6 tips for taking pictures of interesting characters

P.E.I. has some beautiful nature and landscapes, but for some photographers, there's nothing like shooting people in their environment.

'Street photography' can be taken anywhere there are people and interesting subjects

Brian McInnis came across Ryan Doiron halter training a four-month-old colt in a field on the Trans-Canada Highway in Mount Mellick. So of course, he took his picture. (Brian McInnis)

Aug. 19 is World Photo Day, when photographers are encouraged to share photos on social media from their part of the world.

On P.E.I., there are plenty of beautiful landscapes and nature to photograph.

But freelance photographer Brian McInnis says some of his best images come from so-called "street photography" or documentary photography, and they can be taken anywhere there are interesting characters or subjects.

The website PetaPixel defines street photography as "a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject's knowledge. However, street photography doesn't rule out staged pictures. You may spot an interesting character that catches your vision; you can wander up to strangers and ask for permission to take their picture. This is a great way to get a more intimate portrait of someone in his or her environment."

We asked McInnis and professional photographer Louise Vessey for their tips on shooting people in their element.

Norman Peters loads traps onto his fishing boat in North Rustico. Peters died earlier this year at age 76. (Brian McInnis)

1 An hour before sunset is ideal

When photographing people outside on a bright sunny day, Vessey suggests timing it for an hour before sunset.

"If you can't do it at that time, put your subjects with their backs to the sun to avoid squinting and harsh shadows. Using flash can help to expose for their faces.  Better yet find a treed or shaded area for more diffused and more flattering light."

The man who's known as 'The Cowboy' at his house on Highway 2 near Breadalbane. (Brian McInnis)

 2. Candids are often best

The best shots are usually taken when the subject is acting naturally, McInnis says.

"If they are aware they are being photographed they may become self-conscious," he says.

If you are on public property, you can always go up to the subject afterward and let them know you took their picture if you wish, McInnis says. On private property, you should never take someone's picture without their consent.

Betty Ann Wood has been a fixture on Charlottetown streets selling the local newspaper and collecting cans and bottles. (Brian McInnis)

3. Shoot in shutter priority

"With today's digital and automatic everything cameras, it is hard to muck up a shot. But I like to shoot in shutter priority. That way I always know if the shutter speed is fast enough to stop any action," McInnis says.

When he's doing landscape or nature shots, he keeps his shutter speed at ISO 64-200. But for documentary photography, he prefers ISO 400.

"That gives me enough speed to freeze action. If I want to slow it down and be a bit more artistic, I can always reduce the ISO. The beauty of digital cameras makes that easy. I remember in the days of film if you wanted to change the ISO, you had to change to another roll of film."

Sometimes it's the hands, not the face, that are the most interesting part of a photo. As with this photo of a harpist playing at a pub in Charlottetown. (Brian McInnis)

4. Keep your eyes peeled

When you are out exploring, always be watching and aware of what is going on around you, McInnis says.

"Shoot anything that catches your eye. It may not seem interesting at the time, but when you get home and get the images up on the computer screen you will be surprised at what you may see. The key to being a good street photographer is always observing for anything and everything."

A farmer drives his cattle back to the barn for milking. (Brian McInnis)

5. Use light from the window

When photographing people indoors, make sure the light from a window is hitting your subject, Vessey says.

"If the window is behind your subject and you are taking the photo facing the window, your camera will expose for the outside and leave your subject as a dark silhouette. The best positioning would be to place your subject at the edge of a window with the light hitting them from the side. Play around with different angles and see what you like best."

6. Have fun

This is the most important tip of all, McInnis says.

"People are fascinating and this is great way to learn and tell their stories."

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