Selfie Shooters in Candid Camera
by Brad Nichol
An elevated view gives a nicely different perspective to this Selfie Candid.
Selfies are a polarising photographic genre. A certain demographic of the Facebook generation revel in the medium, they love to “pull the Kardashian” preen, pout, parade and share with the obligatory “softie glow filter” to a world apparently just waiting with bated breath for the latest insight into their very, very important daily life. For this group the selfie is the tool by which life is bagged and bragged, it’s shot and shared and 15 secs of fame and adoration quickly flows via the social media channels. To this first group, the selfie is a See Me, Facebook Me, Instagram Me but most of all Adore Me vehicle, it is in many ways a purely narcissistic pursuit which might help explain why so many people have negative attitudes to the whole selfie movement and few serious photographers take the genre, well, seriously. I might also help explain I suspect why body image issues are now becoming so worrisome thing for young people. It all begs the question. If you go somewhere and there is no selfie, were you really there? There’s no lack of examples of bad selfie behaviour to irk the dissenters, selfie sticks are banned in many locations and many “would be Kardashians” (and yes they are normally young women) seem to lack any concept of good social graces. My wife and I witnessed first hand at the Alcazar Palace in Seville, Spain, some terrible selfie driven behaviour.
A group of three young girls had decided the Palace was a great place for an all-out selfie fest photo shoot. They blocked doorways, passageways and views to paintings, annoyed the tour guides and generally frustrated paying tourists in the crowded venue as they pranced, preened and performed for their cameras and hurriedly whizzed them straight to Facebook.
The aspect that really annoyed my wife and I was pretty straightforward. “Alcazar” is one of the most incredible locations you could ever visit, simply stunning and incredibly significant historically and artistically to both Span and the rest of Europe, yet to these girls it was all about the selfies. We seriously doubted they left the palace with any idea of its history and architectural significance or gained an appreciation of the nuances and features, much less soaked in the Islamic influenced beauty of the place, it was all about them!
But it is far from all doom and gloom, I generally feel very positive about the whole selfie phenomenon.
On the flip side a great many pop us just want to record a moment in time and place, maybe share it with a few close friends and most of all have a lasting reminder of the fun aspects of our lives. The selfie is a kind of proof of life, proof of locale and proof of time and I have no doubt that in the future many of those selfies are going to be truly treasured images, images that when held in the hands of children and grand children to come will spark insight and nostalgia for their forebears. Even older generation folk like my wife and I take selfies and why not, they’re a source of fun and part of our personal life story.
Who could resist a selfie when you have the joys of Florence at sunset behind you!
The smart phone made it all possible of course with the genre exploding in popularity over the past few years. It’s the attack of the Androids and iDevices, and they do it so well but as an aside a good laugh can be had watching someone try to pull a selfie with a heavy DSLR. We actually saw this feat of physical ingenuity several times on our last holiday, though I didn’t shoot those pics as the subjects just looked pained and frustrated as they wrestled with the DSLR beasts with relatively tiny flip out screens. I know many people hate the smartphone for its role in selfie fever but I personally think it has been a great development, the alternative is just messy.
These guys were on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, a happy selfie hunting ground but tightly crowded, getting a clear shot was real challenge.
Lovely light and such a sweet expression.
The selfie has spawned whole new industries too, in Europe every tourist location is home to dozens of selfie stick sellers, you almost can’t walk 10 metres without tripping over one of them, which begs the question how many selfies sticks does one actually need?
Now that selfie sticks can be attached to mini tripods the more enterprising sellers are even offering tripods colour coded to match your new selfie stick….”price negotiable but I can do a deal, would you like two or three and how about an umbrella with that, cause it looks like rain”. I’m sure new business opportunities will grow from this continuing selfie genre, like rapid action ram raiding of phones attached to selfie stick tripods and then ransoming the whole shebang back at an extortionate rate. Perhaps the enterprising will hone their people skills and offer to hold the contraption in place for a 2 euro fee whilst you pose. Just maybe we will see super long “shoot from 4 metres above you” selfie sticks popping up, literally. My selfie drones that fit in your Gucci handbag.
There’s a sweet little story here, this lovely couple had just got engaged about half an hour before on Burano island, my wife overheard them talking about it on the Ferry coming back from Burano (near Venice), so we offered to take an “on the spot engagement portrait” in return for a selfie candid. They emailed us back afterwards and told us the selfie and the portrait would remain very special for them, it was really nice to share that moment with them.
Regardless of all the above mirth, I reckon any traveller needs at least one selfie stick, hey maybe there is a market for custom wooden handled super ergonomic gold plated, jewell encrusted selfie sticks that cost more than the phones attached to them….don’t laugh I’ll lay odds that someone, somewhere has already figured that market potential and is selling them as we speak, or they at least have prototypes on the drawing board. My wife and I are a 4 selfie stick and 2 phone family, I also have a monopod that works like a selfie stick which my M 4/3 camera mounts via a tiny ball head and it’s of course remote controlled from my iPhone. I have no issue at all with selfie sticks though I have had a few photographers in my classes who think that a selfie stick is only slightly more appealing than a bad dose of the runs.
Yep, my wife Wendy loves to take a selfie or two.
So moving on, here we were on our last holiday, a five week Italian and Spanish trip that encompassed many of the most famous tourist locations and I became utterly taken with the fun of watching everyday people taking selfies in these locations. I got so fascinated by what I saw that sometimes I had to give myself a good stiff uppercut and forcibly avert my gaze to the vistas in front of us. So what you may think, it’s just people taking selfies, no big deal. Let me explain….. The selfie is a vastly different style of image to the regular portrait, there are aspects that I feel make for a clearly different look, and I’m not talking about that “close up with the wide angle, doe eyed, pouty duck face smoothed over synthetic look” I mean when regular people take holiday selfies the images often possess a look that is both charming and compelling and often tells a terrific story. This is what I was attracted to and I found that after taking a couple of shots of selfie shooters in action I was hooked.
Over the next few weeks I kept my eyes open to the antics of selfie shooters and managed to grab about 60 selfie shooters doing the selfie and since then it has become a bit of an ongoing habit which I have continued that pursue since returning home.
I must add this “shooting selfie shooters addiction” has allowed me to strike up some nice little conversations with people along the way.
This lovely young lady was one of the very few that had any idea I’d taken their photo, she looked at me with a great big smile and said “did you take our picture” well of course I did, would you like to have a look, great couple, I hope they enjoyed their selfie candid.
I feel my COSS portraits (Candids of Selfie Shooters, well I had to give a name) have a life to them often lacking in my regular portraits, to me at least they are rather fun. Initially I was not quite sure of the appeal but then I applied some mental effort (always hard for me to do) and exercise to the selfie process and came up with a few conclusions. Usually when we shoot a selfie we are in a pretty positive frame of mind, I’m sure occasionally some folk might explore the “Mr Sad Face” selfie option but normally we take a selfie to convey the story of the better aspects of life……. like travel, being with friends, sharing a great moment at a party etc.
Selfies are not normally for sad sacks!
One the other hand when someone takes a portrait of us we are not necessarily the most willing or participants, we are expected to perform, grin or grimace on command often in a situation detached from reality, our smiles are often anything but heartfelt, I know I personally have great difficulty with this, my wife is always saying, c’mon smile, to which I reply, I am! In a regular portrait shoot the subject does not know the precise moment the shutter is going to trip and with their best expression possibly a mere fleeting moment it becomes challenging to “just fake it” on command, alternatively the selfie shooter knows exactly when the shutter is going to trip, the middle man has been cut out!
Happy times at the Colosseum
Selfies offer a positive feedback loop, you can see yourself right there on that screen, it acts like a mirror except even better because the image is not flipped, the myriad of subtle nuances that flow across your face are obvious, you can move your facial muscles infinitesimally to alter the image on the fly, no words need to be spoken, no shots needs to be taken to allow you to gradually work into that perfect expression, it’s done quickly in just one or two takes.
Probably, and I think most importantly, with the selfie shooter being their own photographer there’s no need for an introduction, idle chit chat, calming words, discussing options and all that other stuff that the goes on between the photographer and the subject, we know ourselves pretty well and having gazed at our image over many years in the bathroom mirror we’ve a pretty fair idea of what looks right, happy and appropriate. In any case what’s to lose, if the selfie doesn’t work out, no one need see it!
In short the selfie shooter is disarmed, relaxed and uninhibited, three good ingredients for a great portrait.
I was very lucky to catch this pic in Barcelona, I looked down from a verandah and there they were, all smiles and enjoying the afternoon whilst wandering in the old section of the City.
It’s not all roses as they say, there are a few technical issues that impinge upon getting a great result, mainly the lens is a bit on the wide side and doesn’t quite render our features as naturally as we might like, but oddly some folk seem to have a “selfie face” and others unfortunately look worse than in real life (I think that is me, its a problem with having a round fat face that the lens just likes to make fatter still).
Basically success comes down to the shape of the face and how the slightly wide angle view renders it, for example, selfies are often not great for those who have a longer than normal proboscis or wide spaced eyes or small ears. Lighting for the selfie is often not the best either, especially if you use the flash/LED on the camera or have no idea of how to position yourself in relation to the main light source. Here’s the crux of the matter, taking photos of people taking selfies kind of combines the more positive elements and suppresses the negatives, the selfie shooter gets the expression, joy, fun and story happening whilst the remote location of my camera allows for a better viewpoint and some control of the lighting angle, it’s a win-win I reckon.
Posing for the camera in Burano, Italy, I just love it.
Looks pretty cool doesn’t he, till you notice the unfortunate map placement!
Technically the process is pretty easy, In my case I use the tiny M4/3 Panasonic 35-100mm f3.5-5.6 zoom, usually wide open. There are two main advantages to this choice, first the lens looks like a standard wide angle kit zoom and it seems most people just assumed I was taking a regular scenic shot, not a close up of them. Two, whilst accuracy of focus is important there is a little more wiggle room than with a longer focal length on a larger format, this aspect being important when you are trying to shoot quickly and unobtrusively. You really can’t take the time to subtly fiddle with the focus and depth of field issues, the game will be over and that fleeting expression gone. Of course the camera and settings do matter and in my case the weapon ion choice is an Olympus EM 5 Mk2, I find it the perfect tool for this genre. First up I use silent shutter, there’s no noise at all and that helps if the environment is quite, but more importantly the silent shutter and excellent image stabilisation combine to broaden the shooting envelope when the light is less the ideal, like down alleyways, in fading evening light etc.
These young ladies were having a great time in Rome, I was very lucky to get the shot as the crowds were utterly incredible that day.
More importantly and certainly not to be underestimated the EM5 mk2 does not look intimidating, as soon as you point a big camera and large pro telephoto at someone the whole mood changes but I found with this dinky little rig I could be almost on top of people and they seemed not to notice that anything unusual was happening, in fact all the people I was able to approach after taking the shots had no idea I had even taken their picture! A couple of other pointers, I use the face detection mode, that just seems to make things a little more accurate focus wise unless there were lots of people in the pics, but normally it was ideal. I set the shutter delay time to zero for instantaneous shutter response, this is important as I only use the single shot mode and try to get the timing perfect, I still occasionally miss the moment but generally I’m pretty happy with the results.
Not all selfies are a festival of smiles “There is just no way I am going to be in this selfie”!
Yeah, yeah, this one was a little bit set-up but I find it rather nice, it was taken at a Steampunkt Day in my home town of Goulburn, Australia.
The camera is normally set for a lower contrast/saturation rendering (though I shoot in RAW), this means should I get the chance to show the subjects the pic it looks a little nicer as the highlights and shadows are better rendered and the their wrinkles don’t look so deep in the often high contrast lighting. I also set the WB to a slightly warmer rendering, which I find most folk prefer for portraits.
Steampunkt in Goulburn, the taller lady is a famous Aussie model and Novelist, Kate Moss, and no just in case you’re wondering this was a true candid.
One other trick/tip that I occasionally use is to pan across the scene and then hesitate briefly at the point where the subject is, snap off the pic then continue the pan, I do this when there are no other people around as pointing the camera straight in the subjects direction would be really obvious the pan helps keep them remain unaware.
A pair of fair Steampunkt ladies in all their finery at the Goulburn Steampunkt event.
Sometimes you really do have to get the selfie on the fly, this was taken at the Rome, Ride of Distinguished Gentleman, which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post on my site.
Occasionally someone would be a wake up to the situation, but it never proved a problem, I just engaged with them and explained what I was doing, showed them a pic or two and often they were more than happy to pose for more, even better, on a couple of occasions they were happy to take some pics of my wife and I with my camera.
I still feel I have more refining to do, getting a little more of the background behind the subjects may help tell the story better, improving my ability to see and respond more quickly will help too, I know I missed a few great opportunities through being too slow.
Overall though I am pretty happy with the results and “happy to share”.