Urban outdoor portrait photography can depict the true dark underbelly of most cities. This face of the city generally remains unseen, as it is an unpleasant reminder to most of us as to how the homeless live. It can also be downright ugly and dangerous. However, like it or not, it does exist and does need to be seen. So, if you would like to take outdoor portrait photographs in some of the darker parts of your city, here are 5 tips that could help you.
If your subject is a homeless person or just someone interesting you met on the street, it is a good idea to ask their permission before you take their pictures. If possible, get them to sign a written release too. If at any point you want to get the photographs published or displayed publicly, it could save you potential legal hassles.
Since most of these pictures are taken on the street, you would need to depend on sunlight. Based on your surroundings, check out the best time of day in terms of light. Mornings are a good time as there is enough natural light but it is not too bright.
Photograph your subject directly in front at about nose height for a direct face shot. If you take a photograph when they are turning their face slightly, it would leave part of their face shaded, giving you a more expressive portrait. For full body shots, take them from a lower angle or from a slight distance. The most realistic portraits would be of people in their natural state, in this case sitting on the pavement, lying on a bench, sleeping under a cardboard or newspapers, and so on.
Firstly find the usual places habited by the homeless. These places could be dark, dirty and even unsafe. Make sure you do a proper study of the locality, talk to a few people living there, try to build a rapport with some locals, and then finalize the location. Then decide which backdrops would best reflect the place and the people living there. These could be the street itself, around corners or alleys, under bridges, around trash cans, on pavements, in front of broken shop windows or dilapidated buildings, etc.
Most homeless people do not like being photographed. The few that will allow you to take the photographs will not be too patient about it. Avoid using a tripod. Use a camera that is easy to use, is fairly high speed, and which works well in natural light. Also keep your bag as light as possible and keep the camera handy. That way you will not miss any sudden and unexpected photo ops.
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