Shooting people on the back

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by arthuryeo, Aug 3, 2002.

  1. I just wanted to start a thread to discuss when we shoot people on the back: the effective scenarios, the principles to follow, the guidelines to remember, etc. Gurus out there, please feel free to contribute.
    Just to start the ball rolling, let's begin by viewing the attached JPG and start from there.
    N.B. The photographer of this photo is withheld for the moment so we can discuss this more objectively. For those who know her(him), please do not reveal.
  2. People pictures can have the problem, that you tend to look at the face first. If the face is interesting the pic will be interesting. Nothing wrong with that, but the focus is more on that particular person, the picture is about THIS person. When you don't see the face its more anonymous, which can give the picture a more universal appeal, meaning the focus is not one particular person, but all persons that fit whatever properties the picture ascribes to the people shown.

    That's the reason, why a lot of the pictures I took of my family are not in my portfolio here, they are of interest to me, but not to anyone else. Only a few, where the face is not so important are here, because I hope they have a more universal appeal.
  3. I shot this person from the back because to me the whole picture is of an individual contemplating something (and maybe escaping for a time, the crowds of the city below). I don't believe that my getting him to turn around would have made anything better.
  4. Ask yourself "Why is this person being photographed from behind?" If the answers relate to capturing a telling moment or expressing something important about the scene, that's good. If the answer relates primarily to your fear about "getting caught" photographing that person, that's bad.
  5. ditto what Dixon said.
  6. Because I don't want to get into his way and be shot ;-).
  7. Does it add to the composition? Photographing a person "en-face" can be distracting when shooting a scenery.

    Candid streetshots dont work when shot in the back IMO.

  8. Getting ready
  9. I think this qualifies (as being OK) based on Mike's reasoning,
    but is at odds with Henk's. Depends, I suppose, on what the
    subject really is.<P>
  10. Lovely picture, Todd.
  11. Portraits, and other photos in which the subjects are looking out of the photograph at the viewer, obtain a lot of their impact from the feeling they create in the viewer that they are meeting another person.

    Some photos of people, though, obtain their impact mostly from the feeling created in the viewer when they momentarily imagine that they are another person: the person in the photo.
    When I look at photos like the first two above, I am drawn into them in a very particular way: I imagine myself in the the position of the person(s) shown, and it cause me to think about, or wonder about, what their experience is like at that moment, what that person is thinking and feeling as they look out upon some view, . . .
    If the point of the photograph is to try to make the viewer feel this kind of identification with the subject of the photo, you don't necessarily need the subject's face in the image. After all, as we all look out on the world from the inside, we don't see our own faces . . .
  12. Candid streetshots dont work when shot in the back IMO. --- Henk
    Why is that so? What's the rationale behind it? Can you share them with us? Attached is another example with no possibilities that it was meant to be a scenic photo. Again, the name of the photographer was withheld for objectivity purposes.
  13. This is not a steetshot, it "floats" on tranquility, if you get my "drift". :)P

    But seriously this particular shot(i persume france, dordogne maybe?) of a famimily outing really shouldnt have been interfered with. It would blow the whole sense of being together, which this shot is all about IMO. Therefor the first situation applies.

    Does it add to the composition? Yes it does, you should not interfere with something good, point well made.....

    As it comes down to asthetics anyway, do we need to take an active role as it comes to portraits anyway? Or should we just reflect on what we see, capturing valuable(to us?) moments?

  14. I should have brought Brads pic into this, but hesitated.
    I dont have an example myself that illustrates it that well, the behind of a person has a sensitive side to it, it does not tell us(as a viewer) anything at all about the person itself.... In this perspective there is nothing gained by shooting someone in the back there is no other information about the subject to be found in the pic. If Brad would have focussed on another person this would not be the case, the woman standing there would be a bystander.

    In other words you deny the viewer to satisfy its natural curiousness about what he is seeing, an unsatisfactory sensation occurs...

    I hope this makes any sense, my english isnt that good,

  15. Sometimes the back is the only way it works.
  16. And Again..
  17. in many cases i find the backs of people far mor interesting than the front....a little mystery goes a long way....

  18. Uno Mas

  19. And yet again....
  20. GuideLines: my Leitz is a toy; it's soul purpose to is entertain me; I shoot what I want, when I want, however I want. Tell me you don't want to step into this photo and join in the discussion.

    <IMG SRC="" WIDTH="600" HEIGHT="400">
  21. Ian,
    Cool pics with nicely composed surrounding context. It builds the story for your pics. Thanks for sharing.
  22. First time I've seen a sombrero with a navy pea coat.<P>
    <IMG SRC="">
  23. Back lit.
  24. Another good reason: Shooting the person straight face-on shows you the person, shooting in the back let you look over their shoulder and let you show what they are looking at / for / forward to, where they are headed, what caught their attention.
  25. I saw your pictures, all really nice but i wonder if you all are making a compositional choise when shooting in the back, or just observing and reacting to an interesting situation? Personally it think some of the pics ive seen would benefit from seeing the subjects face.....They still are nice, but thats not what this is about(making nice pictures) or am i gravely mistaking?

  26. To try and make my point a little clearer, when i firts went to artclass, the first thing my teacher asked me was,


    Is this just something he said to open a discussion or did he think we should analise our own work?

    In other words, should we be comparing several back shots, and find out why some are better then others?

  27. Two backs.
  28. There are no hard and fast rules. Here is an example where a
    person's back takes up almost a third of the frame but she is not
    the subject but rather part of the scene directing the eyes
    towards the subject. Just use your imagination and ask yourself
    whether it takes you anywhere?
  29. I think that a lot of the pics here are environmental portraits where the picture is not of someone but about that person’s relationship to their environment. Also I think that in the very first picture it draws attention to what the people are looking at.

    I would put forward the following rule (noting that breaking the rules is a good idea)
    1. That the person or people should not take up all of the frame allowing the viewer to see the environment
  30. Splendid comment, Adam. Your language was clear and super precise --- no hiding around the bushes because you know exactly what you want to say. Thank you for sharing.
  31. How about this?
  32. I dont know if it is pointless to continue this discussion, but i think some context in the environment should be there.... Maybe even an obvious context. Or is using a wide to shoot people in the back enough? Is the context of Arthurs last pic clear? Does it need the still of the boy's back. Maybe we dont need guidelines at all and its just a decisive moment, only needing an esthetic evaluation at that time?

    Then again maybe i think too much ;)P...

  33. I guess the overriding principle I hear is context, context and context; without it, the photo just doesn't make sense. Thank you all for the contributions.
    PS: the 2 shots I attached in this thread was photographed by none other than our good friend, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
  34. But I'll throw one in anyway..
    <img src="">
  35. I liked the idea you offered for discussion, it being an attempt to understand something and formulate it as a principle. That's how one learns - by analyzing successful photos, then trying ideas himself.
    Here is my example
  36. This has been a fascinating thread, all the more so because it gets us away from the recent spate of photo-manipulations and back to the basics of photography - making, finding and celebrating images framed by the world that surrounds us.
    On to the topic at hand... We tend to think that the characteristic features that instantly identify our subjects to us are their faces; we're tuned and evolved to see things that way. We see so much more, but our own recognition is obscured from us by the glare of the all-important face. We tend not to see, or seek out, all that we're capable of seeing so long as the individual stares out from the photo, demanding that we look them in the eye.
    As I've shared my Antarctic photos with friends and family, a couple keep coming back to please me uniquely - both pictures of penguins shot from behind. They reveal the innate "penguin-ness" of each subject in a whole new way, stripping away the unique power of their faces to convey individuality to reveal so much more. Seeing them this way, I'm desperate to return and photograph them in new ways - choosing my subjects more by posture, shape and behavior to reveal both the more complete individuality of the birds and the archetypes behind them.
  37. Here's that penguin shot, properly sized. Wish I knew how to delete the first post but can't find instructions. Sigh.
  38. Hey Tom,
    Great to see your photos again, I remember you from your POW with 4-penguins. I think the one you just posted clearly expressed the dejected emotion of that animal. Perhaps it was the posture or the shadow that followed it, the effect was very much materialized in your photo.
  39. Back shot from a very different angle :0)

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