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Shooting blind, or not shooting at all…

Mar 27, 2012 No Comments by
Sometimes, as photographers, we find ourselves in situations where it becomes painfully clear that we are not welcome. It happens especially to travel and reportage photographers who often deal with radically different cultures or sensitive environments.
Photographing women in a Muslim country is one good example of a difficult task. You immediately realize your artistic inspiration is not welcome, neither fully understood and you are more likely to get the cold shoulder than any level of collaboration. A good smile, a warm heart and the right attitude can work miracles sometimes, but there are other times where it just doesn't work, and you have to be creative. Of course, we always have to respect the right of people not to be photographed, if so they wish.

Another problem that photographers have often to deal with is that people knowing they are being photographed, tend to lose their natural look and their behavior is affected by the awareness of being your subject.
In these situations, it can be very useful to master a technique that seems quite impossible at first. Shooting without aiming, that is, taking pictures without looking through the camera. As difficult as it seems at first, I guarantee you it is a powerful technique that can sometimes earn you THAT otherwise impossible shot!
Let’s see how it works.

The in-camera settings are pretty straightforward. You won’t be looking in the viewfinder, so there is absolutely nothing you can check and correct during the shot. You have to resort to auto-everything.
As far as autofocus is concerned, you have two options: single focus point or multipoint. With the multipoint option selected, you can be sure that –something- will be in focus in your shot, but there is no guarantee it will be your main subject. With single point (I suggest selecting the central one) you have more control over what gets focused and, with practice, you can even focus on the subject and recompose the image to move it away from the center. Again, this is not easy but it can be achieved with a fair amount of trial and error.
For shooting mode I use aperture priority and I select an aperture (and ISO value) that gives me the shutter speed I need for a particular situation. If I want steady shots, I use maximum aperture and high ISO; if I want to experiment with creative panning and camera movements, I select low ISO and smaller apertures to get me in the 1/4-1/8 of a second shutter speed range.
Once these settings are dialed in you are ready to shoot and it’s time to test and hone your skills...
Keep in mind that not bringing the camera to the eye will lower your angle of view, opening a new world of creativity. Also keep in mind that people knows you are shooting when you are bringing the camera to the eye AND you are holding it with your right hand AND you are holding it straight up. You can easily deceive your shooting by changing all of this

How to hold the camera to shoot in disguise...

If you have a battery grip attached to the camera (highly recommended) it is actually easier to operate the second shutter release button using your left hand. Or you can hold the camera upside down and press the second shutter release button with your right hand index finger. By doing this, your “average subject” will not suspect any shooting going on and you can get some impossible shots.
Of course the most difficult part is getting the composition you want. There are no secrets to be taught or shortcuts to be taken here. You must try and try and try again, until you get familiar with this technique and you start getting good results. You are basically eye-balling everything but it’s not impossible to even focus and recompose and become good at it. Even with a lot of practice, though, you will still miss a lot and you have to play the game knowing it is really a hit or miss one.
But when the result is spot on, you can enjoy unconventional shots that will foster a more creative approach to photography. Grab a camera and go shoot blind!

A short gallery of images taken with the technique described in this article...

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