Have you ever considered using your friends and family to add a human touch to your photographs? Most of us go camping, hiking, or just head into nature with a group of our friends and family. I will often seize the day and use these people as my photo subjects. Adding the human element of our friends and family can turn a good photo into a great one. In addition, it will allow you to create a lasting memory of good times in a great location.
As photographers, a large part of our creative process is to establish a relationship between our viewer and the subjects of our photographs. That relationship can be staring into the eyes of a carnivore who might consider you a snack. Telling a story of how your subject engages in an activity. The strongest situation allows the story of your human subject matter to generate a connection directly to its viewer. When you’re out photographing, what better choice of human subject than one of those friends and family members that you bring with you into the wilds.
Traveling to the furthest corners of the globe isn’t a requirement for this sort of photography. You can often find it much closer to home, but you can also utilize subjects when you travel internationally as well. We can easily break down locations as if we were making a phone call.
Local Friends and Family
If you have been following my work for a while, you will see that I often photograph my kids. I include them for a number of reasons, some of which are the same as yours. Here’s a photo of my son from a few years ago. The story is simple – little boy hanging out riding his bicycle, yet the photo is powerful. He is obviously pretty young to be riding a bike. The lack of expression on his face allows us to make an immediate connection with his blue eyes. Viewers always connect with a subject’s eyes.
From there our connection becomes how we interacted with a bicycle when we were young. Do you not remember the days of your youth? Those first pedal strokes as you rode away from your parent? It was the first step in gaining your own freedom. For my son it happened when he was one and now I chase him down the mountain bike park trails hoping he doesn’t crash when landing monster airs.
Nationwide Friends and Family
A few years ago I was in Yellowstone National Park, shooting with dear friend Brendan Quigley, aka “Uncle Shiny”. I asked Brendan to put down his camera gear and walk through the fog along the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs. The boardwalk and fog alone weren’t necessarily enough subject to hold your attention within the photo. So I introduced the human element.
A story begins to grow for your viewer when they can make direct contact with another person. The viewer begins to ask questions. What is that person doing? Where is he coming from or going? Why is he on the boardwalk? I chose to turn the original color photo into a black and white to highlight the contrast and interplay of light and shadow. By showing the person as a silhouette, the photo becomes even more intriguing as we begin to become curious about the mood.
Often times, discovering a sense of mystery brings your viewer into a closer relationship with your photo. Keeping their attention is what we are all trying to do as photographers. Find a way to grab your viewer and give them a reason to keep staring at your photo. This almost forces them to see, feel and understand what is going on. Whenever you achieve this goal, you have succeeded over the photographer who doesn’t use his friends and family.
Long Distance Friends and Family
Many couples choose to spend their honeymoon on a white sand beach drinking cocktails, my wife and I chose differently. We rode 500 miles across Alaska on our mountain bikes for our honeymoon. 15 years later Heather and I returned to produce a feature story about the best single track on the Kenai Peninsula in the state of Alaska. We managed to con Dirt Rag Magazine into allowing us to produce a feature article of our story.
Because Heather is an ambassador for Juliana Bicycles, she knows how to ride. This meant I was able to use her as the subject for most of the photos that I created during the trip. There were hundreds of standout moments during this project. However this crash, caught mid-series, was one photo that really catches the viewer off guard. As the viewer, you immediately want to know if she was injured. Heather was bleeding from a severely deep gash on her shin and probably needed stitches. She chose to ignore the pain though. Her goal was to produce more photos. She was continually refining the story in her head and had no time for blood.
International Friends and Family
Now what if you are traveling on another continent? You see a photograph that just needs a person or two in it to make it stronger? Well, I make my guide stand in the shot and do what I say. It is kind of cool when you get to become the master of puppets. Last spring, I had my professional skateboarder guide get a little air for the camera. I had everyone in my group grab their cameras and instructed Chris to grab air like he did when skateboarding in a half pipe. Again, I deliberately chose to turn Chris into a silhouette because of the shape of his pose. This also allowed me to get the best exposure of the Paine Massive beyond.
I never hesitate to ask even the most remote stranger to become part of my composition in a photograph. All of my friends and family members already know that they are probably going to become part of a photograph if my camera is present. Adding the human element to a photograph not only allows us to further tell a story, people inevitably connect with other people, making a sometimes empty composition sing. Next time you head out with your friends and family try putting them into your photo and see how the results produce an interesting and different look for your work.