Before The First Thought

I’m bored by posed nightlife photos. Club kids are ready to freeze for the camera at a split-second’s notice, and photographers seem generally happy with that. The result? A tradition of static, posed ‘street fashion’ shots. All well and good, but I’m much more interested in the unposed shot, taken before the reflex to ‘do the look’ kicks in. I want to catch the moment when our gaze first crosses, to snare that fleeting instant-between-people, before our relationship has been resolved as being between ‘photographer’ and ‘subject’, with the consequent spiral down into stereotypical role-play and performance that dynamic entails.

Unposed doesn’t imply unframed. I’m a formalist at heart: composition matters. Framing and capturing charged moments takes speed and tactics. It’s hard to be discreet with a full-size DSLR and flash, so getting those images often means shooting from the hip. For me that works best using a 28mm prime that on my small-sensor D300 has an angle-of-view similar to my eyes. I’m familiar enough with that setup that I have a good idea what’s going to be in frame without needing to check the viewfinder. After that, it’s down to timing and luck. Sometimes it works. Some of my favourites,

My photography isn’t solely about that gaze. There are other stories to tell, and other gazes, in other moments. But I’m most happy when I manage to capture that moment of contact: as if the perfect kiss, stolen before the first thought.

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