A portrait of a stranger in Central Park

In the plethora of spare time I have whilst waiting for my work permit to come through, I have challenged myself to improve my photographic skills. I’m ignoring the old point and click habit and desperately trying to learn what my camera actually does and how it works. With apps like instagram our world is full of more filters and special effects than we can imagine, so my question is, how do I cross the barrier between everyday amateur to an actual photographer?

In all honesty, I don’t know the trick to get me from A to B. But, I do know that I need to practise.

I left the apartment yesterday with two goals - to run some errands, and to take a photo of a stranger. It’s not as creepy as it might sound, I promise. I’ve known for a while that I need a little practice taking portraits and this is because I have two main requirements:

  1. I’m not the biggest fan of staged studio portraits (I wouldn’t even know how to figure out lighting etc. anyway) so I need to take a spontaneous picture in a less staged location;
  2. A portrait should show the subject’s personality, so, how do I put the person at ease so that they are comfortable enough for me to take a shot that shows them at their best? They need to look at the picture and not see a photoshopped stranger.

I have got into the habit of taking my camera with me as much as possible, just in case I come across a cracking shot. Walking through Central Park yesterday I saw the perfect opportunity to practise on a real live human being… a busker.

A chap was sat on a bridge, playing the accordion. Surely a busker wouldn’t mind? They’re putting themselves in the public eye right? So as I stood and watched, I took out my camera, shrugged awkwardly and pointed at my camera as a way of asking permission, he nodded and continued playing. This was perfect… I could practise my portraiture without having to make small talk as he was already comfortable and he was already doing something that was showing him at his best.

The things I feel I have done well:

  1. Editing to create the right feeling - The black and white images reflect the traditional nature of the pictures and I kept the colour images light and breezy to reflect the feeling of Central Park whilst increasing the saturation (ever so slightly) to enhance the contrast between the light and the trees;
  2. Focus on the accordion - The instrument was just as important as the musician in this portrait, and although I didn't get lots of detail oriented shots, I feel that the balance between the two was good;
  3. Depth of field - Thanks to the lens widely known as the "Nifty Fifty", the depth of field is so lovely, keeping the subject crisp but the background melts away.

Things to improve for next time:

  1. More angles - I was too shy to get really close and I really only shot from 3 angles. I wish I had experimented more with my positioning;
  2. Context - The series would be greatly improved by some shots that showed the busker in context. I could have included much more of the background: the lake behind him; the pathway beside him and the people surrounding him (in fact it would have looked cool to shoot through a crowd, but despite his talent, there wasn't a crowd there at the time).

After I had my little photo shoot, I made a point of putting my camera away and taking out some money. He stopped and I was able to make a little small talk on why I was taking pictures etc., and I asked if he had a card so that I could send him the snaps. This way, he has some pictures that look pretty good AND I got my practice. Win, win!