It’s an easy trap to think of the world as organisations and structures; massive client X wants project Y, and it will be delivered by company Z. Because in the end, all those organisations, brands and structures boil down to individual people. And all of them working with the fear they might, just, possibly… not know what they’re doing. And that’s why the individual approach is the best, because it gets you over those fears and insecurities and you get the best out of people. Photographers know this very well, it’s all about rapport; forget the baggage of organisation, hierarchy, poverty, or privilege, they’re all just people and so are you. To illustrate this we’re taking a personal approach – Ian Harding is the founder of Crispy Dog and this is his account of a shoot for the charity TLG (Transforming Lives for Good).
TLG got in touch to shoot their Make Lunch clubs, it’s a programme that provides meals and activities to struggling families during school holidays. Their brief was:
“We’re after some documentary style photographs of our clubs in action. This will be quite a busy / energetic session, so would love to capture
the atmosphere – with meals being served, games being played and happy kids’s faces”
I always think carefully about a brief and never take a cookie cutter approach, as much as I like cookies;) For me a few key words stood out: busy, action, energetic, atmosphere. All of these shout video to me and so, even though I was being hired to take photos, I asked my assistant to come along and shoot video at the same time. Another word that stood out was Hull, as we’re a London based agency. But we made the long drive up and arrived here…
I felt a little apprehensive walking in but when the door opened and I met the individual staff running the event, it was obvious to me what the vibe I had to capture was: upbeat, positive, smiles all round. Going to a job is both exciting and nerve racking as you never know what to expect. For me I like this. I love going into the unknown, meeting random people and having to think on my feet to make it work. But I always take a little time to step back, look, listen and absorb the atmosphere/vibe/situation around me before starting to shoot. The approach should never be: “This is job type A so I need standard shots B, C and D.” It should always be, “I’m right here, right now and I need to capture how these people are feeling as well as what they’re doing.”
From the kids I got the usual stares and whispers of, “Who’s that?” but I smiled back at them. Photographers often try to be invisible, but at events like this it’s important to be accepted, and this paid off later. Once the children were finished with games they gathered into a semi circle to hear Hekima and his drum. He told stories and folk tales from his home country in Africa.
The risk of getting involved is forgetting why you’re there and I caught myself being transfixed by his performance. But snapping out of it I got some nice shots of the children feeling exactly what I had been feeling. These are some of my favourite shots of the day, they are the most natural because I knew how they were feeling and they forgot I was there.
A client will often tell me who I need to shoot, but that is sometimes only half the story. On this day I walked into the kitchen to meet the staff working behind the scenes and got the usual, “I don’t like having my picture taken.” You’d be amazed, it doesn’t matter if you’re living in poverty in Senegal or the CEO of a multinational, you get the same reaction all over the world. My job is to put that individual at their ease; in this case this called for a little joke and to pass it off as just a snapshot, nothing major. I got some great shots of them looking natural and happy.
When lunch began in the dining room it became a cacophony of noise, excitement and mayhem. I concentrated on capturing everything – the children getting served, the volunteers smiling, happy forks in the air.
At this point the children had accepted me and became, “take my picture, take my picture!” which was a great opportunity to interact and get some good shots.
Part of my job that day was capturing stills for a feature that TLG were writing for their magazine. We went outside to a local park for individual shots of Helen and Leon, but Leon didn’t want to have his photo taken. For Leon a joke wasn’t going to work. For him the best solution to was… tickling.
These natural shots always work better than the posed ones because the subject feels comfortable, able to express how they feel rather than how they think I want them to feel. But they’re only possible by treating them as a real person, working out what will make them relaxed right in the moment.
And that was my work done for the day. In a short space of time I’d gone from the odd stranger walking in, to being actively sought out and building rapport with everyone there. I’d been on journey myself of feeling uncomfortable to being utterly comfortable. And as a result the shots fitted the brief perfectly and my client was happy.
“Ian – they’re brilliant! Honestly, we love all of them. Thank you so much!
You’ve done such a great job of capturing the energy of the club, the fun they’re having and a real sense of community.
They’ve really brightened up my Monday afternoon. THANK YOU!!!!!”
And when they saw the video they were even happier…
“This is brilliant! We love it – thank you so much!
It’s fun, energetic and Deana’s interview really hits home the reason we’re running TLG Make Lunch clubs.
We’re so grateful for you doing this!” Gemma Parker, TLG Brand and Graphic Designer