I was cruising though some links on a friend’s blog this morning and came across one family blog after another that featured photos of their children. The photos weren’t very good, in part because of a common element: the Stare. The Stare is ubiquitous and pervasive in amateur photography, and ultimately ruins what might be otherwise excellent pictures. I’m talking about the act of stopping whatever neat thing is going on and ordering the subjects to stare at the camera and grin. The result isn’t a picture of a moment in time, but a picture of people posing for a picture.
The reason for this is that when you ask the subjects to stare at the camera, you are no longer observing a moment, but are part of it, and often you have taken over the moment all together. And the biggest reason people do this all the time isn’t that they aren’t very good at photographing candid moments (though that is usually true), but because that’s how they were trained since infancy to behave when a camera is near. In fact, if a parent sees me trying to photograph their child for my newspaper, they will often, without even asking me, stop whatever is going on, and tell their kid to “smile for the camera.” Usually this means that the moment itself is over, and I usually just thank them and go shoot someone else.
Being locked into this paradigm is one of the key reasons there is so much bad photography in the world. My own family is comfortable enough in front of the camera, and skilled enough behind it, to allow us to escape the vice of posing.
This isn’t a skill you can develop quickly; often you will feel the urge to pose people out of fear that you’ll otherwise miss the entire photo opportunity. But as you work harder to find more and more genuinely candid moments, you will realize that you are losing interest in the Stare.