Faces intrigue and fascinate me. Especially the eyes. Life imprints itself upon our face, unless you are Dorian Gray of course. And unbeckoned our inner soul shines forth from our eyes, for better or for worse. I like faces that illustrate a life lived. I like the blemishes, the scars, the wrinkles. I like “gritty” faces, un-Photoshopped faces. Those kinds of faces will typically be found on the street. Street Photography can, and often is, very intimidating for the photographer. We are an intrusion, usually an uninvited one. But nothing speaks to me quite like an environmental portrait.
I tell people that I am not a people photographer. But that really isn’t true. Next to wildlife I mostly photograph people. I am an introvert. I am not particularly social. My camera forces me to interact with people that I would normally avoid. People that we might think of as sketchy. I try to never exploit, but rather to document (there is an ethical difference). I won’t revisit the ethical issues surrounding Street Photography in this post, I’ve done so many times in other posts. Suffice it to say that I struggle with those issues every time I venture into the genre.
1/400s @ f/4.0, ISO 400, FL=120444mm, Fill-flash
This man shined my boots this morning for $1.00 USD, and did an amazing job. They were a mess from my recent trip to the Amazon. I gave him $2.00 USD and asked politely, in my fractured Spanish, if I could take his photograph. He smiled and graciously said yes, and then struck this pose. Stoic comes to mind. Look at the busted nose, the twisted lip and the eyes of a hawk. This face has seen some living. The stories this man could tell, they’re all written on his face.
As a photographer, how do I do this face the justice it deserves? First, it had to be photographed in Black & White (color just wasn’t an option here). Second, I left the blemishes intact. In fact I accentuated them, they give the face its character. I am currently experimenting with fill-flash, a technique that complements natural existing light to capture more detail. I boosted the image’s contrast a lot, the blacks are blacker and the whites are whiter. I also sharpened the already sharp image significantly to accentuate the eyes and even the pores in the skin. The final result is an image reminiscent of a 1930’s Appalachian coal miner. I present to you my Shoeshine Man.
Lady with a Hat
1/500s @ f/4.0, ISO 400, FL=85mm, Fill-flash
This indigenous woman was selling her vegetables on the sidewalk this morning. She was wearing the ubiquitous small fedora you see everywhere here in Quito amongst the indigenous women. Indigenous people typically do not like their photo taken, to do so without permission is to just invite trouble. Again, in my fractured Spanish, I asked politely if I could photograph her and offered her $1.00 USD. She didn’t understand until her friends explained the situation to her: this crazy gringo was willing to pay her a dollar just to take a picture. She was both dubious and embarrassed. Just look at the skeptical expression on her face (the quizzical arched eyebrow in particular).
I took and processed this image the same way I did for the Shoeshine Man above. Clicking on both images will enlarge them for better viewing, and it will allow you to see even more detail. I present to you Lady with a Hat. I managed to capture both of these images without a fight or altercation, and it only cost me $2.00 USD. A small price to pay for a win-win situation. I was happy, and my subjects were happy. You don’t have to be an asshole to take great environmental portraits. By asking permission you sometimes lose out on a candid expression, but in these two instances I was well-pleased with the result.
Photographer’s note: These two images were captured as CameraRAW files using my Canon EOS 5D Mark II full-frame digital camera, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM zoom telephoto lens and Canon Speedlite 430EX II external flash with diffuser. RAW conversion and post-edits were completed in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE). Special attention was paid to the B&W conversion, contrast and levels adjustment and final image sharpening. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler