, and they keep moving in front of the subject. You may have to move but lose that composition, but there is something so compelling that you want to capture, face-06-600x397that you are willing to forsake that original shot, just to get that specific subject. I have shot many people in crowds, or groups, where the odds are against me getting the shot I want, due to a lot of people around or just passing, but I have persisted and got it.

    The shot on the left shows this. It is a pretty girl looking in front of her, in a very big crowd with people moving about around her. I had no chance of getting anywhere near her to get a good shot. I waited until there was a gap and I got a couple of shots, then suddenly she turned as the person between us moved slightly forward and looked at me. Click! What a great shot.

    At the Wales v Scotland Rugby International I got the following shot. I was really pleased with it as it was this guys expression that I was after, and got. The crowd numbers were huge. The only option if I wanted the guy alone in the shot, was to ask the other people to move out of the way, ha!

    Street Photography

    Some people thought that the man on the right should have been cropped out. I had thought about that myself and having the benefit of looking at both options, I decided to leave him in as I felt it added to the shot. It also gave a wider aspect to the shot, which is what I prefer as opposed to square.

    I have always been fascinated by shots where a face is picked out of the crowd. There is something about it that really appeals to me. It is the natural framing, as you can see in the above shot, using the other people as the frame. It is also similar to when you have good bokeh, or you manage to get good separation from the background. The difference is that quite often it is people in the foreground that are out of focus. Sometimes though this doesn’t work as your eyes get drawn to the other subjects and not the main subject you are focused on.

    This next shot shows exactly what I am trying to explain. The beautiful woman is in sharp focus, with those around her out of focus to different degrees, so the viewers eye goes directly to her smiling face.

    Street Photography

    It is always better to shoot close up with a wide aperture, then it puts all but your subject out of focus, with them being pin sharp. This shows in the shot as eyes get drawn to it. The issue with shooting at a further distance is that people around come into focus due to the wider depth of field. It can then look like a group or crowd shot and your subject is lost amongst them, although there is another trick, but this will rely on your subject. We will look at that a little further down.

    One issue when shooting with a DSLR is the choice of lens in regard to focusing.

    I almost always use my Nikkor 85mm f1.8d Prime lens, with my aperture set at f2.8. Although not a small lens, it is not huge either and is comfortable to carry around in one hand all day.face-08-600x388

    Some people like Zoom lenses as they allow you to get closer shots whilst being further away. Unless you have a Zoom with a fixed wide aperture, your aperture is going to narrow as you zoom, so instead of shooting at say f2.8 or similar, you will be shooting at say f6.3 or higher, and therefore having such a small aperture will give a wider depth of field as mentioned above.

    There are other negatives with using Zooms. The main one being that they are a lot larger than Primes. Unless they have Internal Focusing, as you zoom in on a subject the barrel extends, which can really draw attention to you. The downside to the Internal Focusing Zooms, is normally the size and weight, and the biggie, the cost. They will cost a considerable amount of money. But as in all aspects of photography you get what you pay for. Or should do anyway.

    When this type of shot really works above all others is when you get eye contact. The eye contact removes everybody else from the shot, and makes the connection between Photographer and Subject. I think the following pairs of shots show this very well.
    Everyone in the shot is out of focus apart from the subject and the man behind, but you don’t notice him as we have the full face of the subject.


    Street PhotographyEveryone in the shot is out of focus apart from the subject and the man behind, but you don’t notice him as we have the full face of the subject.


    Street PhotographyThis is head on and even though the woman to the side is in focus, due to the eye contact, there is a connection between myself and the lovely lady in green. A clear line of sight between all others around. It’s as if there are only the two of us there.


    Street PhotographyIn this second pair we have the same. It is a nice shot of the pretty girl and all others are out of focus. I think this is a nice stand alone shot.


    Street PhotographyThen we have eye contact. The connection is made and once again there is only the photographer or viewer and the subject.


    Street PhotographyIn this shot we also have the connection. She knows it is her I am shooting, so looks straight through the channel between the others who are unaware.


    Street PhotographyThe next two shots show the little trick I was referring to above. Although all the girls are on the same focal plane and I am not that close, I have purposely waited with viewfinder to my eye until the girl looked at me. This then separated her from the others and makes her the subject as there is no interest to you of the others.


    Street PhotographyThe same trick is used in this shot. The PSCO was talking to the two men, so it was just a group shot with them talking. Once again I stood with eye to the viewfinder, until I had caught her eye. We have the shot!


    Street Photography

    There were huge crowds in Cardiff Bay for the Food & Drink Festival. I saw this girl with a lot of tattoos walking the other side of a group of people. Luckily for me she was quite tall. I was panning until I could get a clear shot, but this was impossible with the sheer number of people. But I persisted, and she noticed me. Eye contact. Click!

    The difference with this shot compared to the previous two, is that they were both stationary and I just had to wait and hope they looked up. Also this girl was not on the same plane as others around. This shot also needed me to follow the line the girl was taking and hope an opening occurred, which luckily for me it did.

    If you would like to see an excellent example of a shot through the crowd, then take a look at Tina Leggio’s shot “Watching The Crowd Go By” which I posted in the Featured Photographer Series on my favourite shots of hers. Sheer persistence got her the shot. It is truly magnificent. It is my favourite shot of hers and amongst my favourite 10 Street Photography shots. Did I say I liked it?






    1. Tina | | Reply

      Well, thank you for the compliment, Wayne. 😀 I’m honored that so much time has passed and you still remember that shot.

      You definitely do have persistence in getting amazing shots even in crowds. I really like the two shots in a row of the woman with the reddish sunglasses because of the two people in front of her. It’s almost like she’s invisible to them, but yet she’s standing out the most. Those pictures for me told a story.

      • Just Ard | | Reply

        Tina, you know that is still my most favourite shot of yours. Others may come and go, but that is the marker that has to be beaten.

        I really do enjoy that link between myself and the subject, however brief.

    2. Mister G.C. | | Reply

      I agree with Tina. You do get some outstanding shots of people and mostly of the pretty female type. I take my hat off to you for your technique of standing there with camera at the ready waiting to snap the minute they look at you. I couldn’t do that. I’m the sort of a ‘see, aim, shoot and scoot’ type of person.

      I know that eye contact can really turn a normal shot into a beauty, but 99% of my eye contact shots are all lucky shots. I try not to let them know I’ve taken their photo and I think that is down to being in Germany….their attitude to ‘personal space and privacy rights’ which could lead to confrontations combined with the language barrier sometimes holds me back from a shot or two.

      The Queen street shot with the sunglasses does it for me. The reflections are spot on and even though we can’t see her eyes we know by her smile that contact has been made.
      Nice post Wayne.

    3. Just Ard | | Reply

      As you know Grant, I take both the eye contact and non eye contact shots. It is just that there is that brief contact with the subject that gives it such a buzz.

      I think if you shot anywhere else, you would find peoples reactions are almost exactly the same. As you say you are a ‘see, aim, shoot and scoot’ type of person, so you would be gone anyway.

      I don’t know where you get the impression that the shots are mostly of pretty females though!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *