Seeking advice on a personal project

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Boid, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    I'm starting a personal photography project this week.

    I've picked an easy subject, especially in terms of access, since this is my first attempt at anything like this.

    It's simplistic to a fault.

    "Friends at work".

    Bunch of people I know hold down very different jobs. One's in garment manufacturing, another runs a web design company, one works for Nike, a couple are fashion designers. There are pals who are photographers, school teachers, etc. I'm hoping to get a glimpse into their work life and environment, where they spend a large part of their life. I know how I spend my time at work, but have very little clue as to how they spend theirs.

    The only restriction I'm imposing on myself during the shoot, which will last a day, is that I can't talk to anyone, in the hope that they'll ignore me after a while. Unless I'm on fire or something, or ravenously hungry.

    I'm starting with the garment manufacturer at his factory, the day after tomorrow. I'll be using both the X100 and the LX5 for the shoot.

    Never having attempted anything like this before, I need help in avoiding any obvious photographic pitfalls I might face. I mean, right now I don't even know what are the things that generally go wrong.

    Any advice on how to see this through, or what my approach to this should be, or even advice on gear etc. would be much appreciated.
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  2. woof

    woof Veteran

    Sep 23, 2011
    I'll start.

    #1 I would not consider this simple.

    What you are doing is portraying people at work. So at least secondarily, the work is important - what it is that they are doing is important. How, for example, will your photo tell the story that your friend works in web design? Really... the closest you might get is that they work with computers... but is that really enough? In what creative way can you convey the REAL story, the details, without turning the picture into something that removes or deprecates the friends part... and by the way, how will we know they are friends..? From the title of the body of work? Or is it really more like People (who happen to be friends) at Work? I am frankly more interested in the latter. I ask you this not to put too fine a point on the fact that you are already assuming things not in evidence. Try to think this way. It may help you conceptually. I don't know how, but often I find the answer to such questions in the midst of a shoot. It is always a surprise. And since people are involved, don't forget to ask them sticky questions like this as well. People know themselves and their stuff better than you ever will and they will have some good ideas... So... open your mind.

    Watch your backgrounds. Avoid things "growing" out of people's heads. Try to throw backgrounds out of focus at least somewhat if people are the focus. Still watch your background. A big bolt of cloth growing out of your garment worker's head will be distracting...

    Will check in on this thread again. Nicely started, great idea to ask for help here. i really want to see the responses to this.

    Kind regards,

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  3. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Wow. Thanks for some really nice inputs. This is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for.

    The focus of the shoot is the space where the friend spends his time and the people that he interacts with, not the friend per se. The title I guess is misleading in that, I will come up with a better descriptive. There would be a couple of hero shots of him sitting at his cubicle/table, but I what I really want to set out and capture, is a sense of his environment at work and the people surrounding him on a daily basis.

    The web design guy is giving me nightmares, and I'll probably tackle him last.

    I will be very mindful of backgrounds now! Thanks again for your inputs, I really appreciate it.
  4. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Unfortunately, I have no advice to give, but I'm looking forward to whatever you capture. I like these types of photos.
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  5. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Agreed, this is going to be very interesting to watch from the sidelines, Boid.

    I've never done anything like this really...though I've certainly taken many photos of my husband at work...he's a carpenter so it's quite different in the sense of location. I'm sure you've already thought about using different camera angles, kneeling to shoot, or even standing on a chair or ladder to get the overview of the place.... The LX5 will be very helpful for the wide angle views which can be used to portray many different feelings, while the X100 can be used to fill the frame and low light... Perhaps another way to think about this is thinking of the essence of what he does...go macro perhaps and then pullback?

    Will you make a gallery here or how do you plan on sharing your project here... I hope you're going to let us see how things go along, it's going to be good, I'm sure!
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  6. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Thanks for the vote of confidence BB. Really appreciate it. If the photographs turn out even 5% of what they're like in my head, I'll post them. I'll be relying on the wide angle on the LX5 for capturing settings and mood and the X100 for portraiture and details. I'm more nervous about it than I thought I'd be.
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  7. Isoterica

    Isoterica Hall of Famer

    Dec 6, 2011
    Woof made a great point in saying to make sure that nothing is 'growing out of people's heads' meaning take your time to compose the shot. Make sure that body parts are cut off in the appropriate places such as don't cut at the elbows, cut just above or just below giving a sense of normal human anatomy. Don't shoot an entire person and leave out their feet or lose a hand out of frame when all else is in frame. Some of this might be remedied by cropping after the fact so don't worry if instances aren't perfect, take your shots and process them later. But do try to keep certain elements in mind.

    What I would suggest though rather than blurring our your background is really working on a storytellers depth of field. For instance a Nike worker could be working on manufacturing shoes and if you portrait them and blur out all the processing machinery behind them you remove the punch of what they are doing, the crux of what it is you are photographing, people [or friends] at work. A web designer might be difficult but if you can profile them with code clearly evidenced on their monitor in the background, and not blurred out, you will capture at least the essence of their programming.. something. Even computer novices would look at that and say wow that guy must be writing the code to something, it's not like any web page I've ever seen. Blur can be used in a very creative manner but the images that tend to hold our attention over time are the ones with a good depth of field, one that conveys what is going on or a tone behind the subject/s. You can also take a portrait shot as a cover or inset in which you really do focus only on your friend's face and blur out the rest as a graphic summary. Think: This is John.

    Another possibility so that you get into the theme of each worker, would be to talk to them about what they do at their job prior to the shoot, about what their company does and really unless conversation will be frowned upon at their work there is no better way to loosen up a model than to talk to them in an easy going manner while you are photographing them. Remember they will be tense at first, their every move being scrutinized, heaven forbid they might have an itch they need to scratch. Help them to relax, don't interrupt what they are doing but make them feel comfortable about what you are doing. Sure they are friends but that doesn't mean they might feel a bit awkward. A relaxed subject is a natural subject. One worthy of photographing.

    Remember to use a variety of angles but to be most intimate with your subject as if you are there with them you need to be on [or close to] the same level as them. This goes for shooting in macro as well, get level with your subject. So if they are at a desk, you should take some shots at the same level. It will be like you are sitting right there with them. If they are standing at a piece of machinery, then you should stand. You can also crouch [or shoot from a platform above] to give a sense of scale to the machinery if it is really large and you want to get it and your friend in frame. For a teacher, you could sit in a desk as if you are a student being taught by them [back of the class so you see other student heads], again you want intimacy. Shoot the teacher in profile so that you can see the students stretching out before them. In this case you might want to use a bit of blur to remove the identity of the children as individuals but identify them as a student body. Particularly if they are minors. You want to be a part of it so that the people seeing your images after the fact will feel like they too are a part of it without ever meeting your friends, without knowing anything about their jobs. Photographer? Get behind them showing them taking their shots, if they have live view, capture them capturing their shot.

    Use your imagination, get close and remember these are your friends, don't stress yourself, just enjoy spending the day with them and try to record it in accord with your overall vision. Also remember to always keep your camera ready, sometimes the true gems happen just before or moments after your shoot. Until you leave the premises you are not done. Good luck!
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  8. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    This is great advice Kristen! Thanks ever so much for taking the time to respond. I will be mindful of chopping off limbs at the joints and controlling the DOF to correctly convey the story. I'm hoping there will be tonnes of light and I'll be able to shoot with smaller apertures. It's been overcast the last few days, so the light should be nice and diffused outside, but inside I might have to contend with harsh fluorescent lights. For the factory shoot, I'm very influenced by Edward Burtynsky's images of man's adverse influence on his environment. Large faceless endless factories in China, churning out goods in remarkable quantities. I want to document (if I can) the opposite end of the spectrum, showing the more human side of manufacturing. Stressing on individuals rather than the mob. That's how it is in India anyways, even though it's repetitive work, there isn't a faceless mob doing it. I'm guessing I will be shooting a lot of portraits.

    Another big problem is that I don't speak the local language, which will hamper communication in a big way. I guess I will have to rely on pantomime. Oh well.

    I should have surveyed the premises before landing up for the shoot. I have no idea if I have vantage points that oversee the production floor. But then I can always go back in case I feel that I can squeeze out a few more shots from the place. My focus for this shoot is not really to document the process of manufacturing, but the drama of the space itself and the interactions between people. For example I'm interested in knowing and documenting if there is a line formed when they head out to lunch, or is it just a scattered bunch of people (there are 3000 workers at this facility). Do people laugh or sing while working, stuff like that. All in the hope that I'm able to compile an album full of experiences that my pals would be able to show their grandchildren "Way back in 2012, this is what a day at work used to be like at XXXXX"

    Thanks again for your insights. I'll definitely keep a camera dangling from my wrists at all times!
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  9. JJJPhoto

    JJJPhoto Regular

    Jun 12, 2012
    Lately whenever I think of photos of people at work I instantly think of these images:

    pavel_kosenko: 4x5 Kodachromes

    The thing I like about many of these is the creative use of lighting.
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